A relative of parsley, chervil is generally split into two types: ‘Vertissimo,’ which possesses flat, shiny leaves similar to Italian parsley, and ‘Crispum,’ which has curlier foliage and a more subtle flavor. Both taste like anise seed and are used extensively in French cooking, particularly in sauces and fish dishes. A cool season crop, it’ll bolt in warm weather, producing small white flowers grown in umbels on a branching central stalk. If left to mature, it will reseed itself in the coming season. It doesn’t do well when transplanted but will provide fresh leaves throughout the season if seeds are planted successively every few weeks.
Crispum chervil will grow approximately 1 to 2′ in height and produce beautiful curly green leaves, giving this variety its name (‘crispum’ is Latin for curled). Although less popular in the kitchen than the Vertissimo variety, we say give Crispum chervil a chance as this plant still produces a delicious, fragrant herb whose foliage will add a bit of flair to any garden.
Seed Depth: Press into surface.
Space Between Plants: 3 seeds every 6″
Space Between Rows: 6″
Germination Soil Temperature: 55°F
Days for Germination: 10–14
Sow Indoors: Not recommended. Will not transplant well.
Sow Outdoors: 4 to 6 weeks before average last frost or as soon as the soil can be worked. May also be planted in summer 6 to 8 weeks before average first frost. Seeds should be soaked for up to 24 hours before sowing.
Like its cousin parsley, chervil prefers cooler climates and will not perform well if kept in temperatures surpassing 75°F for prolonged periods of time. In fact, chervil does so well in cooler temperatures that it can survive outdoors in conditions as low as 14°F and stay green throughout the winter.
Natural: Full sun in cooler climates. Partial shade in the summer/warmer climates.
Artificial: Although not recommended for indoor growth, if growing inside, use high output lamps, such as T5 fluorescent bulbs, approximately 1′ above the plants. Avoid HID lights as they tend to become too warm.
Soil: Prefers well-drained loamy soil. Add a plant-based compost prior to planting if soil is especially sandy or has a lot of clay. A pH of 6.5 will keep plants healthy and nourished.
Soilless: Not recommended; however, you can germinate seeds in a soilless mix.
Hydroponics: Will thrive in a hydroponic system such as a vertical tower.
Aeroponics: Will thrive in an aeroponic system.
Water: Requires moderate to high levels of water. Ensure that soil remains wet but not saturated through all stages of growth.
Nutrients: A light feeder, chervil does not generally require the addition of nutrients. However, if planting in soil that is particularly deficient, a balanced nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium fertilizer in the spring can help keep plants healthy.
Pruning: To encourage leaf growth, cut flower stems before they are able to bloom. Also cut back limp or discolored branches.
Mulching: Although mulching is not necessary for growing chervil, covering the plants in the winter will help them survive through severe cold snaps.
Companions: Grows well with lettuce, cabbages, and most members of the brassica family.
Harvest: Plants may be harvested once they have reached approximately 4″ tall. Harvest by picking leaves off by hand, leaving at least a third of the plant. If the flavor is weak, allow to grow longer before harvesting.
Storage: Place in a container of water inside a plastic bag for storing in the refrigerator.
Seed Saving: Chervil seeds may be easily saved by allowing the flower heads to dry and shaking them out. Keep in mind that chervil is a great seed spreader, so to avoid having this plant crowd its companions in subsequent seasons, place a bag or cheese cloth over the heads as they begin to dry.
Preserve: Best eaten fresh but can be stored in plastic bags in the freezer. An alternative freezing method is to chop and freeze in ice cubes. Drying is not recommended as it loses much of its flavor.
Prepare: Like parsley, chervil is best when fresh, so add last to hot dishes such as soups, pastas, or sauces. Add fresh to salads or any other dish of your choosing!
Nutritional: Rich in calcium and potassium.
Medicinal: While not much is known about chervil’s use as a medicine, some sources claim it is effective for high blood pressure and as a digestive aid.
Warnings: Not recommended in medicinal amounts for women who are pregnant or breast feeding.
For a delicate dish that will impress your friends, try this Chilled Carrot Soup with Chervil Infused Mousse!