Chervil, The Herb of New Life
For thousands of years, the young green leaves of chervil have been used as a tonic. In Norway and France, a bowl of fresh chervil leaves will often accompany meals, and it is sprinkled on salads, soups and stews. Chervil, dandelion and watercress combined were used to combat the vitamin and mineral deficiencies brought on by winter. European herbalists to this day recommend this tonic. Native to Europe, as most herbs are, it was spread abroad by the colonizing Romans. Legend says that chervil "makes one merry, sharpens the wit, bestows youth upon the aged and symbolizes sincerity." Native to southern Russia, this carrot like herb has its own place in both the kitchen and for medicinal uses. Here, we will discuss chervil - its uses, both medicinal and culinary, how it is grown, harvested and stored.
History of Chervil
You would be hard pressed to tell chervil from a carrot regarding leaves and stance. Chervil has a long history as do many herbs. It was once called myrrhis, because the volatile oils extracted from the plant resembles the myrrh in both fragrance and taste to that which was brought by the Three Wise Men to the baby Jesus. Chervil symbolizes new life, and is linked to Easter ceremonies in Europe. Bowls of soup made from chervil are traditionally served on Holy Thursday. During the Middle Ages chervil was used as a cure for hiccups, a remedy that still survives today.
Chervil is used as a diuretic, expectorant, stimulant, a cure for high blood pressure and gout. Its use as a cure for high blood pressure is still in use today, although no real clinical studies back this use. Culpeper's Complete Herbal, an herbal in use for over 300 years, states that "The roots boiled and eaten with oil and vinegar, does much please and warm oil and cold stomachs oppressed with wind and phlegm. A tea is often made of chervil, using a tight lidded teapot to keep in the volatile oils. It is said to keep the complexion of young girls between the ages 0f 15 and 18 fresh and clear.
Both leaves and root are used in cookery. The sprigs of chervil make an excellent garnish. Chervil is called in French cookbooks "pluches de cerfeuille" or blanched sprig of chervil. These are used in soups. The French also use chervil in their traditional "fines herbes" along with tarragon, parsley and chives.
Chervil works well with marjoram, lemon, parsley, ground black pepper, thyme and tarragon. Use chervil to season carrots, eggs, cheese, veal, corn and peas. It works very well in an herbed butter. It is best to add chervil at the last few minutes of cooking to avoid a bitter taste. Chervil is what gives Béarnaise sauce its distinctive taste. Chervil is a spring time herb, so goes well with salmon.trout, new potatoes and baby green beans, and works well in springtime salads.
How To Grow Chervil
Chervil is best grown from seed - it does not transplant well. It likes moist soil rich in humus. A pH balance of 6.5 will result in optimum growing conditions.
Chervil comes in two main varieties - plain and curled. This hardy annual has a fernlike leaf structure, much like the common carrot. It has small white flowers in compound umbrels. Leaves are opposite, light green, and only lower leaves have stalks. It will grow to a height of 2 feet. Chervil flowers between May and June. To keep it growing, cut it back regularly so it does not go to seed, which it will do early. Chervil is native to Europe and Asia, and is naturalized in North America.
Plant seed in furrows an inch deep. Always attempt to plant in its permanent location, as it does not transplant well. If moisture and sun are present, the seed will germinate in about 10 days. Keep the furrows moist with either a soaker hose or cheesecloth covering the furrow. When seedlings reach 2 inches in height, thin to 9 to 12 inches apart.
The biggest difficulty with growing chervil is keeping it from setting seed. Try sowing seed every 2 weeks until mid-July, when weather will be too hot for good growth. Leaves may be cut in 6 to 8 weeks. Start sowing seed again in late summer for chervil late into the fall.
Some Tips For the Chef
Steam a pound of fresh beets, add 1/2 cup of sour cream, 1 TBS of hot mustard, 2 teaspoons of fresh chives and 2 teaspoons of chervil. Toss and serve.
Although chervil is not well known, it is a good addition to the complete herb garden. If you enjoy Béarnaise sauce, then by all means try growing some fresh chervil.