Chervil, or Anthriscus cerefolium, is an annual that many cultivate as a culinary herb. It is in the parsley family. A related plant, Chaerophyllum bulbosum, is grown for its edible root.
Although many people may not be familiar with chervil, it has been around for a long time. Aristophanes, a playwright of Ancient Greece, mentioned it in an early comedy, while Pliny, the Roman naturalist and scholar, referred to its use in cooking and medicine.
Chervil grows to a height of 12 to 26 inches (30 to 66 cm). Its small white flowers bloom from May through July.
This plant prefers light shade. It is best to serial plant in order to maintain a ready supply. Chervil can be grown in a window box, and it will over-winter if the temperature stays at 45°F (7°C) or higher.
Chervil is best used fresh. To store it, it should be wrapped in damp paper towels and plastic and kept in the crisper or hydrator in the refrigerator. It can only be used for two to three days. Its short life span means that it is difficult to find for sale, and this is one reason that it is not well known.
Food and Other Uses
The lemon-anise flavor of chervil is lost with long cooking times. Because of this fragility, it should be added at the very end of preparation of cooked foods or used as a garnish. There is not much use for dried chervil.
Found in soups and sauces, and also used in fish and egg dishes, chervil is a fundamental salad ingredient in southern France and northern Italy. In fact, it is one of the typical greens in French mesclun, along with arugula and endive. It is also included in fines herbes mixtures, along with tarragon, chives, and parsley. The flowers are used in salads as well.
Young chervil, along with baby basil, arugula, and others, are part of a class of items called microgreens or microherbs that are a popular garnish, topping, and accent, replacing parsley in some milieus. They are available from specialty grocers and farmers' markets.