The folklore. Known as “heart-seed” berries by Native Americans, strawberries have captured imaginations and palates for thousands of years. Mythology tells how the tears of the goddess Venus, which were shed over the death of Adonis, fell to earth and became strawberry plants. The wild strawberry, which is native to the Americas, Europe and Asia, is now cultivated worldwide, where it is celebrated at festivals and enjoyed with shortcake, in frozen delights and straight from the vine as a fresh welcome to spring and a cool repast on hot summer days.
The facts. Surprisingly, the strawberry is not a berry at all, but a multiple fruit made up of fleshy tissue and the many “seeds” which actually house seeds themselves. A member of the rose (Rosaceae) family, the common strawberry (Fragaria x ananassa) is a hybrid species with many varieties that differ in size, color, flavor, and season of ripening. Heart-shaped and heart-healthy too, one serving—about eight strawberries—packs three grams of heart-disease-fighting dietary fiber and 220 mg of potassium for blood pressure health, and also delivers a whopping 141% DV (percent Daily Value, nutritional requirement based on 2,000 calories per day) of antioxidant vitamin C to protect against chronic diseases.
The findings. An evidence-based review published this year in Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition examined the health-promoting benefits associated with eating strawberries, an important source of nutrients and plant chemicals, such as ellagic acid and anthocyanins, responsible for the bright red, blue and purple hues in berries and other foods. Strawberry consumption was associated with reduced risk of several chronic diseases and conditions, including hypertension and inflammation. The authors concluded that strawberry consumption can be effective in disease management and as a healthy dietary strategy.
The finer points. Fresh strawberries should be firm and plump, free of mold (examine prepackaged berries closely), and deeply red, as they will not ripen further once picked. Use them the same day or two days at most from purchase for peak flavor and highest vitamin C and antioxidant retention, which studies show decrease with age. Store unwashed strawberries in your refrigerator storage bin in a sealed container, or wash and freeze separately. These ruby orbs transform salads, cereals and frozen yogurt into refreshing summer treats, but may taste best of all on their own.