Looking to add a little spice to your life? Cooking with fresh herbs is a fantastic way to add flavor without extra salt or sugar. If you’ve got a green thumb, you can grow your own herb garden — inside or out — and enjoy them all year long. Fresh herbs can punch up the flavor of a dish, but do they also have health benefits? Turns out, they do.

Health benefits

Like many of their leafy green counterparts, herbs are high in vitamin K, which is important for blood clotting, as well as vitamins A and C. Some, like parsley, have nutrients beneficial to eye health, including lutein, zeaxanthin and beta-carotene. Many herbs also contain polyphenols, which are plant compounds with anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Research has shown that polyphenols may protect against a variety of chronic diseases.

Tips for using

If you’re using fresh herbs from your garden, you can just pick what you need. When you purchase herbs, you usually end up with a little extra. To store, wrap herbs in a damp paper towel, put them in a plastic bag, and store in the fridge. If you have too much to use within a week, consider freezing them. Chop herbs and freeze in ice cube trays along with some water or chicken stock. Make sure to use a sharp knife when chopping herbs so you don’t crush the delicate leaves. Another option is to use kitchen scissors. This works especially well with cilantro.

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Let’s get cooking

Herbs can be added to a variety of dishes, including sauces, marinades, soups and salads. If you don’t have fresh, you can use dry. In general, 1 tablespoon of fresh herbs is equal to 1 teaspoon of dried. This recipe for chimichurri sauce is a great way to feature multiple herbs. It pairs well with grilled steak or chicken for a burst of fresh flavor. You can also add some oil and vinegar to convert it into a salad dressing.

2-Step Chimichurri Sauce

1/2 cup packed fresh Italian parsley

1/2 cup packed fresh cilantro

2 tablespoons fresh oregano leaves

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

4 garlic cloves

1/3 cup olive oil

1/2 teaspoon kosher sea salt

1/4 cup crushed red pepper

1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper

Combine parsley, cilantro, oregano, red wine vinegar and garlic in a food processor. Cover and pulse until combined. Transfer to a small bowl.

Stir in olive oil, salt, crushed red pepper and black pepper. Serve at room temperature.

Recipe source: Hy-Vee.com

Emily McMillan is a registered dietitian for Hy-Vee stores in Rochester. This information is not intended as medical advice. Please consult a medical professional for individual advice.