After spending a long New England winter bundled up and hibernating from the cold, spring is finally here! As the days get longer, the ground begins to thaw and trees start to bloom. This is the perfect time to lighten up your cooking with fresh ingredients.
Next time you’re in the grocery store or strolling through a farmers’ market, grab some fresh herbs to brighten up any dish. Not only do these small greens instantly elevate your meal with vibrant flavor, they also provide numerous nutritional benefits. Using fresh herbs can reduce sodium and fat by enhancing flavor without the need for excess salt or butter. In addition, many herbs provide important nutrients, such as vitamins A, K, and C, and minerals such as potassium, manganese, and magnesium. Herbs also have a long history of both culinary and medicinal use, and many have been touted for their protective effect against various diseases. Research suggests this may be due to polyphenols, a large group of compounds that have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, neuroprotective, and antimicrobial properties. However, more research is needed to establish therapeutic effects of dietary herbs, especially because they are usually consumed in small quantities. Nonetheless, fresh herbs are still an effortless way to lighten up your meals and boost your nutrition this spring.
How to Use Fresh Herbs
Don’t worry about fresh herbs rotting away in the back of your fridge after just one recipe. These greens can be used in a variety of dishes, including dips, soups, salads and much more.
Rich in nutrients and packed with antioxidants, basil has been researched for its anti-inflammatory, anti-aging,anti-microbial, and cancer fighting properties. One study found that basil even has strong antibacterial activity against widespread antibiotic resistant strains. And this popular herb isn’t just for your favorite Italian dishes. In addition to pesto, pizza, and pasta, basil can also be used in sauces, dressings, and salads. Mix things up with this Mediterranean chopped salad featuring tomatoes, peppers, feta, and basil.
Just half a cup of freshly chopped parsley contains about 470% of your daily value for vitamin K. This versatile herb’s subtle yet fresh flavor is the perfect complement to any dish. Add it to soups, pasta, vegetable dishes, and salads. Next time you’re packing lunch, consider this protein-rich white bean salad with tuna and parsley.
Chives belong to the allium genus, which also includes garlic, scallions, onions, and leeks. These vegetables contain allicin, an organic compound that may improve cardiovascular health by lowering blood pressure and reducing bad cholesterol. The bright onion flavor of chives is delicious in dips, creamy sauces, baked potatoes, eggs, or quesadillas. Perk up your salads with this simple healthy chive vinaigrette.
High in vitamins A and K and full of citrusy flavor, cilantro can be used for more than topping your tacos or mixing into guacamole. Add this herb to curries, Asian cuisine, and meat dishes. Meal-prep with this cilantro lime chicken recipe for a satisfying week night meal.
Studies have shown that peppermint oil extracted from mint may aid in digestion and help those with irritable bowel syndrome by relaxing muscles in your digestive tract and promoting the flow of bile to help you digest more quickly. Use this refreshing herb in both sweet and savory dishes, such as sauces, salads, or desserts. For an easy side dish or snack, slice up this cooling cucumber and mint salad recipe.
The fragrant flavor of dill is delightful with fish, lamb, sour cream dressings, cheeses, cucumbers, and eggs. If you have leftover dill lying in your fridge, then whip up this simple recipe for potato salad with yogurt, arugula, and dill.
How to Keep Herbs Fresh
To keep your herbs fresh and flavorful for as long as possible, it’s important to keep them moist and reduce exposure to oxygen. Try these storage tips next time you buy a bunch.
- Soft Herbs: For soft herbs with tender stems and leaves, such as parsley and cilantro, trim the ends of the stems, fill a glass or jar with one inch of cool water, and place them in the glass. Cover loosely with a plastic bag and keep refrigerated. Change the water every couple of days for the best results.
- Hard Herbs: For hard herbs with woody stems and leaves, such as chives and rosemary, wrap them loosely in a damp paper towel and store in a zip-lock bag in the fridge.
Grow Your Own
Use the coming spring as inspiration to start your own simple herb garden. Growing your own herbs ensures you always have a fresh supply on hand and you can snip off only as much as you need at a time. It’s easy! All you need is a sunny spot outside or on your kitchen counter. Pick out herb seedlings and plant each herb in 8-inch pots with potting soil. Get ready to cook!
April Dupee is a first-year student in the Nutrition Interventions, Communications, and Behavior Change program and RD-to-be. She loves trying new recipes and hopes to improve her green thumb with an herb garden this spring.