Chervil is a delicate herb that comes from the carrot family. Close cousins are dill, parsley and fennel. If you like to cook French cuisine, growing chervil is a good idea, since the fresh herb is hard to find at local grocery stores and Farmer’s Markets.
Chervil is a native of Southeastern Europe, southern Russia and western Asia. It now grows throughout Europe and North America. Chervil is an annual herb which can grow to 2 feet tall
The flavor of chervil is delicate and sweet with a hint of aniseed. To me, it tastes like a cross between parsley and tarragon. It is widely used in French cooking and can also be used as a garnish. Chervil is one of the four herbs (along with tarragon, chives and parsley) which make up the delicate bunch of herbs referred to as “fines herbes”.
Wild chervil, also known as cow parsley, is considered to be a weed in the UK, which might be one of the reasons that is not as widely grown here in the US. However, the taste of wild chervil has a somewhat unpleasant flavor, which is much sharper than garden chervil.
How to Grow Chervil Herb
Even though chervil LOOKS like parsley, it is definitely not as widely available as its look alike cousin. It’s not an easy herb to find so growing it yourself is the answer.
The herb chervil can be grown in pots outside or directly in the ground. If you have a sunny windowsill, it is also a herb that can be grown indoors. If growing in pots, be sure to use ones large enough to accommodate the herb’s long taproot.
Indoors, keep the pot away from heating sources. Place it in a window that gets about 4 hours of sunlight a day and don’t allow the soil to dry out.
Growing chervil from seed
Most garden centers and big box stores don’t sell the herb chervil, so it’s likely that you will need to grow it from seed. To keep a crop coming all season long, sow the seeds every 3 or 4 weeks through spring and again throughout the fall.
It is best to use fresh chervil seeds. Older seeds from last year don’t germinate well. Sow the seeds directly into the soil, since chervil does not transplant well as a seedling. Space a few seeds about 8″ to a foot apart and thin to the most hardy looking ones when they start to grow. The seeds will germinate in 1-2 weeks and will reach maturity in 40-60 days.
Chervil grows best rich soils that drain well. Be sure to add compost for extra nutrients.
Sunlight and Watering Requirements
Outdoors, chervil likes a semi sunny spot in the summer but can take more sun in spring and fall. Keep the soil evenly moist. Chervil does not like hot and dry conditions and will wilt easily if you don’t keep it well watered. You can grow chervil as a winter crop but it will need to be protected with a cold frame.
More Tips for Growing Chervil
Chervil is a cool season annual, so seeds sown in spring and fall will do best. The herb tends to bolt in the summer from the high heat in much the same way that cilantro does..
Flowers and Leaves
The flowers of chervil grow in clusters that form umbels in the hotter months. (Umbels are flower clusters with a common center and curved surface.) If you let the plant go to flower, it will self seed. Like many herbs, it’s best to harvest the leaves before flowering because older leaves have very little taste and can even turn bitter.
The herb chervil looks very similar to parsley, but the leaves are smaller, lighter in color and have a more lacy look to them. The stems of chervil have 2-4 pinnate leaves. The leaves are soft and smooth on the top but very hairy on the underside.
Aphids seem to love chervil so be on the look out for them. It’s also a popular treat for rabbits, squirrels, and deer.
Growing chervil near broccoli and lettuce plants can be beneficial to them. It does well planted near other shade loving plants. Be aware that if you plant it near radishes, it can give them an even spicier flavor! An added bonus for the companion plants is that chervil helps to deter slugs
When to harvest
Since chervil is a cool loving plant, it’s best to sow it early and harvest before the heat of summer. Harvest the leaves when they are completely open and very tender but before flowering.
Substitutes for Chervil
If your plant has bolted and you need the herb for a recipe, some good substitutes are a combination of fresh tarragon and parsley. Chives, fennel and dill can also take the place of chervil in egg recipes, but the flavor is not quite the same.
If you love the taste of the herb chervil, but can’t find it locally, try growing it yourself. It is very easy to do as long as you have a shady spot in your garden and can keep it well watered.