Add zip to your cocktails with herbs from your garden

  • Article by: RHONDA HAYES , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 20, 2013 - 3:40 PM

By this time of summer, herbs are going full tilt. You’ve probably already snipped sage for your garden peas, topped potatoes with chives and parsley and made several batches of pesto. And those herbs just keep on growing.

If you’re in a muddle about what to do with all those herbs, you should do exactly that: Muddle, steep or infuse them for a garden-fresh cocktail.

Make a muddle

There are lots of ways to incorporate herbal flavor into your drinks; muddling is just one method. When you muddle herbs, you bruise the leaves or lightly crush them in the bottom of the glass so that they release their volatile oils, which give your cocktails a kick. (Think mint in a mojito, basil in a Bloody Mary or lavender in a gin martini.)

Infuse it

For more intense flavor, infuse herbs into simple syrup that forms the basis for many libations, with or without an alcoholic component.

To make an herb-infused simple syrup, combine ½ cup of herbs with 1 cup of sugar and 1 cup of water. Simmer over low heat and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Cool, then strain the mixture. When refrigerated, the mix should last for two to three weeks.

Drink a shrub

You also could turn your herbs into a shrub. No, not the kind that grows in the ground. A shrub is an old-fashioned concoction using vinegar, and it’s gaining new popularity in drink circles. Those in the know say it adds brightness to summer drinks.

In a shrub, combinations of compatible herbs and fruit (watermelon and mint, strawberries and thyme, blueberries and lavender) are added to equal proportions of vinegar and sugar or honey. Some recipes add water, too. While shrubs are just catching on, there are some good recipes. Check out www.mamaknows­hercocktails.com or www.drinks.seriouseats.com to get some good ideas.

Be bitter

If you’re feeling really adventurous, make an amaro, the Italian version of bitters.

Bitters are used as a bracing counterpoint to other sweet ingredients. Mixologists say you either love amaro or hate it.

Here’s how to make it: Add any number of more piquant herbs — sage, oregano, fennel, bay leaf, tarragon — along with spices to a jar of vodka, seal the jar and let sit. After a few days, taste your amaro, but leave it in the jar until you get the taste you want.

Go for garnish

If all this sounds like too much work, at least move beyond the maraschino cherry and add a handsome herb garnish to whatever you’re drinking.

Use rosemary sprigs like mini skewers and spear berries or orange slices. Twirl lemon peel around a lavender blossom. Sprinkle bright blue cucumber-flavored borage flowers into a Pimm’s cup.

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  • iStockphoto.com Row 1: Basil, marjoram, rosemary, chives Row 2: Mint, cilantro, dill, lemon balm Row 3: Mixed, oregano, parsley, sage Row 4: Spearmint, thyme, red clover, lavender ORG XMIT: MIN2013081609041109

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