Chervil is a short-lived herb, grown as an annual, that's closely related to parsley. Its leaves, which taste milder than parsley, have a hint of aniseed. Chervil makes a pretty plant with delicate lacy foliage and clusters of white flowers on stems up to 60cm (2ft) tall.
Chervil leaves can be harvested until plants start to flower, which happens more quickly in hot weather. But if you sow small batches regularly, you’ll always have new plants ready to take over once one batch starts flowering. Regular sowing can provide continuous pickings through summer and autumn – and beyond if you protect plants with cloches or keep them in a greenhouse.
Chervil leaves should be used fresh for the best flavour. They can perk up salads and enhance many dishes, including egg, chicken and fish, as well as soups and stews, when added at the end of cooking. As chervil isn’t widely available in supermarkets, it’s well worth growing yourself.
Month by Month
Chervil is easy to grow from seed and can be sown indoors or outside. The main sowing season is spring and summer. It’s best to sow small batches regularly, because in hot weather plants will only provide harvests for a relatively short time before they start to flower.
When sowing for summer harvests, choose a cool, lightly shaded growing site and water regularly, to delay flowering as long as possible.
You can also sow chervil in autumn for winter harvests under cloches or in a cold frame or greenhouse, or for early harvests the following spring.
Sowing indoors provides a head start in spring, and seedlings are protected from harsh weather and slugs and snails. However, chervil plants should be moved into their final growing position as soon as possible, before their tap root starts to form – see Planting, below.
With autumn sowings, you can keep the plants indoors, in deep containers or greenhouse borders, for cropping throughout the colder months.
You can sow chervil seeds outdoors from March to August in drills 1cm (½in) deep, with 30cm (12in) between rows.
Chervil seedlings can take up to three weeks to appear. Protect them from slugs and snails, and thin them out to 15cm (6in) apart to give them room to grow. Water in dry spells.
Sowing small batches regularly will provide a succession of plants, for harvests over a long season – see our guide to successional sowing.
You can move indoor-sown chervil plants and bought plants to their final growing position after the last frost, once they’re about 5cm (2in) tall.
Harden off first, slowly introducing them to outdoor conditions.
Younger plants transplant more successfully, before their long tap roots start to grow. Handle them gently and try not to disturb the roots.
Chervil is best planted in light shade, especially in summer, as hot sun can cause premature flowering.
You can also plant chervil in a large container, at least 30cm (1ft) wide and deep, filled with multi-purpose compost – see our guide to growing herbs in containers.
Chervil needs little maintenance, apart from watering in dry weather to deter premature flowering. Remove the plants when they start to flower, as the leaves will be past their best – or just keep a few plants to flower and produce seeds, so you get a new generation of plants.
Aim to keep the soil consistently moist but not waterlogged. In hot, dry weather chervil is prone to bolting, but regular watering can delay this. Plants in containers need particular attention, as the compost can dry out very quickly in warm weather.
Apply a thick layer of mulch, such as garden compost, around chervil plants to help hold moisture in the soil and deter weeds.
Keep chervil seedlings and young plants weed-free, to reduce competition for light, water and nutrients.
Protecting from pests and winter
Take care to protect seedlings and young plants from slugs and snails.
Chervil can be grown as a winter crop if sown in late summer or autumn. Cover plants with cloches or grow in deep containers in a cold frame or greenhouse.
Chervil is a prolific self-seeder, so it’s best not to let too many plants produce seeds, to avoid being over-run with new plants. Just leave a few flowerheads and either collect the seeds to sow yourself or let them drop and grow where they like.
If you're collecting your own seeds, sow them within a couple of months for best results as they don’t store well.
Cut repeatedly to encourage new leaves to grow, and use them fresh. Chervil leaves are past their best once plants start to flower, so re-sow regularly to ensure you always have new young plants to harvest.
Chervil has a delicate flavour, like mild parsley with a hint of aniseed. Use chopped leaves in salads and herb butter, or add at the end of cooking, especially to sauces and egg, chicken and fish dishes.
Chervil is prone to bolting (premature flowering) in hot dry weather, so take care to keep it well watered, never letting the soil dry out completely. In summer, grow chervil in a cool, partly shaded spot. Chervil is a short-lived plant and will naturally flower once well established, which curtails leaf production. Sow new batches of seeds every few weeks to take over from plants that start to flower - see our guide to successional sowing.
Relatively few pests or diseases affect chervil, but do look out for:
Slugs and snails, which like chervil’s delicate leaves, so put deterrents or controls in place
Aphids, which may colonise young leaves – wash them off or remove affected growth
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