An erect hardy annual growing up to 2 feet, Chervil was well known to the ancient Greeks, Romans, Europeans, and Arabs. The name 'Chervil' comes from the Greek 'to rejoice' because of its delightful scent.
Native to southeast Europe and western Asia, Chervil has been naturalized in the United States. The name is said to derive from 'cheirei' and 'phyllum', which means "that which rejoices the heart".
Note: Roots poisonous unless boiled first! Chervil has a delicate flavor. It is popular in European cooking. Easy to use, chervil won't overpower your dishes. It is very versatile, too. A spice well worth your acquaintance! Try it in pasta, egg, vegetable, grain dishes, soups, sauces, salads and dressings.
Chervil is one of the medieval Lenten Herbs which was eaten during Lent. It was also traditional to serve Chervil Soup on Holy thursday due to the opinion that its taste and fragrance was similar to that of Myrrh (a gift to the Infant Jesus from the Magi).
Chervil as an Herb for Medicinal Uses
Chervil is not often used medicinally these days. One notable exception is the use of the infusion in Europe to lower blood pressure. Any effectiveness may be due to its diuretic activity; fluid rentention causing the blood pressure to rise and being benefitted by a diuretic. No research has been able to validate any claims for this herb. One method of using Chervil as a diruetic was to boil the leaves in wine and take a mouthful at a time.
Externally, Chervil has been used to treat conjunctivitis, inflamed eyelids, and hemorrhoids. Poultices of the fresh leaves have been used for boils, bruises, and skin problems.
Pliny and Culpeper used chervil to warm the stomachs of the elderly. Although poisenous when fresh, the roots were boiled, then candied to treat a cold stomach. Another ancient method to warm the stomach was to slice green seeds and place them in a salad with oil and vinegar dressing.
Chervil vinegar has been used for hiccups. In the Middle Ages, hiccups were said to be cured by eating an entire plant. Another version was the drinking of Chervil vinegar perpared with the seed. It was and still is good in salad dressings, sauces, potato salad, etc.
Home Made Chervil Vinegar
Pick the chervil just before it blooms for peak flavor. Using 2 cups fresh chervil washed gently in cool water and patted dry and 1 pint boiling white wine (or cider) vinegar, place the chervil in a wide-mouthed, heat-proof jar and crush lightly. Pour in vinegar and cool to room temperature. Screw on the lid and let it stand in a cool spot (not your frig) for about 10 days, turning the jar upside down once a day (then right side up, the next day. Taste the vinegar after the 10th day; if the taste isn't strong enough, you can let it soak for a full two weeks. If it still tastes weak, strain off the vinegar, fill a fresh jar with more fresh chervil, and repeat the above process. When the taste is right, strain the vinegar through several thicknesses of cheesecloth into a fresh pint jar.
Culinary Uses of Chervil
Note: Flavor is delicate and will not take prolonged cooking; add to dish just before serving; also true of the dried herb as the flavor is lost to a large degree in the drying process.
Many uses where its unique anise-like flavor is desired such as soups, bitter sauces, vegetables, and meat dishes. Used as a garnish on meats.
Added raw and chopped to salads, or used as a garnish. Used as a substitute for Tarragon.
Leaves are added to potato, egg, fish, and cheese dishes.
An ingredient of fines herbes (a combination of herbs that forms a mainstay of Mediterranean cuisine).
Chervil soaked in brandy for a few weeks, then strained, was a European copy of an Arab liqueur which was made with chervil and cherry flavoring.
The term 'pluches de cerfeuille' found in French recipes means 'blanched sprigs of chervil', which are often used in soups.
Chervil Soup: (A popular French dish.) Peel and chop 3 potatoes and 1 clove of garlic. Place in pot with just enough water to cover, then cook until tender. Put through a food mill or a ricer and add 2 cups of medium cream, some salt and pepper to taste, then reheat to the boiling point (do NOT boil), remove from heat and add 1 to 2 tbsp of chopped chervil (or amount desired).
Chervil Beets: Combine equal amounts of chopped Chervil and Chives and toss with sliced, hot beets which have been previously combined with 1/2 cup of sour cream (or yogurt) and 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard.
Greek nobles used a sprig of chervil to wave blessings at others.
Toxic, irritant possible carcinogenic.
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