Late June brings the end of the school year, warmer tem­peratures, and the peak of fresh strawberry season.

Strawberries are considered by many to be the fa­vorite summertime fruit or berry, but surprisingly, straw­berries are technically not a fruit or a berry! A true fruit or berry contains its seeds on the inside, but the strawberry proudly wears their seeds on the outside.

From a botanical view, strawberries are members of thec, and are considered an “accessory fruit.” And just as every outfit needs a good accessory, every healthy diet needs this nutritious “accessory fruit.”

Rich in vitamin C, potassium, folic acid, and fiber, strawberries are a good addition to a heart-healthy diet. Because they are high in potassium (which can offset the effects of sodium in the body), strawberries may provide health benefits for people with high blood pressure.

The strawberry is naturally low in sugar and calories (approximately 28 calories per serving), and they do not rapidly boost a person’s blood sugar, thus helping to keep a stable blood sugar level. Because of the positive ef­fects strawberries have on sugar levels, it makes an ex­cellent addition to a diabetic diet.

Eating fruits high in water content and fiber, such as the strawberry, can help hydrate the body and minimize irregularity.

Strawberries are also load­ed with vitamin C, giving your immune system a boost and helping maintain heal­thy vision. Vitamin C is also vital to the production of collagen, which helps improve skin’s elasticity and resil­ience, resulting in healthier, younger looking skin. (Now, who among us isn’t interested in that?!)

There are many ways to en­joy fresh strawberries and to incorporate them into your daily diet.

For breakfast, strawberries are the perfect addition to hot or cold cereal. Instead of syrup, top waffles or pancakes with fresh strawberry slices. Or add a fresh, light summer treat to your breakfast table by folding in sliced strawberries to your favorite muffin recipe. Muffins will turn out moist, sweet and full of summer flavor.

For lunch, diced strawberries can add a nice, tart/sweet combination of flavor to your favorite chicken sal­ad, or add strawberries to a cup of low fat cottage cheese for a refreshing side dish ad­dition to your lunch menu.

To make a nutritious summer snack, add strawberries and almonds to plain greek yogurt. The kids will love ma­king strawberry smoothies for a nutritious and delicious snack. Slice fresh straw­­berries and put them in a ziplock bag, then freeze them for several hours. In a blender, add frozen strawberries, a peeled banana, low fat milk and ice and blend until smooth for a quick and easy summer treat!

For an easy and light summer dinner, mix sliced strawberries into a spinach salad with walnuts and goat cheese.

Of course, nothing beats the summer favorite, strawberry shortcake! Whether you prefer the traditional biscuit style with homemade whip­ped cream, or a lighter version made with angel food cake and light, non dairy whipped topping, strawberry shortcake is the perfect, show-stopping dessert for fresh picked local strawberries.

Strawberries are grown in every state in the U.S. But here in Massachusetts, they are in peak season, and there are several places nearby to “pick your own,” allowing for optimum freshness and flavor.

Boston Hill Farm, 1370 Turn­­pike St. in North Ando­ver, offers “pick your own” from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., 7 days a week, but they suggest you call first to check weather and field conditions at 978-681-8556.

Parlee Farm, 95 Farwell Road in Tyngsboro, offers “pick your own” Tuesday through Sunday. They recommend calling first at 978-649-3854 to check field conditions and hours of operation.

Smolak Farm, 315 Brad­ford St. in North Andover also has “pick your own,” but please call first at 978-682-6332 for hours and field conditions before you head out to the farm.

Verrill Farm, 11 Wheeler Road in Concord is open for “pick your own” weekdays, 9 a.m. until noon, and weekends 9 a.m. until 3 p.m.

Ciderhill Farm, 45 Fern Ave. in Amesbury is open 7 days a week and run hay­rides to take you to the berry patch from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

If you are craving the taste of fresh picked strawberries, but find the thought of crou­ching down in a field under the blazing summer sun a bit daunting, fear not! All of these farms also have well- stocked farm stands on the premises, with plenty of strawberries that are picked daily, and available for purchase by the pint.

Strawberry season, like summer itself, is here, but will be gone before we know it. Local, fresh strawberries can have a positive effect on your health and your flavor palette. Whether you “pick your own” or just purchase locally, enjoy the sweet taste of strawberries while they last!

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