The Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Plants: Ethnopharmacology and Its Applications

Petroselinum crispum (Miller) Nyman ex A.W. Hill






Apiaceae (Umbelliferae) (Carrot Family); Subfamily Apioideae, Amminae Tribe

Forms and Subspecies


The species is divided into two subspecies (Frank 1994, 105):


Petroselinum crispum ssp. crispum (leaf parsley; has a smooth-leaved and a crisp-leaved form, as well as three chemotypes [see “Constituents”])

Petroselinum crispum ssp. tuberosum (Bernh. ex Rchb.) So (root parsley, parsley root)



Apium hortense E.H.L. Krause

Apium laetum Salisb.

Apium petroselinum L.

Apium romanum Zuccagni

Apium vulgare Druce

Carum petroselinum Benth. et Hook.

Helosciadium oppositifolium Reuss

Ligusticum levisticum Elsmann

Petroselinum hortense Hoffm.

Petroselinum macedonicum (Lonitzer) Bubani

Petroselinum petroselinum Karst.

Petroselinum sativum auct. non. Hoffm.

Petroselinum sativum Hoffm.

Petroselinum vulgare Kirschl.

Selinum petroselinum E.H.L. Krause

Sium oppositifolium Kit.

Wydleria portoricensis DC.

Folk Names


Apio ortense (Italian), apium, bittersilche, elixanter, gartenpetersilie, jaubert, maghdunes (Iraq), oxillatrum, parsley, perejil (Spanish), persil, peterchen, peterlein, peterling, peterselie (Dutch), petershiljen, petersilie, petersilienkraut, petersill, petersillig, petroselino, petrosella, pitar saleri (Hindi), prezzemolo, silk, tukhm-i-kalam (Persian)



It is possible that Dioscorides described parsley under the name sison as a seed that was savored in Syria (3.57). Whether the ancient Egyptians used the plant is a subject of debate (Germer 1985, 144 f.*). One of the earliest descriptions of parsley mentions a psychoactive property: “It produces seriousness in the mind of a person” (Hildegard von Bingen, Physica 1.68). It has been listed as a medicine in all pharmacopoeias since the Middle Ages (Schneider 1974, 3:43*).

The chief significance of parsley is culinary; it is used as a kitchen spice, soup seasoning, and aromatic substance (including for alcoholic beverages; cf. alcohol). In the history of psychoactive substances, the plant is of only minor importance. It may have been an ingredient in witches’ ointments and theriac. It was often used as a beer additive. Since the 1960s, the dried herbage has been smoked as a marijuana substitute (cf. Cannabis indica). The root is sometimes used as an ingredient in incense, while parsley oil is used in the (illegal) manufacture of psychoactive phenethylamines of the MDA or MDMA type (see Myristica fragransherbal ecstasy; Shulgin and Shulgin 1991*).

“Following the ingestion of a larger quantity of the essential oil [of parsley], first a central state of arousal, then inebriated states are possible (an effect of the hallucinogenic myristicin?).”




(1989, 369)


“Parsley was already being planted in the gardens of German farmers during the early Middle Ages. . . . It plays a great, often shrouded role in folk eroticism. First, it is regarded as an aphrodisiac for the man because of its strong aroma. It is . . . attributed with powerful arousing effects.”








Parsley is thought to have originated in the Mediterranean region. As a result of cultivation, it is now found throughout the world and has become wild in some areas.



Parsley is very easily grown from seed. The seeds need only be broadcast onto a bed of good topsoil and watered.



This biennial fragrant plant has pinnate, incised leaves, a smooth stalk, and a spindle- or turnip-shaped vertical root. The root of the subspecies tuberosum is substantially thicker and more bulbous than that of the rest of the species. The white umbel, which grows from the center of the branching stalk, does not appear until the second year. For this reason, most hobby gardeners are unfamiliar with flowering parsley. The flowering period is from June to July. The gray-brown, 2 to 3 mm long fruits mature on the ten- to twenty-flower pedicels, which are arranged on the umbel in a radial manner.

Parsley can be confused with the only other member of the genus, Petroselinum segetum (L.) Koch. It is also very similar to the toxic dog parsley (Aethusa cynapium L.) and poison hemlock (Conium maculatum) (Frank 1994, 106).


Wild parsley is said to be more psychoactive than garden parsley. (Woodcut from Fuchs, Läebliche abbildung und contrafaytung aller kreüter, 1545)


Psychoactive Material


—Herbage (petroselini herba, folia petroselini, herba petroselini, parsley leaves), fresh or dried

—Seeds (semen petroselini, petroselini fructus)

—Parsley fruit oil (petroselinum aetheroleum e fructibus, oleum petroselini, parsley seed oil, grünes apiol, apiolum)

—Root (petroselini radix, radix petroselini, parsley root)


Parsley (Petroselinum crispum) is not normally associated with psychoactive substances. But it does contain powerful active constituents.


Preparation and Dosage


The subspecies crispum is used primarily for its herbage, while the subspecies tuberosum is used chiefly for its root.

A daily medicinal dose is regarded as 6 g of the dried herbage (Frank 1994, 115). For the ingestion of powdered parsley fruits, a therapeutic single dose is 1 g. For a cold- or hot-water extract, a daily dose is listed as 1 to 3 g of seeds crushed shortly before being steeped (112). A hot-water extract or infusion should be allowed to steep for five to ten minutes.

Parsley fruit oil is obtained by distilling the mature fruits. The composition of the oil varies depending on the chemical race (see “Constituents”). As a result, the different oils have correspondingly different applications and dosages. The oil of the apiol race is used to induce abortions. For this purpose, either a single dose of up to 10.8 g or a daily dose of 1 g for one to two weeks is ingested (Frank 1994, 109). Only the oil of the myristicin race can be used for psychoactive purposes (cf. Myristica fragrans). Unfortunately, no reliable information regarding dosages is available.

Ritual Use


Parsley herbage played a magical and apotropaic role in the customs of central Europe:


In Moravia, the plant makes the influence of witches upon cows ineffective if it is sown between the 24th and the 26th of June. In many communities, a wreath of parsley is placed on a child’s head on its first birthday, for it has then survived the most dangerous time. According to a widely held superstition, pulling a parsley root from the ground will bring death to that person who was thought of when it was planted. In Galacia, the Ruthenian bride carries bread and parsley on the way to the church so as to ward off evil spirits. Garlic and parsley are tied to the linen cloth under which a woman in labor lies in order to protect her from magic. (Schöpf 1986, 124*)





Medicinal Use


Parsley herbage is used in folk medicine to purify the blood and to treat diseases of the urinary tract.

In homeopathy, both an essence of the fresh herbage—Petroselinum–Petersilie (Petroselinum crispum hom. HAB1, Petroselinum sativum hom. HPUS88)—and a tincture made from the mature fruits—Petroselinum e seminibus—are used (Schneider 1974, 3:43*).



The entire plant contains an essential oil consisting of myristicin, p-apiol (= parsley camphor), monoterpenes, and sesquiterpenes. The seeds contain the highest concentration of essential oil (2 to 6%; average 2.7%) (Czygan 1989, 268; Fühner 1943, 240*; Roth et al. 1994, 552*). Three chemotypes (chemical races) have been distinguished on the basis of the principal constituents of the essential oil of the mature fruits (Frank 1994, 106; Warncke 1992):


—Myristicin race, with 49 to 77% myristicin, 0 to 3% apiol, and 1 to 23% allyltetramethoxybenzol

—Apiol race, with 58 to 80% apiol, 9 to 30% myristicin, and up to 6% allyltetramethoxybenzol

—Allyltetramethoxybenzol race, with 50 to 60% allyltetramethoxybenzol, 26 to 37% myristicin, and traces of apiol


The essential oil of the root of the subspecies tuberosum is composed chiefly of apiol (principal constituent), β-pinene, and myristicin but has traces of elemicine, limonene, bisabolene, sesquiphellandrene, and germacrene-A (Czygan 1989, 370 f.; Frank 1994, 116). The herbage contains flavones (apiine) and furanocoumarin (cf. coumarins). The fruits are rich in a fatty oil (petroselinic acid). The roots contain polyacetylene and furanocoumarin. Parsley herbage has a high vitamin C content (165 mg per 100 g) and also contains nicotine amide and considerable potassium (1%).



The essential oil of the apiol race has powerful abortive effects (Fühner 1943, 240*) and also can induce coma (Frank 1994, 109). The essential oil of the myristicin race has primarily psychoactive and inebriating effects comparable to those of Myristica fragrans (Czygan 1989, 369).

Commercial Forms and Regulations


Fresh parsley is one of the most commonly sold herb seasonings. The dried herbage, the seeds, and the dried root (chopped drug) can be procured in herb shops and pharmacies (without restriction). The seeds can also be obtained in flower shops.


In the drug culture, the word parsley is a pseudonym for marijuana. This is not inappropriate, as the plant does contain inebriating essential oils. (Woodcut from Tabernaemontanus, Neu Vollkommen Kräuter-Buch, 1731)













See also the entries for witches’ ointments and essential oils.


Czygan, Franz-Christian. 1989. Petersilienfrüchte [and] Petersilienwurzel. In Teedrogen, ed. M. Wichtl, 368–69 and 370–71. Stuttgart: WVG. (Two separate articles.)


Frank, Bruno. 1994. Petroselinum. In Hagers Handbuch der pharmazeutischen Praxis, 5th ed., 6:105–19. Berlin: Springer.


Warncke, D. 1992. Untersuchungen über die Zusammensetzung der ätherischen Öle von Petroselinum crispum (Mill.) A.W. Hill und Petroselinum segetum (L.) Koch unter besonderer Berücksichtigung von Handelsdrogen und Handelsölen. Diss. (biology), Würzburg.