Sip and savor the essence of your garden by harvesting fresh herbs for beverages and light snacks, perfect for your next date night or backyard BBQ. Read on to get ideas for herbal teas, mocktails, cocktails, syrups, salad dressing, and even homemade mint ice cream, just in time for summer!
Shrubs (Drinking Vinegar)
What is a shrub? For once, we’re not talking about the bush. The word shrub is derived from the Arabic word sharab, which means “to drink.” The American version of the shrub has its origins in 17th century England where vinegar was used as an alternative to citrus juices in the preservation of berries and other fruits for the off-season. Fruit preserves made in this fashion were known as shrubs, and the practice carried over to colonial America.
By the 19th century, typical American recipes for shrubs used vinegar poured over fruit (usually berries) which was left to infuse anywhere from overnight to several days. Afterwards, the fruit would be strained out and the remaining liquid would be mixed with a sweetener such as sugar or honey and then reduced to make a syrup. The sweet-and-sour syrup could be mixed with either water or soda water and served as a soft drink, or it could be used as a mixer in alcoholic cocktails. Shrubs eventually fell out of popularity with the advent of home refrigeration.
The serving of vinegar-based shrub drinks became popular again in 2011/2012 in American restaurants and bars. The trend has also been noted in bars in Canada as well as London. The acidity of the shrub makes it well suited as an aperitif or as an alternative to bitters in cocktails. Unlike cocktails acidulated with citrus, vinegar-based drinks will remain clear when shaken.
Rhubarb Lavender Shrub
- 4 cups rhubarb, split lengthwise, chopped into ½-inch pieces
- 4 cups sugar
- 4 cups champagne vinegar or apple cider vinegar
- 15 sprigs of English lavender with no flowers (or 10 lavender flowers)
Stir chopped rhubarb and sugar together in large bowl. Place a towel loosely over top, let sit at room temperature overnight; stir once or twice during that time to redistribute sugars. The next day, tuck lavender sprigs inside, stir again and place in refrigerator in large pitcher or jar. Any time after 24 hours (or up to 7 days later), strain over a fine-meshed colander, letting it sit overnight at room temperature, stirring occasionally. The next day, discard the solids, add vinegar to the remaining liquid, and whisk. Pour into jars or bottles and place directly in refrigerator. Let your shrub rest in the fridge for at least a week. It gets better over time and can be stored in the fridge for up to 3 months. Use 2–3 teaspoons or ½ ounce per glass of water or tonic.
Herbal Simple Syrup
Simple syrup is a liquid sweetener made by dissolving sugar in water. It is a commonly used ingredient in many cocktails and other drink recipes. By infusing herbs into simple syrup, you can easily add wonderful flavor to just about anything!
Lavender Simple Syrup
Use same method for rosemary, thyme, or other woody herbs.
- 1 cup water
- 1 cup sugar
- 4 Tablespoons English lavender flowers, dried (or 6-8 Tablespoons fresh lavender)
In medium saucepan, add sugar, water, and flowers; bring to a boil. Reduce heat and let simmer 35 minutes; cool in refrigerator overnight. Strain through cheesecloth into resealable container.
Mint Simple Syrup
Use same method for basil, oregano, lemon verbena, or other soft herbs.
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 cup water
- 1 cup fresh mint leaves, finely chopped
In a small saucepan bring sugar, water, and mint to a full boil. Stir until sugar is dissolved (and for 1–2 minutes more). Cover pot, remove from heat, and let sit 15–20 minutes. Strain syrup into resealable container; store in refrigerator.
Place fresh herbs in a half-gallon pitcher of cold water, let sit overnight (or longer), strain, and chill. The recipes below make about 2 quarts each.
- 2 cups cubed watermelon
- 10–12 basil leaves
- 3 lemons sliced
- ¼ cup fresh lavender flowers
Blackberry, Rose & Vanilla
- ¾ cup fresh berries
- ¼ cup dried rose petals
- ½ large vanilla bean
Cucumber-Lime-Mint Agua Fresca
makes about 1 quart
- 1 lb cucumbers, ends trimmed, coarsely chopped (peels on)
- ½ cup fresh lime juice (about 5-10 limes)
- 1 ¼ cup packed spearmint mint leaves, woody stems removed
- ½ cup sugar
- 1 ¼ cup water
Put ingredients in blender, add enough water to fill ¾ of blender; puree until smooth. Pour puree through a fine mesh sieve or coffee filter, pressing against the sieve with a spatula to extract as much liquid as possible. Fill a large pitcher halfway with ice cubes, add juice, and serve with sprigs of mint and slice of lime.
makes about 8 cups
- 2 heaping teaspoons dried rosemary (double if using fresh rosemary)
- 8 cups water, divided
- 2 cups sugar
- 1 ⅓ cup fresh lemon juice
- dash of salt
- slices of lemon, for garnish
Bring rosemary, 2 cups water, and sugar to a boil in a medium saucepan. Simmer for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally until the sugar has dissolved. Remove from heat, cover, and let steep for 20 minutes. Strain out the rosemary; stir in remaining water, lemon juice, and salt. Serve over ice and garnish with lemon slices. Alternative recipe: use lavender instead of rosemary!
Lemon Verbena-Mint Tea
Lemon verbena is considered a tender perennial, grown as an annual herb outdoors or brought indoors during winter.
makes 2 cups
- ½ cup fresh mint leaves, woody stems removed, lightly packed (about 20 leaves)
- ½ cup fresh lemon verbena leaves, rinsed, lightly packed (10–15 leaves), can also substitute lemon balm
- 2 cups water
Bring a pot of fresh water almost, but not quite, to a boil. Put mint and verbena leaves in a teapot. Pour hot water over leaves. Let sit for 3–5 minutes and strain into teacups.
Virgin Mojito (Lime-Mint Spritzer)
makes about a 1-quart pitcher
- 6 large sprigs of mint, stems removed
- ¾ cup mint simple syrup
- ⅔ cup fresh lime juice
- sparkling water or club soda
Put mint leaves in each glass; muddle to bring out flavor and aroma. Fill glass with ice and add lime juice, simple syrup, and soda to taste; stir gently. Garnish with lime slice and mint leaf.
Cocktails for “Adult” Fun
Steep fresh herbs in high-quality vodka for anywhere from two days to one week. Try flavors like basil, thyme (both make great martinis), rosemary, mint…
Rosemary Fizz Cocktail
- 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
- 2 ounces rosemary-infused vodka
- 5–6 ounces tonic or seltzer water
Blend lemon juice with infused vodka. Top with tonic or seltzer water and serve over ice.
The Easiest Fresh Herb Salad Dressing
- 1 cup fresh parsley (I like the flat-leaf, Italian type), roughly chopped
- ½ cup mixed fresh herbs (e.g. cilantro, mint, thyme, basil, oregano, sage, dill, tarragon)
- ¾ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 2 Tablespoons apple cider vinegar or lemon juice
- 2 Tablespoons honey or agave/maple syrup
- 2 teaspoons dijon or whole grain mustard (optional)
- ¼–½ teaspoon salt (optional)
Combine all ingredients into a blender or food processor; blend until smooth. Store in refrigerator for up to two weeks; bring to room temperature and shake before using.
Homemade Mint Ice Cream
- ice cream maker
- 2 handfuls fresh spearmint leaves (20–25 leaves)
- 2 cups milk
- 1 cup half-and-half
- ¾ cup raw sugar
- dash of salt
- 2 large egg yolks
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Combine milk, half-and-half, and mint in sauce pan or Dutch oven over meduim-high heat. Heat until small bubbles form around the edge of the pan, but do not boil. Remove from heat, cover, and let stand 10–15 minutes, allowing mint to steep in milk. Uncover and strain out mint leaves; discard leaves and return milk to pan.
In a separate bowl, combine sugar, salt, and egg yolks with a whisk. Slowly add half of the milk mixture to the egg mixture, stirring constantly. Then pour the egg/milk mixture back into the pan with the rest of the milk. Cook over medium-low heat for about 2 minutes while stirring. Pour into a bowl and mix in vanilla extract. Refrigerate until cool, then add to ice cream maker and follow manufacturer’s instructions.