Most of the fruits, vegetables and herbs gardeners use for tasty eating can also be stirred into refreshing summer cocktails and non-alcoholic beverages. Sweet mint makes memorable mojitos and mint juleps; lemon balm and lemon verbena add a lively touch to a cooling glass of lemonade.
Floral flavors, like nasturtium and lavender flowers, also offer bright ideas for summer sampling.
Even the lowly dandelion can be turned into a sipping wine. All it takes is several pints of untreated yellow dandelion petals, boiling water, orange and lemon slices, sugar and a small amount of yeast. After the mixture ferments for six months or more, it transforms into a surprisingly dry, sherry-type wine.
Healthy plants make the most delicious summer beverages. Be sure to start with organic seeds and plants, then grow them with plenty of sunshine, adequate moisture and regular applications of a natural organic fertilizer.
Creative gardeners need only a few ingredients and implements to get started. The essential elements include several organic garden plants, a cocktail muddler or wooden spoon, clean jars with tight fitting lids and a strainer.
Here’s a few recipes to try:
Easy Beverage Base:
- ½ cup of chopped or muddled herbs, fruits, or vegetables
- 1 cup water
- 1 cup sugar
- Mixer of your choice (seltzer, soda water, fruit juice, etc.)
Directions: Dissolve sugar into water over medium heat. Remove from stove top, and add your fresh garden ingredient(s). Mash or muddle ingredients in syrup to release their oils. When liquid cools, strain out solids. Use ½ ounce of the syrup base per every 6 ounces of mixer. Add gin, vodka, or whiskey to make it a cocktail garden party!
Suggested combinations: For a refreshing beverage on a hot summer day mix basil syrup with muddled cucumber and seltzer water. Lavender syrup is a perfect sweetener for fresh lemonade. For a sweet and savory twist, try rosemary syrup with grapefruit juice.
Savory Base with a Kick:
Directions: Steep chopped chili peppers in a jar of tequila or tomato juice. Once the infusion is to your liking, strain out the peppers.
Sun tea makes a much milder base for summer drinks. The sun helps steep the tea at a lower temperature than boiling water for a gentle release of flavors in just a few hours. A few bags of your favorite tea, and sweeteners are optional.
Directions: Place just-picked herb leaves in a large jar (or other sealable container) filled with cold water. Use about 3 cups of herbs per 8 cups of water. Place the container in direct sunlight for 5-8 hours, depending on how strong a “brew” you want. Chill and serve within 24 hours with or without a gardener’s favorite spirits.
By Jodi Torpey, garden writer and author