The Romans were very fond of chervil and it listed in 15th century scripts as an essential herb. It takes its botanical name from, cheirei and phylum meaning “that which rejoices the heart” because of its warming properties. All the parts of the plant can be used and they have a distinct aniseed smell.
Chervil is an annual, growing to 16 inches in height, with hollow stems covered in silky hairs. Its tri-pinnate leaves are pubescent on the underside while its small white flowers which appear in May and June are borne in umbels and are followed by smooth fruits with a long beak.
Chervil can be propagated from seeds. Sow in shallow drills made 12 inches apart, Chervil does not transplant well, treat as a biennial where soil is well-drained in succession from late spring through to August. This will ensure a continuous crop of fresh crispy leaves. The plants will then have a longer season for the leaves to be used and for the seed to mature.
This particular variety of the herb Chervil, should be kept well watered in dry periods. Otherwise, there is a chance of the plant bolting into unsightly and non productive seed heads, before it has chance to properly mature.
Successional plantings through the summer growing season will ensure a good supply of the better tasting young foliage. It will also negate any problems of bolting.
Chervil is rarely bothered with Aphids and the like, but slugs and snails are partial to the young foliage in particular. Caterpillars are sometimes a pest on the young foliage, but rarely a problem on established plants. (The fact that it attracts slugs has also made it a popular companion plant to take slugs away from such other delicacies as young lettuce plants!)
The only disease to be concerned about with Chervil, is that of powdery mildew. This is best dealt with on a preventive basis, with a suitable fungicide applied 2 or 3 times in the growing season - especially as it ages.
Chervil water and the juice are used to help with blemished skin; the juice is mildly stimulating and but must be used sparingly, only two to three drops in water. Chervil has mild digestive properties. It has also been used to lower high blood pressure, but we have no knowledge of this.
Chervil has a mild delicate taste, which is more distinctive than parsley and compliments most dishes. It's delicate taste is probably responsible for the acquired name of 'Gourmet's Parsley'!
At one time the long tap - roots were boiled and candied and taken as sweetmeats, to warm and comfort a cold stomach. The leaves make a welcome addition to salads with their slight aniseed flavour. Add the leaves to a basic white sauce, its makes a wonderful accompaniment to any fish dish. Chervil is also used to garnish foods as it keeps its fresh green colour for quite some time after being cut. Add chervil to butters, add to soups and stews.
On a more subtle basis, it is a great addition to Omelette dishes.
Other than the fact that it is similar in appearance to the potentially fatal Hemlock - to which it is related - Chervil can cause a dermatitis condition if in contact with the skin. We are not aware of any other problems. Because of it's similarity to Hemlock, care should be taken in its recognition and subsequent use.