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Chervil root is the small taproot of a leafy plant, with leaves similar to those of carrots. Chaerophyllum bulbosum is grown for its root and not its leafy greens, like the herb chervil. It is a biennial plant, meaning that it takes two years for it to fully mature. During the first year of growth, the stem, leaves and small white flowers grow; in the next year, the root develops. Roots can grow from two-3 inches in length and half that in diameter. Short and stout with a brown skin and a creamy white flesh reminiscent of potatoes. Chervil root isn’t harvested until after the first frost, when temperature dips change the biochemical structure of the root making it edible, and producing its unique flavor. Its taste is said to be a cross between a carrot and a chestnut, with a starchy texture.
Chervil root is available during the early fall and through the winter months.
Chervil root is a member of the Umbelliferae family; one of the root vegetables known as ‘umbellifers,’ which includes parsley root, carrots and celeriac among others. Botanically, it is known as Chaerophyllum bulbosum, and more commonly sold as 'Turnip-rooted Chervil'. Most roots take over one year to mature, and require a touch of frost before the tuber is truly edible. Chervil root is most often found in the United Kingdom and in its native Europe.
Chervil root is high in fiber and has the same starchy quality as a potato. It contains favorable amounts of vitamins B and C and mineral salts. The rich carbohydrate reserves of Chervil root increase after a period of cold storage, making it a highly desirable crop for diversity and use as a food source. Such high levels of sucrose and starch in one root vegetable are rare, and research into how to improve crop yields and extend seed life is on-going.
Chervil root is most often prepared like other root vegetables, either boiled or roasted. Much of the flavor and aroma is from the skin of the tuber, so it is advised not to peel Chervil root prior to preparing it. Roots should be thoroughly washed to remove any soil or debris. Chervil root can be braised alongside meats or other vegetables or boiled and mashed or pureed. Chervil pairs well with meat and fish, as well as other root vegetables like carrots, parsnips and celeriac. Chervil root can be stored like potatoes through the winter, as long as care is taken to keep the tuber from sprouting (proper temperature and moisture levels maintained).
Around the turn of the 19th century, famed French botanist Maurice Vilmorin believed Chervil root to be a valuable edible tuber, and suggested it be classified with the potato, though its production levels were not nearly equal. The distinctly flavored root is among the European “5 herb aromatics” though its use has declined much in the last couple hundred years.
Used by early Greeks and Romans and in England during the 14th through 17th century, Chervil root was first introduced to agriculture in France in 1846. It is native to Central and Eastern Europe and is a member of the Apiaceae family which is known to be of special interest due to their aromatics and high levels of fiber. There are challenges in the cultivation of Chervil root. If proper soil temperatures and moisture levels aren’t reached, the seed embryo will go dormant and can remain so for very long periods of time resulting in smaller yields. Research and cultivation of this almost forgotten tuber began in France’s Loire Valley and north of Brittany around the mid-1980s. The work being done is centered on increasing yield and limiting seed dormancy and fragility and has produced several cultivars like “Altan,” “Véga,” and “M4.10.”. This has led to an increase in cultivation and more home gardeners growing Chervil root. The aromatic tuber can be found throughout Europe and the United Kingdom. Appearances in the United States are limited to farmer’s markets and specialty stores, and availability is very limited.
Recipes that include Chervil Root. One is easiest, three is harder.