Going to the farmer’s market this week?
Getting your fruits and vegetables at the peak of freshness during summer months isn’t the only thing to which you can look forward when you go to the farmer’s market (or even your local supermarket).
Fresh herbs are in-season and packed with flavor right now, too!
Herbs are leafy green plants that can have leaves, seeds, or flowers that we use to flavor food as well as perfume and medicines.
In-season Right Now
Throughout history, herbs were first used for their medicinal properties and then used in cooking to confer added health benefits, in addition to imparting flavor to prepared dishes.
Herbs can be grown in your kitchen window like this lemon thyme, outside in an herb garden, or in a pot on the patio so that you could have a fresh herb to add to your favorite recipe all through the year.
Most of us, however, will buy our herbs in bunches from the farmer’s market or supermarket when we have a recipe in mind or they happen to look and smell appealing.
There are many herbs coming to harvest right now, including parsley, cilantro, dill, rosemary, basil, and chives. These varieties tend to add a dash of summer time flavor to our recipes, such as salads and salsas, or as a colorful garnish.
Other herbs that we tend to love during the heat of the summer include mint (loved my chocolate mint plant pictured below!) and chervil.
Health Benefits of Herbs
Plants contain helpful properties, such as phytochemicals, that some believe can help with different conditions, including mood, memory, or depression.
Some herb-health connections include sage to aid memory, peppermint to reduce nausea, lavender to improve sleep, turmeric as an anti-inflammatory, and ginger which is also thought to help nausea.
Chinese herbal medicine and Ayurveda medicine practices have incorporated different types of herbs in their preparations through the centuries.
Be aware, though, that some herbs eaten in large quantities can be toxic, such as St. John’s Wort or Kava.
Storing Herbs for Freshness
Herbs can wilt quickly and you should be sure to purchase fresh herbs that show little sign of heat damage, whether you buy them at the farmer’s market or in the supermarket.
Usually they can be found under refrigeration when at the grocery store, but may be affected by heat at the farmer’s market.
Once you pick the most desirable herbs, wrap them in a damp paper towel in a plastic storage bag to retain moisture and store in your refrigerator crisper drawer. Remove the band tying the bunch before you store them.
They will stay fresh for up to a week if you keep the towel damp (not wet!).
Discard when leaves begin to discolor.
If you are growing your own and have an abundance of herbs, you can dehydrate them in a food dehydrator or chop and freeze for future use.
You can dry your herbs using this recipe from Ball and then store them in these cute dry herb jars.
- Wash herbs carefully and pat dry with paper towel.
- Tie herbs in small bundles of 5-10 stems with kitchen string.
- Hang bunches in dry, dark and warm (not humid) place with good ventilation.
- Dry herbs for 1-3 weeks or until leaves crush easily between fingers.
Cooking with Herbs
Fresh herbs can take an ordinary recipe and make it shine!
Here are a few suggestions for adding a punch of flavor to your summer meals:
- Iced tea or water
- Fresh salads
- Salsa and chutneys
- Soups, chowders and casseroles
- Cocktails like sangria and mojitos
- Summer salads like macaroni, potato, and egg
- Grilled meats and fresh fish
- Pesto and other sauces
- Fruit dishes like strawberry, mint and peach salad
What foods do you give a zing to with fresh herbs?