“An herb is the friend of physicians and the praise of cooks.”
— Charlemagne

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Tis the season for fresh foods – the weather has finally turned to sun and warmth and our bodies are now craving the crunch of fresh flavors. The Farm at St. Joe’s is producing bountiful leafy greens, radishes and carrots, beets, green onions, and kohlrabi. Fresh vegetables can be incorporated during a meal as a mixed green salad or on the go as a snack.

But the fresh food craze is not limited to vegetables – fresh herbs are available too! Herbs refer to the leafy green parts of plants, whereas spices originate from the seeds, berries, bark, roots, and fruits. Herbs are used for food, medicine, perfume, or flavoring – a great way to add taste without adding calories. Herbs can also replace salt – which is a wise way to protect your heart!

It’s no wonder with all the benefits of herbs that National Herb and Spices Day is celebrated annually on June 10. So how might you start using these wonderful gifts from Mother Nature?

Fresh herbs should be added toward the end of cooking or just as a dish is being served because prolonged heat can cause flavor losses. When following a recipe, use the following approximate equivalent amount for fresh herbs:

 1 tablespoon finely cut fresh herbs

 1 teaspoon crumbled dried herbs

 ¼ to ½ teaspoon ground dried herbs

Parsley Beds

At The Farm at St. Joe’s, the herb parsley is growing abundantly. There are two main categories of parsley used as herbs – flat leaf, or Italian, and curly leaf. The farm is growing flat-leaved parsley, as it is easier to cultivate tolerating more rain and sunshine and has a stronger flavor. However, curly leaf parsley is more decorative and thus used in garnishing.

Parsley is widely used in traditional dishes around the world. Parsley is the main ingredient in Italian salsa verde, which is a condiment containing parsley, capers, anchovies, garlic, and bread soaked in vinegar used on commonly on fish.   In Brazil, freshly chopped parsley and scallion are used in the seasoning called cheiro-verde (translated to “green aroma”), often a key seasoning for a range of traditional Brazilian dishes including meat, fish, beans, stews, and salads. Parsley is also the main ingredient in several Middle Eastern salads such as Lebanese tabbouleh. In the United States, parsley is found in potato salad, as a garnish on plates in restaurants, and used to flavor dishes with vegetables such corn, peas, potatoes, and tomatoes.

When using parsley in a recipe, pick the leaves off the stems, as the stems are tough. Check out these recipes for parsley inspiration, including parsley hummus and parsley salsa verde with grilled cod. With the leftover parsley, consider these storage tips from columnist Martha Rose Shulman at the New York Times: Take the rubber band or twist-tie off the bunch of parsley, wash and spin dry in a salad spinner, and lay the parsley on a doubled paper towel and roll up; make sure the paper towel is damp; and keep in a ziplock bag in the refrigerator.

Parsley is a flavorful addition to almost any dish – I added parsley to a jambalaya recipe prepared while camping in Sleeping Bear Dunes last weekend per Christine’s suggested to get outside! But parsley also has advantages for your health. Parsley is a great source of Vitamins A, C, and K, important for your eye health, blood clotting, and as powerful antioxidants. In addition, if using it as a flavor substitute to salt parsley can be cardio-protective!

Enjoy fresh herbs this season, either from your local farmers market, The Farm at St. Joe’s, or your own backyard. If interested in starting your own herb garden, check out resources here.