May is National Strawberry Month and Arkansans can mark the occasion by picking fresh strawberries, said Teresa Henson, an Extension specialist II.

Henson is a nutrition outreach coordinator for the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff’s 1890 Cooperative Extension Program.

“Picking strawberries with friends or family is a great way to enjoy the spring weather and stock up on the delicious and healthy fruit for use in cooking at home,” she said in a news release. “Strawberries are grown in every U.S. state, and May is the peak season for strawberry production.”

Arkansans don’t have to find a pick-your-own farm to celebrate National Strawberry Month, she said. Fresh strawberries are sold in many places including local farmer markets as well as grocery and corner stores.

Whether they plan on eating the berries whole or incorporating them into a dish or dessert, Arkansans should know how to choose the right strawberries to ensure the best flavor.

When shopping for strawberries, consumers should:

• Select fully ripe strawberries with a rich red color and bright green caps.

• Select medium-size berries, as they have more flavor than large berries.

• Avoid strawberries with bruises or without green caps, as they do not store well.

• Avoid mushy or leaky berries.

• Avoid strawberries that are white or pale, as they do not become sweeter after being picked.

“After picking or purchasing fresh strawberries, you can incorporate the healthy fruit into your diet,” Henson said. “Whether they are served fresh or prepared in recipes, preserved, or frozen for later use, strawberries offer several nutritional benefits.”

According to Virginia Cooperative Extension, strawberries are a great source of vitamin C, folate and potassium. They also provide vitamin A and iron and are loaded with fiber.

Henson said strawberries are fairly versatile and can be used in a number of ways. When using strawberries at home, consumers can:

• Add crushed strawberries to fresh lemonade or limeade.

• Stir finely-chopped strawberries into softened low-fat or fat-free cream cheese and spread on bagels or toast.

• Slice strawberries and add to a favorite salad or smoothie.

• Slice strawberries and add to plain low-fat, Greek yogurt for a sweet treat.

The University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff offers all of its Extension and Research programs and services without discrimination.

— Will Hehemann is a writer/editor at the UAPB School of Agriculture, Fisheries and Human Sciences.