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Spring is in the air so I can’t help but look for ways to inject some healthy, bright flavor into my cooking (and it sounds like I’m not alone!). One of my favorite ways to boost the taste of recipes, without upping the fat or salt, is by using fresh herbs. With so many varieties readily available year round, even in New England, I have no trouble finding a fresh herb to complement any sweet or savory dish.

Many of the fresh herbs that we know and love – including basil, oregano, mint, rosemary, and sage – originated in or around the Mediterranean. However, others come from far-reaching areas of the globe. Dill, for example, is native to eastern Europe / western Asia, while chives have been cultivated in Europe, Asia, and North America. All of these delicious herbs make wonderful plants and are easy to grow in a backyard plot, a window box, or even in small pots – yielding fresh, delicious flavor throughout your growing season. The heartier varieties (such as rosemary) grow well into the fall and many thrive indoors during the coldest season, too!

Fresh herbs have so many wonderful culinary uses, but before we explore the endless possibilities to put these flavor powerhouses to work let’s learn a bit about them.

Did you know?

  • Basil, a member of the mint family, is grown and commercially available in more than 160 cultivars including sweet varieties and more pungent Asian varieties.
  • Oregano, popular in Greek cuisine, was used by Hippocrates for medicinal purposes in ancient Greece, and continues to be employed there for soothing a sore throat.
  • Mint refers to the mentha family of herbs which includes peppermint, pennyroyal, and spearmint, all of which enjoy a wide range of uses including culinary, medicinal, cosmetic / aromatherapy, and insecticidal.
  • Rosemary had romantic symbolism in the middle ages – it was woven into a crown worn by the bride at her wedding, it was believed to be a token of love, and was even believed to have foretelling powers and was used to predict love or a potential mate.
  • Sage has long been used as a medicinal herb – in fact, the Latin name of the plant family, salvia, means “to save.” During the European outbreaks of the plague, sage was included in tonics and vinegars thought to help ward off infection.
  • Dill is one of the most widely used herbs in European cuisine, where it appears in gravlax, pickles, borscht, salads, and to flavor sauces and vegetable dishes. But did you know that it also appears in Chinese, Lao, Indian, and North Vietnamese dishes?
  • Thyme has historically had many uses including in ancient Egyptian embalming, as an oral and external antiseptic before antibiotics became available, and, of course, as a culinary star in the Middle Eastern condiment za’atar and in French herbes de Provence.  
  • Parsley often gets a bad rap as a garnish, but this herb has a strong history of flavorful roles in Italian (gremolata) and Middle Eastern (tabbouleh) cuisines, and is a source of vitamins A, C, and K.

And without further ado here are Oldways ideas for 12 Great Ways to use Fresh Herbs!

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