A member of the parsley and carrot family, chervil is a fantastic addition to your indoor herb garden if you do any French cooking. This cool-season annual herb isn’t found often in grocery stores and prefers lower temperatures which makes it perfect for growing indoors.
What is chervil?
Anthriscus cerefolium is a cool-season, annual herb that grows between 12 and 24-inches tall in USDA hardiness zones 3 through 7. Also known as French parsley, it is native to the Caucasus area between the Black and Caspian seas. It prefers cool, moist weather and will quickly bolt and go to seed prematurely if exposed to high temperatures.
The finely divided leaves on chervil are dark green and curly, similar in appearance to those of carrot and parsley plants. Its tiny white flowers bloom mid-spring to early summer in umbels resembling Queen Anne’s lace.
Chervil is primarily grown for culinary uses, both in French cuisine and as an alternative to parsley. Sometimes it is grown for medicinal purposes or used as a companion plant for other herbs or vegetables.
The finely divided leaves add a parsley-anise like flavor to egg dishes, cream sauces, and meats such as veal, chicken, and seafood. When dried it is combined with chives, parsley, and tarragon to create the delicate french bouquet known as “fines herbes”.
According to the Handbook of Herbs and Spices (1) chervil was used historically as a diuretic, expectorant, digestive aid, and skin freshener when made into a tonic. Some herbalists believed it to help alleviate symptoms of eczema, gout, kidney stones, and pleurisy.
The volatile oils in chervil plants are known to repel slugs, ants, and aphids so it is often planted with other shade-tolerant food plants such as lettuce and broccoli. When grown close to radishes it imparts a spicier flavor which is seen as a benefit to some gardeners.
How to grow chervil indoors
Cool-season vegetables and herbs prefer lower temperatures and will bolt when the thermometer gets too high. When grown outdoors they should be planted early in the spring or in late summer so they mature before or after scorching summer temps. Because of the need for a more temperate climate, this culinary herb makes a great addition to a sunny windowsill inside your home.
Growing it is pretty straightforward, similar in supply needs and growing conditions to many other herbs.
Growing your own chervil indoors is pretty straightforward, much like other herbs. Plants are best started from seed instead of propagating them from stem cuttings so you’ll need to purchase high-quality seeds and have containers and growing media to get started.
Containers: In this case, it’s best to look for containers that keep the growing media damp instead of porous pots that encourage air movement through the root zone. Look for plastic or fiberglass pots as they will hold more water in the soil; they still need adequate drainage holes though, so purchase ones with holes or use an electric drill to put them in yourself.
As a relative to carrots, chervil plants have a long taproot to anchor themselves into the soil, so they do best in containers that are deeper than is needed for most other herbs. Containers should be a minimum of 8-inches wide and 10 to 12-inches deep if possible.
Growing Media: Due to chervil’s affinity for consistently damp growing media, it’s important to choose one that has a higher capacity for good water retention. Commercial potting soil mixes are a good option, especially if you look for one that is specifically formulated for moisture-loving plants.
If you can’t find one specifically you can always mix extra coconut coir or peat moss into the potting mix to increase water retention. Be careful not to mix too much peat moss into the potting soil; it has a naturally low pH and can make the growing medium too acidic for your chervil.
Chervil Seeds: Seeds are inexpensive, typically only costing a couple of dollars for a packet containing about a gram of seeds. With between 400 and 500 seeds per gram, this will be plenty to get you started.
You may be able to purchase them locally a nursery or gardening center but as a less popular herb, they might be more challenging to find. If this is the case don’t fret as they are available from many online retailers.
Planting chervil follows the basic method I’ve talked about before for sowing seeds. It’s important to plant seeds in the containers you will grow the plants in, as they don’t handle transplanting well.
- Fill your containers with the pre-moistened growing media you’ve chosen to use.
- Place seeds on the top of the media 3 to 4-inches apart.
- Sprinkle approximately ¼” of media over the top to cover them.
- Until seeds germinate, keep the growing media moist but not overly soggy. Seeds need a lot of water for germination but too much moisture can cause damping off.
Germination typically takes 7 to 14 days. After seeds germinate, allow them to grow until they are about 3-inches tall and thin plants to one per 8” container or 3 per 12” container.
If this is an herb that you will use frequently sow seeds every 3-4 weeks to provide a constant supply of fresh chervil leaves.
As a cool-season crop, chervil grows well indoors where the temperatures are cooler than outdoor summertime conditions, but it’s still important to provide the appropriate growing conditions.
Chervil does best when placed on a windowsill that receives a minimum of 4 to 6 hours of indirect sun daily. Avoid placing it in a spot that receives direct sun as this can scorch the leaves. When grown outdoors plants prefer light shade or partial shade to full sun locations.
If you need to supplement lighting indoors, hang T5 fluorescent lights about 12-inches above the tops of plants. High-intensity discharge lamps give off too much heat and should be avoided unless adequate ventilation or air conditioning can keep plants cool.
Keep plants well-watered, with the growing media staying slightly damp at all times. Avoid overwatering which can encourage root rot or letting containers sit in standing water after watering. It’s necessary to find the proper balance between enough water without giving plants too much.
Along with proper lighting and watering, the ambient temperature is also very important when growing chervil indoors. Classified as a cool-season herb by the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences and University of Florida, chervil prefers temperatures below 70 °F during the day and below 55 °F at night. When daytime temps climb higher, the plants will slowly start to bolt.
As with all of your houseplants, avoid placing containers too close to leaky windows or anywhere else they are exposed to drafts from doors or register vents. Extreme temperature variations cause internal stresses for plants that hinder plant growth and the quality of edible plants.
With the following basic care, your chervil plant will flourish indoors.
Herbs need little in terms of fertilizer as it affects the flavor of the leaves, especially if you give them a high nitrogen plant food as it encourages foliage growth. According to the University of Minnesota Extension, after plants germinate you should feed your chervil using a complete fertilizer formulated for indoor plants; feed at half strength of the label directions.
Regular pruning is good practice with chervil to remove flower buds as they form to lengthen the plant’s lifespan. Once the plant flowers it loses its flavor and should be discarded.
As flower buds form pinch them off with your fingernails or remove them with clean sharp scissors or pruners. This will also help to keep your plant bushy and compact instead of allowing it to get tall and spindly.
Your chervil is ready to begin harvesting when the plants reach at least 6 inches in height. This is typically 45 to 60 days after germination but can vary slightly depending on your indoor growing conditions.
When it’s time to harvest, remove stems using clean, sharp scissors or pruners. To get the optimal flavor from the leaves harvest before the plant blooms.
If you do any amount of French cooking, I highly recommend trying your hand at growing chervil indoors in containers. These cool-season plants love indirect sun, moist potting soil, and cooler temps making them a fantastic addition to your indoor herb garden.
- A.A. Farooqi, A. A., & Srinivasappa, K. N. (2012). Chervil. In K. V. Peter (Ed.), Handbook of Herbs and Spices 2nd Edition (pp. 268-274). Cambridge, United Kingdom: Woodhead Publishing Limited. doi: 10.1533/9780857095688.268
- A. Vyas, S.S. Shukla, R. Pandey, V. Jain, V. Joshi and B. Gidwani, 2012. Chervil: A Multifunctional Miraculous Nutritional Herb. Asian Journal of Plant Sciences, 11: 163-171. DOI: 10.3923/ajps.2012.163.171
- Amit, G., M.S. Ashawat, S. Shailendra and S. Swarnlata, 2007. Phytosome: A novel approach towards functional cosmetics. J. Plant Sci. DOI: 10.3923/jps.2007.644.649