Basil and parsley are both a common herb used to garnish and flavor many savory recipes. While they can get mixed up easily, they have very different uses.

Basil vs Parsley

Basil and parsley are both a common herb used to garnish and flavor many savory recipes. While they can get mixed up easily, they have very different uses.

Basil and Parsley are two common aromatic herbs that look similar but taste different. They are both leafy green plants that are used in cooking. Basil and Parsley both originate from the Mediterranean area.

Originally Published On: March 24, 2023

Scientific Names

Basil: Ocimum basilicum

Parsley: Petroselinum crispum

Plant

Basil is in the mint family, similar to Lavender and Rosemary. Surprisingly, Parsley is part of the carrot family. Parsley is native to the Mediterranean area but can be grown throughout the northern hemisphere. Basil originates from Central Africa and Southeast Asia. They both have large leaves which are the most flavorful part of the plant.

Both Basil and Parsley have flowers that look almost more like weeds of white. Most of the time, if you are growing these for the herbs, and they start to get so tall they flower, that’s called “bolting”. We have personally found that once a plant “bolts” it loses a lot of its flavor.

Flavor

Basil and Parsley leaves look similar, though they have very different tastes.

Basil has a warm, sweet flavor which is often found in Italian cuisine.

Parsley has a more peppery taste with a hint of earthy tones to it so it makes a great addition to many savory meals.

Pairings

One of the biggest differences between basil and parsley comes in how they are used in a culinary sense.

Fresh basil leaves work well in recipes that are “fresh” in taste. Typically, basil is added at the very end of a recipe, often as a garnish, since cooking it can destroy the flavor. Unlike some herbs, the entirety of the basil plant can be eaten. The leaves are the most popular, but the flower and seeds are edible as well. Basil goes well in Italian cooking.

There are a few varieties of parsley therefore they have different culinary uses. Curly leaf parsley and green parsley are often used as garnish. They go well with potato and rice dishes as well as on top of chicken, fish, and steak. You can also try fresh parsley in soups and stews. Parsley, especially flat leaf parsley, goes well in savory dishes because of its strong flavor. It’s a versatile herb that can be used in many ways.

Varieties

If you don’t want to grow the plants, you can also usually find the fresh herbs at the grocery store in the produce section. The dried herbs are also available with other herbs and spices.

Basil Varieties:

  • Sweet Basil
  • Small Leaf Basil or Dwarf Basil
  • Purple Leaf Basil
  • Scented Leaf Basil
  • Holy Basil

Parsley Varieties:

  • Curly Parsley
  • Italian Parsley
  • Flat-Leaf Parsley
  • Japanese Parsley
  • Hamburg Parsley

Substituting

If needed, you can substitute basil and parsley for each other, although it will change the taste of the dish slightly. Basil is sweeter and parsley has a more earthy flavor. Just remember, basil can’t be added into the middle of cooking because it will lose its flavor if the leaves are fresh. When using dried basil, you can add it in earlier if needed, but fresh herbs usually taste better.

A good substitute for parsley is fresh oregano or chives. Just remember that there’s a difference between the fresh flavor of parsley and a dried herb if you are making substitutes. Or, you can also substitute curly-leaf parsley for flat leaf parsley and vice versa.

Recipes

We use a lot of basil and parsley in our house. I like both of them a lot and so does my family. We’ve had them both growing in our own herb garden many times in the last decade or so.

Basil Recipes:

Thai basil pesto in a round white dish with a stainless steel spoon in front of a bamboo board with flatbread next to a sprig of thai basil on a grey placemat all on a wooden surface

Parsley Recipes:

Creamy artichoke soup in two round white bowls on top of round white plates with white cloth napkins and a stainless steel spoon with fresh sliced bread all on a tan surface

Nutritional Information

You’ll find varying information about the nutritional value of basil and parsley. The nutritional value changes whether it’s dried or fresh, and can vary based on which species of the plant is used.

Basil contains 1.6 calories per 0.7 g serving. This serving contains 0 g of fat, 0.2 g of protein and 0.3 g of carbohydrate. The latter is 0 g sugar and 0.3 g of dietary fiber, the rest is complex carbohydrate. Spices, dried, basil contains 0 g of saturated fat and 0 mg of cholesterol per serving. 0.7 g of Spices, dried, basil contains 0.26 mcg vitamin A, 0.0 mg vitamin C, 0.00 mcg vitamin D as well as 0.63 mg of iron, 15.68 mg of calcium, 18 mg of potassium.

Src: https://www.nutritionvalue.org/Spices%2C_dried%2C_basil_nutritional_value.html

One cup of fresh chopped parsley (about 60g) has 22 calories, 0.8g protein, 0.5g of fat, 3.8g of carbohydrates, 2.0g fiber, and 0.5g sugar. Parsley is an excellent source of vitamin K and vitamin C, and a good source of vitamin A (mostly in the form of beta-carotene), folate (vitamin B 9), and iron.

Src: https://www.precisionnutrition.com/encyclopedia/food/parsley#:~:text=One%20cup%20of%20fresh%20chopped,vitamin%20B9)%2C%20and%20iron.

Medicinal Information

Herbs have been used in medicine for thousands of years. You can find a plethora of information about how each has been used for a variety of ailments and medicinal uses all over the world.

Basil has been used in the treatment of snakebites, colds, and nasal inflammation. It’s full of antioxidants and helps support a healthy liver. Basil has also been known to help protect against skin aging, reduce high blood sugar, and aid in overall cardiovascular health.

Parsley is known for its many health benefits such as preventing cancer, protecting against diabetes, and improving bone health. It can also help to alleviate menstrual cramps and has anti-inflammatory properties.

Grow Your Own

Depending on where you live, you may be able to grow basil or parsley (or both) in outdoor and indoor herb gardens. You’ll have to check the USDA zones to see what growing zone you are in and the growing season for these plants. For example, I live in a very warm climate so we have a longer growing season than many areas.

Location

Basil can be very finicky. You’ll do best to keep basil in a pot so you can bring it inside as soon as the weather cools down. It’s a summer plant and wants warm locations. You can grow it outdoors in the summer but will need to move it inside for the other seasons.

Parsley is a more hardy plant. You can start it in the ground a few weeks before the last frost as the seeds will still take root since it’s a slow-starting plant.

Sunlight

Both plants will want to be somewhere they receive full sun for optimal growth. In North America, this typically means you want them to be planted in an area that gets the afternoon sun on the south side of the home.

Soil

Basil prefers moist soil but it still needs to drain well. The best thing to do for basil is to add a layer of mulch to help keep moisture in the soil.

Parsley also needs soil that drains well, but it needs soil that’s slightly acidic with a PH level of about 6.0.

Water

Basil can be freely watered as long as the soil will drain as needed.

Parsley also needs a lot of water, especially in the warmer summer months in the United States. It also helps to mulch around the seedlings to keep moisture in.

Harvesting

When you harvest basil, make sure to never take away more than one-third of the plant because that could shock it and stunt its growth or kill the plant. Basil needs to be pruned often, especially early in the sprouting stage. Make sure to prune it often because that will promote good growth.

Parsley can be harvested once the leaf stems have at least three stem segments. You’ll want to cut from the outer parts of the stem to leave the inner part to grow. Ideally, leave about 2-3 weeks between harvests to promote further growth.

Drying

Both plants can be dried by using a drying rack, a dehumidifier, or by hanging upside down in bundles.

Sources

17 thoughts on “Basil vs Parsley”

  1. This was an interesting read! I’m not must of a cook, so slices of any kind are in the grey area for me. Thanks so sharing this with us!

  2. I grow both basil and parsley in my garden but I never know when to use which one. Thank you for the clarifications and tips!

  3. Love this article on basil vs parsley! The comparison of taste and usage was so helpful. As an Indian, I can say we use both herbs in our cuisine and it’s great to know their unique properties.

  4. I’m new to cooking and I find them somewhat similar. Thanks for your post! It’s very helpful to beginners like me.

  5. Great information! I like using both while cooking, which I use depends on what I am making but both are pretty good. I also like using basil in strawberry lemonade.

  6. I had no idea there were so many different types of basil and parsley available! We only get one type into work and I’ve only ever seen one type of each in stores over here.

  7. I like that you broke down the similarities and differences. Really glad to learn the nutritional value of each.

  8. I do use both although not as often as I’d like as I forget to buy them. They’re great in a wide range of dishes. Growing my own would really help solve that problem. I’ll need to give it a go.

  9. I love basil but had no idea there were so many different types! I use parsley occasionally, but not nearly as often as basil. And now I’m have to try the Sun-Dried Tomatoes with Basil in Orzo Pasta!

  10. I have used basil only for making pesto. Thanks for sharing more basil recipes. I”ll be sure to try the sundried tomatoes and basil orzo. I have tried growing basil too, but like you mentioned, it’s tricky. It’s never lasted beyond a few weeks for me.

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