When you think of the term ‘superfood,’ berries and dark leafy greens (think kale, collards, and spinach) might come to mind. But if you’re skipping the likes of herbs such as parsley—perhaps thinking they’re merely a garnish or even expendable in recipes—you’ll miss out on some *major* benefits for your brain, mental health, energy, and longevity.
Below, see why Uma Naidoo, MD—a Harvard-trained nutritional psychiatrist, professional chef, nutritional biologist, and author of the national and international bestseller, This is Your Brain on Food—can’t recommend parsley enough. Plus: a few vetted recipes that’ll boost your intake of this nutritional powerhouse.
Parsley’s key nutrients and their benefits
To start, Dr. Naidoo calls out luteolin as an all-star antioxidant found in parsley, which works wonders to combat brain fog, mental health imbalances, and more. “Parsley is an excellent source of luteolin, a flavonoid that helps to reduce inflammation and the damaging effects of oxidative stress,” she says. “This is especially important for brain health, as reduced inflammation is associated with fewer symptoms of stress and anxiety, as well as reduced risk of cognitive decline or neurodegenerative disease with age.”
Similar to other greens, parsley is also rich in folate (aka vitamin B9). “Folate is one of my key nutrients for mental fitness as it helps in neurotransmitter synthesis and supports the integrity of myelin, the fatty material that protects neurons and potentiates fast transmission,” Dr. Naidoo says. She continues to say that folate deficiencies are associated with symptoms of both depression and brain fog—and folate may even also help to stave off Alzheimer’s—so its importance in your diet can’t be underestimated to keep your mental health and cognition in peak shape. (For reference, the RDA for folate is 400 mcg for adults, though the recommendation climbs to 600 mcg during pregnancy and 500 mcg during lactation.)
Dr. Naidoo shares that this leafy green herb offers fiber, “which feeds the good bacteria in the gut for a healthier microbiome and reduced inflammation.” Again, inflammation wreaks havoc not only on your brain, mind, and mood, but also your health and well-being across the board. “Reducing inflammation is essential for improving physical health and reducing the risk of a host of other chronic illnesses, ranging from asthma to heart disease to arthritis and even cancer,” Dr. Naidoo says.
4. Additional nutrients in parsley
While Dr. Naidoo takes care to highlight some of the key nutrients in parsley above, there are many others that are packed into this herb. “Parsley also contains several antioxidants such as apiol, limonene and eugenol; flavonoids such as apigenin glycosides and quercetin; carotenoids, ascorbic acid, tocopherol, tannins, sterols, vitamins A, C and K, potassium, calcium, and magnesium,” she adds. Talk about small and mighty!
“As a source of key micronutrients for neurological health, parsley can help to enhance mental fitness, brain health, energy levels, and overall cognition,” says Dr. Naidoo. In short, you’ll be doing your brain and body a favor by buying this versatile herb at your local farmers market or during your next grocery haul—or even growing it in your own garden. From there, get creative by whipping up some of the recipes below in which parsley takes center stage.
But first, some parsley prep FYIs
If you’re short on time, heed Dr. Naidoo’s advice and chop it onto your go-to salad “for a delicious and bright flavor, or add it as a fresh garnish so it’ll count toward the number of colors and different vegetables that add biodiversity to gut health.” Might as well mix into your smoothies if you have some extra on hand, too.
And while Dr. Naidoo prefers parsley in its fresh and natural state, she says that dried parsley “still provides brain healthy antioxidants and incredible flavor to food,” so you’ll want to keep a jar stocked in your pantry, as well. With that, she offers one important chef’s tip: “Use half the amount of dried parsley compared to fresh parsley in recipes, as the dried herb is more concentrated.”
All things considered, you really can’t go wrong with this overachieving herb.
3 parsley recipes for brain-boosting and mental health benefits
1. Parsley pesto
One of the easiest ways to get more parsley in your diet is to make a sauce from a big old bunch, à la this parsley pesto recipe by The Last Food Blog. The recipe developer suggests opting for flat-leaf (rather than curly) parsley for a stronger flavor profile, as well as toasting your pine nuts beforehand to add a warm, toasty taste. Throw in some pecorino or parmesan cheese, EVOO, garlic, lemon juice, salt, and pepper, and voilà—you’ve got yourself a delicious and nutritious spread to mix into pasta, dollop onto eggs, or spread over toast.
Get the recipe: Parsley pesto
2. Chimichurri verde
Hailing from Argentina and Uruguay, chimichurri is a delicious sauce-slash-marinade typically made with fresh minced parsley, garlic, red wine vinegar, oregano, and olive oil. This chimichurri recipe by The Forked Spoon aims to stay as close to its cultural roots as possible, and also includes red chili (fresh or flakes) for a bit of extra heat—though it’s totally optional if you have a mild palate. “You can use this marinade atop your favorite grass-fed steak, grilled tofu, or my favorite: a cauliflower steak,” Dr. Naidoo shares.
Get the recipe: Chimichurri verde
Parsley is the chief leaf in tabbouleh (aka tabouli), a Middle Eastern salad with a bulgur wheat base plus cucumbers, tomatoes, lemon juice, and olive oil. In this tabbouleh recipe by Cookie and Kate, she recommends opting for curly parsley for extra volume and also includes mint, green onion, and garlic as optional mix-ins.
Get the recipe: Tabbouleh