Impress at your next cocktail party: plant an herb garden!
by Jenna Poncelet, gardener, Gardens on Spring Creek
The annual spring plant sale at Spring Creek Gardens is right around the corner, and I’m here to remind everyone planning their perfect garden that herbs aren’t just for the kitchen. In terms of multipurpose garden plants, grasses have endless applications both practical and ornamental. They’ll give you more flavor in the kitchen than you’ll ever get from a spice jar and can be used to make fresh teas, potpourri, and more. They are also a beautiful green addition to container gardens and flower boxes.
Botanically speaking, most grasses are leafy, tender plants that will die in our harsh Colorado winters. They can be quite competitive in a garden (ask anyone with wild mint in their garden) but do well when contained in raised beds or pots. They are low maintenance and with strong odors they can even deter garden pests like rabbits and deer.
Any plant with multiple uses in a garden is a good plant in my book, but my absolute favorite use for fresh herbs runs through my two careers, horticulture and bartending. An interesting combo, I know, but more related than you might think. The oldest and most tried and tested cocktails revolve around three ingredients: alcohol, sugar and herbs.
As spring progresses and the days get warmer, more and more of us will be heading out to the terraces to once again enjoy the sun and the company of friends. All those refreshing spring cocktails from your favorite bars and restaurants are much easier to make at home than you might think, and it’s so satisfying to be able to make a beautiful and delicious cocktail from your own hard work in the garden.
The two easiest ways to incorporate a fresh herb into a drink are to use it straight or to make a simple syrup. Simple syrup is just one part water and one part sugar heated on the stove until the sugar has melted and the mixture is clear. Simple syrups perform the dual role of adding both flavor and sweetness to your drink. You can add fresh herbs to your syrup on the stove or infuse them afterwards in an airtight container. The best part is that the simple syrups are completely customizable. You can steep longer for a stronger flavor or change the amount of fresh herbs added. They are also non-alcoholic and can be added to make tangy lemonades and iced teas.
Consider adding herbs like mint, basil, rosemary, or sage to your garden this year, and spend your summer experimenting with flavor combinations and enjoying refreshing drinks you make yourself.
Genovese Greyhound (Makes 2 cocktails)
- 3 ounces of vodka
- 1/2 ounce basil simple syrup
- 4-5 fresh basil leaves
- Juice of 1 whole grapefruit (or ½ cup bottled grapefruit juice)
- carbonated water
In a shaker:
- Add vodka and basil leaves and mash
- Grapefruit juice, simple syrup and ice. Shake!
- Strain over ice and top up with sparkling water. Garnish with fresh basil.
Advice: Simple syrup can be adjusted to desired sweetness OR use just fresh basil for a more refreshing tart drink.
Cucumber and mint lemonade (non-alcoholic)
In a large pitcher:
- Mix water and lemon juice together. Add mint simple syrup to desired sweetness.
- Slice the lemon and cucumber into thin medallions and mix.
- Refrigerate for a few hours or overnight to allow the cucumber to soak.
- Serve over ice and garnish with fresh mint or a lemon wedge.
Advice: Serve in a day or two. Cucumbers tend to become bitter after 48 hours.