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Herbal Beverages from Your Summer Garden

Transform your herb garden into an arsenal of summertime drink ingredients.

| July / August 2018

  • Just as fresh basil can take a stir-fry to the next level, herbs can add depth and dimension to your beverage.
    Photo by Stocksy/Jill Chen
  • Herbs are the perfect starting point for fresh, complex drinks, but other fresh garden ingredients can work wonders, too.
    Photo by Adobe Stock/fahrwasser
  • Garnishing with fresh leaves over a drink will add complexity and aroma to every sip.
    Photo by Getty Images/jacoblund
  • Muddling fresh herbs at the bottom of a glass will release the plant's oils and more fully infuse what you're drinking.
    Photo by Stocksy/Pixel Stories

There’s nothing better in summertime than a meal harvested from your own backyard. As every food lover knows, fresh ingredients in dishes make a world of difference. But there’s one component of a meal that many gardeners overlook when plucking ingredients from the vegetable patch: the drinks. Just as a pinch of fresh basil can take a stir-fry to the next level, herbs can add depth and dimension to your beverage, whether it be a pitcher of infused water or a gin and tonic elevated by a handful of garden-fresh favorites. From syrups and shrubs to bartender-approved techniques, these tips will help you craft a collection of delicious and refreshing drinks straight from your herb garden.

Flavoring Basics

Amy Stewart, author of The Drunken Botanist, has worked with herbs in cocktails for years. While writing her book, she kept a cocktail garden at her home in California, which included an impressive array of nearly 40 species of herbs — even some specifically developed for use in drinks: “There’s a particular kind of mint that’s really well-suited for Mojitos called ‘Mojito mint,’ but we also had ‘Kentucky Colonel’ mint, which is better for mint juleps.”

Needless to say, Stewart has picked up a few pointers on crafting herbal drinks. First and foremost, she says, it’s important to work with what you already know you like. She also recommends seeking out herbs that are fragrant but don’t lend themselves well to food dishes. Pineapple sage and lemon verbena are wonderful examples, as are scented geraniums, which can add a variety of aromas to your drink, from rose to cinnamon. Some herbs can even replace other ingredients. “I’m not a big fan of cocktails that have tremendous amounts of lemon or lime juice in them; I hate margaritas,” Stewart says. “But lemon verbena is citrusy without this element of acid. It adds that citrus flavor without adding a lot of citrus juice.”

Adam Morgan, bar manager at acclaimed restaurant Husk, in Nashville, also enjoys working with common herbs in cocktails. He suggests that beginning home bartenders should start out experimenting with basics like basil, parsley, and mint. One of his favorites is sage, which has an earthy and warm flavor that pairs well with everything from gin and bourbon to tequila and mezcal.

Don’t forget that while herbs are the perfect starting point to take nearly any drink from bland to complex and refreshing, other garden-fresh ingredients, such as flowers, fruits, and vegetables, can work wonders as well. If you’re looking to expand your cocktail garden, delicate honeysuckle, bright lavender, or refreshing cucamelons can add delicious flavors and a pop of color to any garden or drink.

“The whole idea is to get balance with what you’re using,” says Morgan, who incorporates herbs from the restaurant’s own garden into the drink menu. “I would say just have fun experimenting with different things to find what fits you best.”

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