Medieval culinary glossary: parsley root

Image credit, see below.

We arrive at the letter p in the excerpts from my medieval culinary glossary of the ingredients, equipment and culinary terms found in Richard II’s Fourme of Cury, written about 1390. And p is for parsley root, or rote of persel, in Middle English.

parsley root/root of parsley rote of persel. The medieval ‘root of parsley’ most likely refers to the edible tap root of wild parsley, also known as Alexanders, Smyrnium olusatrum, which was cultivated in English gardens from at least 1200 and possibly as early as the tenth century (Harvey, p. 168; see also Randall, pp. 336-37). It looks somewhat like a thin parsnip but with a black skin [image], and has a flavour ‘somewhat like celery’ (Plants For A Future, Smyrnium olusatrum).

Modern parsley root, a popular vegetable in Central and Eastern Europe, which looks rather more parsnip-like, is from the variety of parsley commonly known as Dutch or Hamburg parsley (Petroselinum crispum, var. tuberosum). This, however, did not arrive in England until significantly after the medieval period (Sturtevant, pp. 148-49; RHS, ‘Hamburg Parsley’).

Parsley root appears only once in Fourme of Cury, in the recipe for Compast (chapter 5, no. 98), a kind of chutney.

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Stylised paiting of ‘Olisatrum’, Alexanders, or wild parsley, today known by the botanical name Smyrnium olusatrum. London, British Library, Sloane 1975, folio 43r, detail (northern England or northern France, last quarter of 12th century). Image captured from British Library website.

The Latin text informs us that this plant is useful for treating strangury, a painful bladder condition.

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Harvey, John, Medieval Gardens (B. T. Batsford Ltd, 1981).

Randall, R. E., ‘Smyrnium olusatrum L.’, Journal of Ecology 91 (April 2003), pp. 325-40.

Sturtevant. U. P. Hedrick (ed.), Sturtevant’s Edible Plants of the World (1919; Dover Publications, 1972).

Published by Christopher Monk

Dr Christopher Monk is creating Modern Medieval Cuisine

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