Parsley or Petroselinum hortense is a vegetable, herb and spice native to the Mediterranean region but it is now widely grown.
Parsley is commonly used as leafy green garnish for foods in restaurants but it is more than mere food. It is packed with essential micronutrients including antioxidants. Parsley belongs to the class of superfoods with culinary and medicinal uses.
This herb contains essential micronutrients such as iron, calcium, magnesium, potassium, phosphorus, zinc and the B vitamins. It is especially rich in vitamin C and vitamin K. In addition, the carbohydrate content of parsley is low in sugar. Therefore, most of the carbohydrate in parsley is dietary fiber which is known to aid digestion, help detoxify the body and improve blood glucose control.
The seeds, roots and leaves of parsley are the plant parts used in traditional medicine. In fact, there are different types of parsley each cultivated either for the special property of its root or leaves.
In traditional medicine, parsley is used to treat renal congestion, urine retention, edema swelling, inflammation of the liver and kidneys and for relieving the pain of inflamed, arthritic joints.
The Antioxidant Powers of Parsley
Parsley not only contains antioxidants but it also enhances the activities of antioxidant enzymes in the body.
The antioxidant powers of parsley are well demonstrated and explained in a 1999 study published in The British Journal of Nutrition. 14 adults (7 men and 7 women) were recruited for this small, randomized, crossover study.
The study took 2 weeks during which the volunteers were fed on a diet low in flavones and other naturally occurring, food-sourced antioxidants. This is important in order to separate the antioxidant effects of parsley from the antioxidants from other foods.
For one week of the study, this diet was supplemented with parsley containing a group of antioxidants known as apigenin. The amount of apigenin excreted was compared to the week during which the study volunteers received only the basic, low flavone diet without parsley supplementation.
The results of the study showed that the amount of apigenin excreted during the period of parsley supplementation surpassed the amount excreted when the volunteers were placed on the basic diet.
In addition, during the basic diet, the activities of antioxidant enzymes such as superoxide dismutase and glutathione reductase (both naturally found in the body) were reduced. However, parsley supplementation increased the activities of these enzymes.
This study fully demonstrates the two-part antioxidant effect of parsley: serving as an antioxidant and increasing the activities of some of the antioxidants naturally produced in the body.
Parsley as a Diuretic Agent
Although parsley is a potent diuretic herb, it is often overlooked in favor of more popular diuretic herbs. Yet the diuretic effect of parsley is well demonstrated and it is significant enough to make the herb useful in the treatment of edema.
In a 2002 study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology, a group of researchers were able to demonstrate the diuretic effect of parsley in rats and also explain the mechanism of action involved.
By feeding a group of rats with the liquid extract of parsley seed, the researchers demonstrated that the herb increased urine volume over a period of 24 hours. This increase was significant enough and the urine volume produced exceeded the urine volume produced by a similar group of rats which were given water (and not parsley extract) to drink during the same period.
The researchers repeated this experiment by adding known diuretic agents such as amiloride and furosemide (both potassium-sparing diuretics) and by withdrawing sodium and potassium (both directly involved in fluid retention or loss in the kidneys).
The result showed that the diuretic effect of parsley was still potent in the presence of amiloride, and furosemide. In addition, the absence of sodium did not affect the diuresis produced by parsley but the absence of potassium did.
This result suggests that parsley encourages the retention of potassium ions in the lumen of the kidney, and inhibits the transport pump that is responsible for the reabsorption of sodium and potassium ions. This creates an osmotic pressure that prevents the reabsorption of water in the kidney nephrons but promotes the loss of water through urine.
The diuretic effect of parsley is especially important for treating medical conditions which can be improved by promoting fluid loss in the body. Therefore, parsley can contribute to the lowering blood pressure and to getting rid of excessive fluid in the body.
In the treatment of edema, the required medicinal effect is diuresis. Therefore, herbs and drugs that can promote diuresis are remedies for swollen feet and ankles.
Because it increases urine volume, parsley prevents fluid retention and qualifies as an edema remedy.
Taking Parsley as a Herbal Remedy
By preventing fluid retention and by providing antioxidant protection, parsley is well suited for treating joint and nerve disorders. It is effective for calming nerves and blood vessels as well as for relieving the painful inflammation of stiff joints.
Parsley can also be used to treat kidney infections and to remove gallstones. Other indications for using parsley include in the treatment of sexually transmitted disease and jaundice.
Parsley can be taken as a tea. To prepare parsley tea, boil about a quart of water and pour it over a handful of fresh parsley. Allow the leaves to steep for 15 minutes before straining and drinking the fresh tea.
Two quarts of freshly prepared parsley tea is recommended daily but a cup of the tea can be taken hourly to increase diuresis and quickly resolve edematous swelling.
Because fresh parsley tea can be very potent, it should be diluted with a fresh, organic juice. Parsley tea should be restricted to a maximum of two ounce taken at once.
In the quantities found in food, parsley is safe for consumption. However, pregnant women should avoid consuming a lot of parsley extract since the plant is uterotonic when taken in large amounts. This means that parsley can cause premature contraction of the uterus, and therefore, can induce labor.