To say life hasn't been normal this year would be an understatement. Many businesses closed and some of your routines probably changed. Happy Hour may have had to move from a favorite restaurant or bar to your home. Whether it's just you or a few friends, you'll want cocktails, of course, and you'll also need some fresh herbs for them.
Herb plants are some of the easiest plants to grow and perfect for a container garden. It's fairly simple to grow your favorite herbs to use in your cocktails.
Mint has been called the king of the cocktail herbs. I've grown several mints, but my favorite is mojito mint (Mentha x villosa). This is the Cuban mint originally used for making mojitos, and a substitute just isn't quite the same. If you do need to substitute something else, basil is from the same plant family and can work in a pinch. However, it definitely has it's own distinct flavor so be aware that it will change the taste of the drink.
Muddle fresh mint leaves for a mojito or use them to make adult cocktail popsicles like Coconut Mojito Ice Pops. Muddling is pressing the herb against the side of the glass with a muddler or spoon. Be careful not to over-muddle delicate herbs like mint and basil which can make the drink bitter. Tap the herbs lightly a few times to release the flavor.
Lavender (Lavendula spica L.)
Lavender is fairly easy to grow. It grows best in well-drained soil in full sun (USDA zones 5-10, depending on the species). It is quite tolerant of drought, heat and wind.
Thyme (Thymus vulgaris) is a close relative of lavender and one of the most commonly used herbs in the world. You can use it fresh or dried in a wide variety of dishes.
Perennial thyme does best in a hot, sunny location with soil that drains well. It is usually planted in the spring. It can be propagated from seed, cuttings, or root division and is drought-tolerant. Often found growing wild on mountain highlands, thyme can also handle freezing weather.
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) is a tasty warming herb. Being slightly bitter, it's also used in liver cleanses and may help poor digestion. Rosemary has been used in many cultures throughout history as a medicine and cure-all.
The idea that herbs can be heating or cooling is connected with traditional Chinese or Ayurvedic medicine. This classification of herbal remedies was also a vital part of Western medicine for almost 2,000 years.
Unlike most woody herbs, the fragrance and flavor of rosemary is preserved very well when dried. It has a pine smell and a distinctive sharp flavor. Use it fresh in drinks. Rosemary is quite powerful and can easily overwhelm a cocktail if you use too much.
Flat-leaf Parsley (Petroselinum crispum) is easy to grow and is widely used in Middle Eastern, Mediterranean, Brazilian, and American cuisine. The curly leaf variety is often used as a garnish.
(photo above mine)
(Raimonsocial / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)
Lemon verbena is a perennial shrub with slightly rough, pointed leaves that emit a powerful lemon scent when bruised. It's damaged by frost at around 30°F. If it does lose its leaves in the winter, it doesn’t always mean the plant is dead. It may be in winter dormancy.
Plant in full sun or part sun in hotter regions. A crucial component for growing this plant is making sure the soil drains well and is rich in organic matter. It doesn't like clay or acidic soils and will die if it has soggy roots. Water sparingly once a week.
Growing to 6 feet with regular pruning, frequent harvesting is recommended. The time for cutting back lemon verbena is spring right after new growth appears. This will be the main pruning of the year and will promote new, bushy growth. Remove winter damage and dead stems down to the ground. Cut old, woody growth about 2 inches above the soil.
Sweet basil has a fresh aroma with a subtle peppery flavor and a hint of mint. Other basil varieties taste citrusy or spicy.
1½ ounces vodka
1 ounce tarragon syrup
¾-1 ounce fresh lime juice
4 ounces water
½ cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons tarragon leaves
Add the sugar and water to a small saucepan over medium heat. Stir until sugar is dissolved. Let cool.
Lemon balm prefers fertile, moist soil and a cooler location. Plants grown in partial shade will be larger and have juicier leaves than plants exposed to full sun. Pick leaves throughout the summer for fresh use.
Unless you're a fairly experienced gardener, use starter plants/plugs and not seeds for your herb garden. This saves two or three weeks of growing time and increases the chance for success.
Use The Right Soil
Use potting soil and not garden soil. Potting soil is lighter, more porous and drains more easily. Garden soil is dense and will trap water inside the container. You'll also need a good garden trowel for digging holes, moving soil and .
It doesn't take a lot of time, but it does take regular attention for herbs to flourish. You must water them on a consistent schedule and harvest them frequently in order to stimulate new growth. Learn the individual growing requirements for the plants you select in order to keep your cocktail herb garden flourishing and productive.