The Happy Chervil Herb
In folklore, the little known chervil herb was often referred to as the happy herb as a benefit of eating it was believed to bring on bouts of good feelings and cheerfulness. Perhaps the fact that it is a mild stimulant, and also was considered an aid to digestion had something to do with this. Even though it is an easy herb to grow, and has a pleasant taste, chervil is not well known outside of Europe, or at least not in North America. One reason for this might be its close association with the weed cow parsley. This is a case of being unfairly tarred with the same brush, as the two plants have less in common than it would appear. This reluctance to accept the chervil herb in American kitchens may slowly be changing however.
Primarily A Culinary Herb - The chervil herb looks a little bit like a carrot, carrot leaves that is. It also resembles parsley. Actually it is related to both, along with dill and fennel. Chervil is among the most tender of herbs, prefers cool weather to hot weather (in fact it easily bolts to seed if the temperatures become too warm), and loses its flavor rapidly if cooked. For those reasons, chervil does not have the same medicinal history as do many other herbs, and while a chervil tea can be made from the leaves, it has always been considered a culinary herb. It is a staple in French gourmet cooking, often blended with other herbs. It is an essential ingredient in Bearnaise sauce, and chopped chervil is said to greatly add to mild tasting foods such as sole, eggs, and zucchini.
Keep The Plants Cool - If you wish to plant chervil, it is easy to plant from seeds, and can either be planted in the herb garden or in a separate container. In northern climates seeds can be planted in early spring. In warmer climates, USDA zones 7 and up, chervil is best planted in the fall. It these climates it can be harvested all winter though it needs some frost protection. It can of course be grown in a cold frame. Where ever it is planted it will do well in partial shade, especially if it is shaded from the hot afternoon sun. The tops of the plants may need to be pinched off occasionally to promote longer growth and to keep the plants from bolting to seed. Once the leaves begin to turn a bronze color they will lose their characteristic flavor, so leaves should be harvested while they are still green. It's a good idea to plant successive crops to ensure a steady supply of the herb during the growing season. Planting the chervil herb from seed is really the only way to grow it. Because it has a rather long tap root, chervil does not transplant well, if at all.
Eating Ideas - With its taste like mild basil, chervil is an excellent companion to eggs, especially when fresh chopped leaves are sprinkled over an omelet. The leaves are also good on steamed vegetables as well as grilled meats, or sprinkled over soups. Don't cook the chervil herb with the food you're adding it to or the flavor might be lost. Save the chervil for last. Some cooks like to make up a batch of garlic butter to place on the table. One can also make a fine chervil butter by grinding chervil leaves and mixing them with salt, pepper and a bit of lemon juice into the butter. If you are serving peas together with a meat dish, mix some chopped chervil leaves in with the peas for a somewhat unexpected but pleasant flavor. One source says that if you plant a row of chervil next to a row of radishes, the radishes will be hotter than normal. Whether or not that has any truth to it, you'll have to find out for yourself. Getting acquainted with the chervil herb might be a good goal to set for the next planting season.