Medicine in the Pantry: Parsley
Did you know that parsley is a functional food? It's true. It seems to be used more often as a decoration in the U.S. than as an actual food. Italian flat-leaf parsley is the variety most often favored by cooks. It adds a vibrant note to savory dishes, and some welcome green color.
Wash and chop parsley leaves (you can omit the stems if you wish, although they're perfectly fine to eat, too). Add at the end of food preparation so the leafy green vegetable will retain its crisp flavor and bright color. Parsley is integral to Middle Eastern cooking. Classic tabouleh, a cool salad made from cracked whole grain wheat and citrus juice, would be little more than tangy cereal without ample amounts of parsley. Parsley and a few other choice ingredients (olive oil, cumin, green onions, chopped olives, etc.) elevate this simple dish from blah to exciting. And it's incredibly healthful.
So what, beyond a little seasoning, does parsley bring to the table? For starters, it's in the brassica family of vegetables. Also known as cruciferous vegetables, this nutritional powerhouse family includes cabbage, mustard greens, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, watercress, and kale, and others. All are considered superfoods, because they contain potent natural chemicals that are converted in the body into formidable cancer-fighting compounds.
Brassica vegetables also feature ample amounts of vitamin C, calcium, selenium, and soluble dietary fiber. A chemical called indole-3-carbinol (I3C) has been shown to boost DNA repair of the body's cells, while thwarting the growth of cancerous cells. I3C is converted in the gut into a related compound, DIM, which also appears to have potent anti-cancer activity. A third compound, sulforaphane, also exhibits anticancer activities, and it has antibiotic properties.
For this reason, foods like broccoli sprouts, which have particularly high concentrations of sulforaphane, are believed to help prevent stomach ulcers, by killing the bacteria responsible for that disease, H. pylori. And you thought parsley was good for little more than garnish! Try growing flat-leaf parsley in a container wherever you've got some sun. Give it plenty of water and soon you'll be harvesting this self-renewing herb for use in your own dishes. Enjoy!