As both a keen gardener and a home cook I want to see how each of my herbs compares. I know that we have more comments about basil vs parsley in terms of difficulty in growing, but where else do the differences arise?
Parsley is a useful biennial that will grow outdoors in colder climates and basil being a tender annual. Both can be used in cooking with slightly different taste profiles and history of culinary uses. Nutritionally both of these herbs are loaded with vitamins and minerals as well.
Let’s break each of these areas down to get a better idea of how they each vary and where the differences may be important.
Basil Vs Parsley – In The Kitchen
Both are soft leafed and can be used as a garnish or ingredient during cooking but let’s look more closely at the flavors of basil vs parsley.
Basil is a peppery herb with mint notes. It has a refreshing quality that we would associate with mint, used as both a palate cleanser and to enhance other flavors in a dish. Parsley is herbaceous with grassy notes and a peppery background flavor. Used as a garnish and flavor enhancer.
Within each of these common herbs there are different varieties with more to offer as well. Let’s look at each of these separately.
Holy Basil is a variety that has narrower leaves to the usual supermarket bought basil. With a pungent aroma and taste likened to licorice and cloves with a hint of mint and pepper. Much stronger than Genovese Basil. It will hold it’s flavor in cooking much more readily as well.
Thai Basil has much darker leaves and an intense anise or licorice flavor with a spiciness and pepper like taste in the background. Less refreshing in many ways than regular basil and certainly well suited to Asian cooking as a fresh herb.
Greek basil offers a sweeter lighter note to the peppery mint of basil. Used in many different Mediterranean dishes and can be a great one to grow in your garden as it grows a little taller than sweet basil and is much more compact in leaves.
Dark Opal Basil
Dark Opal Basil is an unusual basil to grow and does not offer green leaves as a garnish but dark, deep red leaves. A bit of a show stopper if you want to make an unusual pesto but with the normal flavor.
Flat Leaf Parsley – Titan, Italian Parsley
Flat leaf parsley is very common and offers a stronger flavor than curly. It is often mistaken for cilantro when growing and you can see barely any difference in height or shape of leaf. The difference becomes apparent when you rub or taste the leaves. Then the flavor is much more spicy and peppery in parsley than cilantro.
Curly parsley is very popular in both the garden and the kitchen. Just like the flat leaf variety in terms of size of leaf, but along the serrated edges the leaves have curled inwards. This gives a darker look but the flavor is lighter than flat leaf.
Uses For Basil Vs Parsley
These are just a few of the uses and there is nothing stopping you from mixing it up in your own kitchen, basil and parsley are nothing if not versatile.
Basil is used traditional in a Caprese salad, in pesto and as a garnish for many Mediterranean and Italian dishes. Parsley is used as a garnish, alongside chervil, tarragon and chives to make Fines Herbes used in traditional French cuisine.
Both can be dried with basil holding it’s flavor much more closely than parsley.
Can I Replace Basil With Parsley?
The big question, can you replace basil with parsley. Well yes you can. You may lose a little of the mint background flavor but you will still have a fresh leaf and green garnish. Also you will have a peppery flavor that you get with basil as well. Go for a 1:1 ratio with the fresh leaves.
This doesn’t work so well with dried substitutes as parsley loses a bit of it’s flavor and you may choose a better replacement for basil then. Click here for more ideas around replacing basil both fresh and dried.
Basil Vs Parsley – Health & Nutrition
Before we all get carried away thinking that basil and parsley are the most nutritious food we will ever eat, we need to think about sensible portion sizes. Realistically we use both of these herbs as a garnish and do not consume enough to make much of an impact on our daily intake. However by using these herbs and more in our cooking we can give an extra edge to our diets.
The following table is based on 100grams of fresh basil leaves and parsley leaves. This quantity is unlikely to be consumed by any one individual in a day, however it serves as a bit of a guide. Then you can see how much you can sneak into your diet! I have included the percentage of your recommended daily intake that these values represent as well.
|Basil -Calcium 177.00mg|
|Parsley – Calcium 138mg 13%|
|Iron 6.2mg 35%|
|Potassium 554mg 14%|
|Folate 68mcg 17%||Folate 152mcg 38%|
|Vitamin A 264.00 mcg|
|Vitamin A 8425mcg 168%|
|Vitamin B6 0.155 mg|
|Vitamin B 6 0.1mg 4%|
|Vitamin C 18.0 mg|
|Vitamin C 133mg 222%|
|Vitamin K 414.8 mcg|
|Vitamin K 1640mcg 2050%|
From the table we can see that parsley far outstrips basil in terms of nutritional content. However both are packed with vitamins and minerals that are essential to a healthy body.
It is really amazing to see just how much vitamin K, C and A is in parsley. I think reasonably you can eat around 20g as a garnish and addition to salads or rice dishes and therefore really smash your intake in these areas. Basil doesn’t quite offer the same high quantities but it has a great amount of Vitamin K, C and A as well as calcium and iron.
Basil Vs Parsley – In The Garden
Well when I say ‘basil vs parsley in the garden’ I am really talking about growing conditions as both of these herbs are lovely when grow indoors on a windowsill.
|Basil is a tender annual that will not survive outdoors overwinter, but you can get good results indoors with a grow lamp or bright window.||Parsley is a half hardy perennial and will come back in the second year and even self seed then for the next generation of plants.|
|Basil is a tender leaf soft stalked herb that will thrive from regular harvesting of leaves.||Parsley is a tender leaf soft stalked herb that will really do well once you start to harvest stems.|
|Basil is from the large Mint Lamiaceae family and has a love of full sun and adequate drainage.||Parsley is from the large Apiaceae or Umbelliferae family. Parsley loves full sun and adequate drainage.|
|Basil will flower and push out interesting stems which have tiny little petals and small blooms that sort of form clusters up the stems. Pinks to purple in color with some very attractive mixtures, however once basil flowers the energy is then put in to flowering and not producing leaves.||Parsley being an umbellifer will produce a cluster of tiny flowers on what looks like an umbrella that has been turned inside out by the wind. This then turns into seeds and parsley will spread through your garden quite nicely.|
Basil and parsley do live well together as they require very similar growing conditions. Neither love full sun for the entire day, but partial sun to full is fine. Lots of water as long as they have adequate drainage as their roots do not like to be soggy.
Basil vs parsley indoors – really they are on a par as both basil and parsley thrive from being harvested throughout their growing period. This makes them perfect cut and come again herbs to grow in a pot on your windowsill.
If you live in a bit of a hectic house like we do growing herbs in your kitchen will help to remind you that you to actually use them!
What Next & Further Reading
I hope that you are now feeling inspired to add either basil or parsley to your cooking. Not just as a garnish but included in many different dishes and dressings. Have a look at this article for more ideas and inspiration with basil. Growing these herbs on your windowsill will give you fresh flavors and added nutrition to every meal.
There should be no stopping you from getting away from buying fresh herbs and if you are interested to know more about drying herbs I have created a free guide available here. It also outlines how you may need to alter the ratio between fresh and dried for both basil and parsley.