Synonyms for chervil include Anthriscus Cerefolium in Latin and Cerefeuil in French.
The name chervil may be traced to the Latin word “chaerophyllum”. This literally means "festive herb" or "herb of joy."
It is best known for its use as a condiment in French Classical Cuisine and is often referred to as “Gourmet’s parsley”.
The plant is said to have originated in southern Russia and the Middle East, but its growth is now naturalised throughout Europe.
Less common varieties
In addition to common chervil, and curly chervil (which is especially decorative), there is a delicate and rare bulbous chervil. The roots of this bulbous chervil are aromatic and have a high starch content. They are eaten like artichokes.
Chervil was introduced to France and England by the Romans more than 2,000 years ago.
Chervil was also called ‘myrrhis’ because of the scent that the extracted volatile oil bears a strong resemblance to the smell of Myrrh given as a gift to the baby Jesus. These assocaitions make it a part of the food served at Easter celebrations in parts of Europe. Chervil soup is most often the dish that is presented.
Traditionally considered a "warm" herb, folklore encoourages its consumption in the belief that it encourages cheerfulness and an agile mind.
Many of history's herbalists, notably the first-century Roman scholar Pliny and the seventeenth-century herbalist Nicholas Culpeper believed that chervil, as Culpeper put it, "does much please and warm old and cold stomach,- ....". Thus it was a warming herb with the ability to soothe the stomach.
During the Middle Ages, chervil was used for a variety of ailments. Eating a whole plant reportedly relieved hiccups, a practice still tried by some people today.
Chervil has a subtle, understated flavour and as such will never dominate a dish. It does, however, enhance the flavour of other herbs.
This parsley like plant with feathery leaves is considered one of the fines herbs (a delicate collection of herbs that should not be heated excessively: they comprise parsley, chives, tarragon, chervil and sometimes marjoram) of French classical cooking.
Classical sauces such as gribiche, béarnaise, ravigote and vinaigrette are also flavoured with chervil. It flavours with great sophistication and subtlety the classic dish of river fish- Poisson“au vert” and is superb with mild cheeses. Herb butters and compound butters are also excellent with an addition of chervil.
A subtle spring herb, chervil combines well with other foods available at that that time of the year. Fresh fish, salmon and trout, newly grown spring vegetables, like asparagus,potatoes, green beans, carrots and fresh salads.
Chervil loses its flavour very easily, either by drying the herb, or with overcooking. It is for this reason that it is added at the end of cooking.
Chervil vinegar may be made in the same manner as tarragon vinegar, i.e. by immersing the herb in the vinegar and leaving it to steep for a period of time. The flavour of chervil is pervasive and this herb vinegar adds considerable interest to otherwise bland dishes.
Chervil is available dried, but since dried chervil is practically tasteless, it is best when used fresh.
Chervil contains considerable levels bioflavonoids. These compounds are said to help the body in many ways including maintaining capillary strength, helping in increased Vitamin C absorption, immune system and cardiac support. It is also a good source of carotene, iron and magnesium.
Chervil is also an excellent digestive. When brewed as a tea it can be used as either a soothing eye wash or can alleviae circulation disorders.
The leaf when used in an infusion or face mask to cleanse skin, maintains suppleness and discourages wrinkles
Light shade in summer (ideally plant under a deciduous plant so autumn seedlings can enjoy the full winer sun). In hot conditions, it quickly runs to seed.
Keep the soil light and well drained
Ripe seed germinates quickly and can be used 6-8 weeks after gathering. For a regular supply, sow monthly except in winter. Scatter on soil, press in lightly. Left to self-seed, chervil provides one early and one late summer crop.
Thin seedlings t 6-9 inches apart, do not transplant. Although chervil is hardy, some cloche protectiopn is needed to ensure leaves in winter. Chervil makes a good infoor plant, given light shade and humidity.
Gather leaves before flowering, once the plant reaches a height of about 4 inches.
You can freeze or dry the leaves and it's also good added to vinegar.
- The Larousse Gastronomique
- The Encyclopaedia of Healing Foods: Dr. Michael Murray and Dr. Joseph Pizzorno with Lara Pizzorno, MA, LMT. Time Warner Books, 2005.
- The Book of Ingredients: Philip Dowell and Adrian Bailey; Penguin/ Mermaid Books 1993