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Chervil: Health Benefits, Uses and Recipes

Chervil is one of the four components of fines herbes, the others being tarragon, parsley and chives. It differs from most herbs in as much as it is just as easy to grow indoors as out and when grown in the garden prefers dappled shade to full sun. Too much sun will impair the herb’s delicate flavor and make it bolt and go to seed.

There are two varieties of chervil, one plain, and the other curly. The latter is generally agreed to have an inferior taste.

Chervil is a self-seeding annual that, with its long taproot, doesn’t take to transplanting, germinates quickly, and is best sown directly and frequently (to ensure a constant supply) into the chosen location – ideally under a deciduous tree that affords good shade. Chervil is a must in a complete herb garden. It is a difficult herb to find fresh in the stores and when bought loses its freshness and flavor very quickly. Chervil is readily available as a dried herb, but, as with parsley, its delicate flavor is lost. If you dry your own, do so quickly in an oven rather than using the customary method of a dark warm room. A better way of preserving chervil is to mix with butter and then refrigerate or freeze.

The Romans brought chervil to England, but it is native to the Middle East and there’s evidence of the herb’s use as far back as the Ancient Egyptians. A basket of chervil was found in the tomb of Tutankhamun. It is primarily a culinary herb, but it has been used as a digestive aid, a blood purifier and to lower blood pressure. Chervil juice, applied topically and/or taken internally, is reputed to improve and heal the skin. Strong chervil tea will alleviate the discomfort of insect bites, cuts, and eczema when dabbed on the area at regular intervals. It can also be used in a facial mask for cleansing, deterring wrinkles, and maintaining skin resiliency. Chervil is also considered a diuretic and an expectorant. Fresh leaves in a warm poultice are supposed to ease aching joints. Some people claim that you can cure hiccups by eating a whole chervil plant.

When dried, chervil’s umbels of tiny white flowers make an attractive addition to tussie-mussies and other arrangements of everlastings and the dried leaves add a delicate fragrance to potpourris.

Chervil is a warming herb and its flavor is a delicate mix of parsley and anise. In 1636, the Elizabethan physician/herbalist Dr. Gerard wrote, “The leaves of sweet chervil are exceeding good, wholesome and pleasant among other salad herbs, giving the taste of Anise seed unto the rest.”

Chervil is nutritious, being a good source of vitamin C, carotene, iron, and magnesium. The herb enhances the flavor of most vegetables and goes especially well with fish, eggs, and chicken. It tends to go bitter with prolonged cooking so it’s best added at the last minute.

Chicken Breast with Chervil

· 4 chicken breasts, skin on
· 2 Tbsp. olive oil
· 2 medium onions, finely chopped
· 5-6 carrots, chopped
· 4 garlic cloves, minced
· 2 Tbsp. fresh chervil or one dried
· ˝ cup of chicken or vegetable bouillon
· 1 cup dry red wine
· 3 Tbsp. whipping cream
· Pinch of cayenne
· Juice of 1lemon
· Salt to taste.

Brown the chicken breasts in the oil in a heavy, lidded pan. Remove the chicken and lightly sauté the onions, carrots, and garlic. Place the bouillon, wine, and chicken in the pan with the vegetables and roast for 40 minutes. Remove from the oven and take the chicken from the pan. Allow the sauce to cool slightly and skim off the excess fat. Blend the sauce and vegetables in batches and then return to the pan on a low heat. While stirring, add the whipping cream, chervil, cayenne, lemon juice, and salt to taste. Put the chicken back in the pan and return to the still heated oven for 10-15 minutes, long enough for the chicken to reheat and the flavors to blend. Serve the chicken on rice with plenty of the sauce. Serves 4.

Chervil blends particularly well with tarragon. This salad dressing combines the two herbs for a simple, but tasteful and nutritious dressing for a green salad.

Chervil-Tarragon Salad Dressing

· 6 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
· 3 Tbsp. white wine vinegar
· 3 Tbsp. chopped fresh chervil
· 1 Tbsp. chopped fresh tarragon
· 1 tsp. finely minced red onion
· 1 clove garlic, minced
· 1 tsp. Dijon mustard
· ˝ tsp. sea salt

Mix all the ingredients together and toss with salad.

Bruce Burnett is a Chartered Herbalist, an award-winning writer and author of the best-selling book HerbWise: growing cooking wellbeing. Contact Bruce through his website: http://www.herbalcuisine.com

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