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Try Fresh Herbs

Herbs

Submitted by Dena Kemmet, Extension Agent/Family and Consumer Sciences

If you want to use fresh herbs this fall – here are some tips on where to start.

You should know that the first rule of cooking with fresh herbs in this: There are no rules. Have fun and experiment, using small amounts at first as you figure out what you like.

Using herbs is a great way to add rich flavor to foods. They are often touted as alternatives to salt, which is linked to an increased risk of high blood pressure, but they can also add zest when you reduce sugar of fat in a recipe.

North Dakota State University Extension has a free publication, “Harvesting Herbs for Healthy Eating, H1267” to download at http://www.ag.ndsu.edu/pubs/plantsci/hortcrop/h1267.pdf. Copies of the publication are also available at the Extension office. Some of the advice it offers includes:

  • Handle fresh herbs gently. Oils that give herbs their aroma and flavor readily escape from the leaves, seeds and stems if they’re injured.

  • If you have more of an herb than what you can use immediately, you can store it in the refrigerator for a week or more by trimming off the ends of the stems on the diagonal and putting them upright in a tall glass or vase with an inch of water. Cover loosely with a plastic bag, allowing air to circulate. Change the water daily.

  • Extended cooking will weaken the flavor of fresh herbs, so for soups or stews, add them in the last 10-15 minutes of cooking. On the other hand, in cold foods such as dips, dressings, cheeses or cold vegetables, add fresh herbs several hours or overnight before serving.

  • If you’re not familiar with the flavor of a new herb, mix it with margarine or butter and let it set for about an hour. Then spread in on a plain cracker to taste.

The fact sheet also lists some popular fresh herbs, from anise to thyme, and suggests dishes to try them in.

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics also has some tips in an online slide show, “Flavor Your Meals: Must-Have Summer Herbs,” at http://bit.ly/flavorherbs. It offers information on using both favorite and uncommon fresh herbs, including rosemary, mint, basil, dill, oregano, cilantro, bee balm, chives, lavender and lemon verbena.

Herbs have had a place in the garden for centuries. They have been used for medicine, dye for fabric, seasoning and flavorings for food and drink, and fragrance. Herbs have been used for cooking, medicine, aromatherapy, religious ceremonies, pest control, and simply for decoration, since pre-Biblical times.

Using freshly harvested herbs in cooking tops the taste of dried herbs in just about every instance.

Source: Julie Garden-Robinson, NDSU Extension Food and Nutrition Specialist

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