Chervil, Spring’s Herb

I’m not sure whether the early spring we’re enjoying is a false one or the real deal, but it does bring to mind chervil.

Chervil is the smallest of the herbs residing in the umbellifer family, a delicate annual with lacy looking leaves that more closely resemble fern-like carrot greens than, say, parsley. I adore this warm, fragrant herb but find it difficult to grow as it prefers coolness and moisture, features that are hard to provide in the windy high desert.  I have grown it, though, and it is always the greatest treat to enjoy during its brief stay in the garden, especially since it isn’t easy to find in a market and when you do, much of its elusive flavor has fled. Chervil may lend itself better as an indoor plant in difficult climes.  I saw two absolutely lush, dense pots of it at the Philbrook Museum in Tulsa last spring, that had been started inside then brought out and parked in a sunny spot.


Chervil is a spring herb and as such, is compatible with spring vegetables —asparagus, the first little turnips, the first carrot, the early new potatoes. It also goes beautifully with fish, like spring salmon, sole and trout, and with poached chicken. Somehow, chervil is not an herb for lamb and beef.  Its sprigs are refreshing to come across in salads of new tender lettuces (or a chicken salad for that matter), it also complements delicate egg dishes, is divine with cream sauces and is, of course,  an element in French sauces, such as the Bernaise. A little chervil can do wonders for cottage cheese and ricotta, too, and its flavor can be preserved to a degree when steeped in vinegar, such as champagne or white wine vinegar. By the time the heat of summer  is upon us, chervil has gone to seed. But by then, we’re onto basil and other herbs and vegetables are no longer the tender ones of spring.

Chervil’s perfume is clearly touched with licorice, but the dose is not an aggressive one. It’s certainly subtler than tarragon, with which chervil is paired in the mixture called fines herbes (along with parsley and chives). Chervil is often listed as an ingredient in French recipes, but with parsley given as a substitute, which I find odd because even though they are familial, they are very different: parsley has none of the delicacy and none of that licorice taste. They’re both green umbellate herbs and that’s about it.  I think parsley is suggested not for its flavor, but because chervil isn’t wildly available here and parsley is plus it’s what we use pretty much anywhere and for anything. However, you could come closer to a substitute by mixing parsley with other licorice  scented herbs, such as fennel greens and tarragon.

I once saw chervil for sale in Napa Valley’s Oakville Grocery —for 32$ a pound! This was in the early eighties when we were all embarking on the great food odyssey.  I remember being astounded, even though the observation that chervil doesn’t weigh all that much entered my mind. Still, you might want to use enough to make a chervil soup. Ironically, wild chervil, a related but different plant altogether, has become a huge problem in Vermont as a weed that’s overtaking pasture grasses. If only it were the edible kind.

Delicacy is the main quality to consider with chervil, which means it should only be used fresh and not dried. It just turns grassy and unidentifiable. Also it’s most Occhiali Da sole Ray Ban outlet effective when added at the end of a cooking stint, not at the beginning, where its ephemeral nature will just go up in vapors. If you can get your hands on some, add sprigs a salad of butter lettuce hearts or chop the leaves and scatter them over new steamed potatoes along with butter and crunchy sea salt. Forget your smoked salt for now. It’s all about green, licorice magic.

7 thoughts on “Chervil, Spring’s Herb

  1. Tracey Ryder

    Another wonderful post, Deborah — just brilliant! Also lovely to be reminded of chervil and springtime. Let’s hope the one we’re enjoying now is the REAL one and not a false start:-)

  2. Diana Pappas

    Glad to read this – I’ve got a packet of chervil seeds and though excited to grow it I’ve been wondering what I’d do with it in the kitchen! Guess I should get it in the ground soon!

  3. Pingback: 10 Organic Starts to Plant in Your Grand Valley Garden This Spring - Sage Creations Organic Farm

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