Flowers are blooming, the birds are chirping and Martha’s Vineyard is getting busy–it must be spring! One of the ways I love to usher in the new season is by reintroducing fresh springtime herbs into my diet. The light herbs of spring add unmistakable flavor and beautiful fragrance, not to mention freshness and green to our lives!

Herbs are underrated, so I’m happy to be singing their praise and shouting them out as Island Grown Schools’ Harvest of the Month for May. Not only do they provide beautiful scents and scenery, but they lend themselves to delicious food and helpful medicine, while attracting pollinators and beneficial insects, like bees and butterflies. When it comes to cooking, herbs are often an afterthought, when I think they should be the cherry on the cake.

Fresh spring herbs boost flavor and nutrition, while providing aromatic splendor and a good-looking addition to our plates. Trying to cut down on salt? Looking for new ways to intensify the flavor of a sauce or dress up a salad? Look no further than fresh herbs.

I love greens and eating salads this time of year. I’ve started sprucing them up with fresh dill, chives and parsley–which bring natural, nonfat flavor that add a lot of taste and complexity. Mint is another springtime herb that delivers an extra dimension to dishes too. It’s clean, refreshing taste and cooling effect make it a welcomed ingredient to a number of sweet and spicy dishes, drinks, and of course salad. When I was traveling through the Middle East, it was common to see mint incorporated into salads and ingested after a meal as a palate cleanser and digestive. The flavor packed such a bright punch I’ve been incorporating it into my salads at home ever since!

(Grilled Whole Branzino, a sustainable fish, stuffed with garlic chives, oregano, parsley, thyme, dill wand wheels of lemon)

Herbs sure are tasty, but they’re also loaded with a wide range of health benefits as well. Herbs have powerful antioxidant properties–with oregano, dill, thyme, rosemary, and sage among the most potent–and they’ve been used for centuries to ward off disease. Herbs in general are rich in vitamins and minerals, and each herb offers its own healing power too. Sage can improve brain function and memory, peppermint has been linked to reducing nausea, and rosemary can help prevent allergies and nasal congestion. Embrace herbs in all their glory and your body will thank you!

Here’s some helpful tips on enjoying them to their fullest:

  • To store fresh herbs snip off the bottom of the stems and wrap a wet paper towel around them and cover with a plastic bag while refrigerating.
  • Add fresh herbs at the end of cooking for maximum flavor.
  • Grown your own to cut down on food cost and waste. Herbs like mint, oregano, chives, thyme, rosemary and sage are perennial and come back year after year.
  • Purchase starter plants from local nurseries, plant and water. Snip just enough for each recipe while you are cooking.
  • If you have an abundance of fresh herbs, chop them, fill an ice cube tray with water, wine, or stock,  and place herbs in the liquid. Store frozen ice cubes in a plastic bag and use in the winter for salad dressing.
  • Enhance your cocktails or mocktails with fresh herbs, and go beyond standard mojitos and juleps. Pair a botanical gin with fresh basil and cucumber, or add thyme to your lemonade. Sage, raspberry and lime make a great flavor combination, as well as cilantro and lime too (vodka optional)! Lavender and rosemary make gorgeous, floral additions to your glass, but handle them delicately so not to overpower your beverage.
  • Prepare your own homemade salad dressing by adding chopped fresh herbs like basil, parsley, dill, marjoram or oregano to a simple mix of oil, vinegar and lemon juice.