Herbs are a gardener’s favourite as they are low-maintenance and space-efficient. Aside from adding bursts of flavour to your dishes, these versatile leaves can also ramp up your garden-to-glass party drinks. Keen to start cocktail gardening with happy hour on the side? Here are some easy to grow herbs that go well with your martini glass!
What is a Cocktail Garden?
It’s a type of herb garden with plants that you can use for mixology. Of course, lemon trees and berry shrubs are welcome additions, too. With a few snips of herbs from your cocktail or bartender’s garden, you get to enjoy herb-infused drinks any time.
Starting a herb garden at home doesn’t need much. Perennial herbs like rosemary and lavender, for instance, can grow in containers with regular potting soil. Large plant boxes can even grow two or more herb types at a time.
Easy to grow herbs like mint and basil will need yearly replanting, though. Still, most herbs in pots will thrive in sunny locations with regular watering. You can grow some of them indoors or in vertical pallets, too.
How Do I Use Fresh Herbs for Cocktails?
There are three common ways how to add refreshing herb flavours to your favourite party drinks:
- Garnish. This one is perhaps the easiest method. All you need is to string on a few herbs to a cocktail skewer along with fruit or veggie slices. Then lay the skewer on the glass rim. Alternatively, you can use a sprig as a finishing touch or whole leaves to float in the drink.
- Muddling. This method involves mashing or crushing of herbs with a muddler or spoon to release their flavour and aroma. Cocktail makers do this technique gently to avoid extracting a bitter taste.
- Infusion. You can also let herb leaves soak in your spirit of choice to let herbal flavours transfer or infuse. Vodka is a typical choice because of its neutral flavour. To do this, add washed herbs to the alcohol, and let them steep for 2 to 7 days. After which, strain the botanicals and store your infused spirit in the fridge or freezer. You can use the same technique to make herb-infused simple syrups, too.
Which Easy to Grow Herbs Are Ideal for Cocktail Gardening?
If you enjoy growing fresh herbs at home to make an impressive dinner, having them for your cocktail hour is equally delightful. And there are plenty of easy to grow herbs to choose from for your yard, patio or windowsill.
Mint is perhaps the most popular cocktail herb to grow. It has plenty of uses and comes in several varieties. For your herb garden, the best ones to have would be the mojito mint, Kentucky Colonel and peppermint. Apple and chocolate mint plants are also excellent starters.
- How to grow: Mint tends to be invasive and a garden bully, so it’s best to plant it in containers. It grows well in sunny spots or areas with light shade. Make sure to water it regularly and snip off sprigs to keep it healthy.
- How to use: Muddle fresh mint leaves, use a sprig for garnish or freeze to make minty ice cubes or cocktail popsicles. Cool and refreshing mint blends well with vodka, rum, tequila, whiskey and gin.
- Drink ideas: Pineapple mint mojito, mint julep, mint lemonade or soda
Basil is as flavourful in cocktail drinks as it is in your pasta. A popular choice for cocktail-making is sweet basil for its liquorice and peppery flavour. But if you’re into Asian-inspired drinks, consider growing a pot of Thai basil. Its purple stems and flowers would surely add interest to your cocktail herb garden.
- How to grow: Basil is among many easy to grow herbs that love sun and water – lots of them. It’s not very ideal for growing indoors, though, unless you can place it somewhere with direct sun. Harvest its leaves from the top to keep it healthy, and pinch the flower buds, so the leaves stay sweet.
- How to use: Muddle the leaves or use a sprig for garnish. Basil is terrific in gin, tequila, rum and vodka drinks.
- Drink ideas: Basil vodka gimlet, strawberry basil martini, peach basil tea
Lemon verbena is the best ingredient to add subtle citrus flavours to your cocktails. Aside from teas and summer drinks, this fragrant herb is quite versatile in the kitchen and perfect for baking or sauce making. Like lemon balm, verbena also has medicinal properties to relieve muscle spasms, aid indigestion and reduce fevers.
- How to grow: Lemon verbena is a woody shrub with pointed leaves that require frequent harvesting and regular pruning. Let it thrive in well-drained potting soil that’s rich in organic matter. Water it once a week, and position it in a sunny area. It cannot withstand frost, though, so make sure to bring it inside come winter months.
- How to use: Muddle the leaves, infuse it in spirits and simple syrups or use it as a garnish. Lemon verbena’s lemon flavour complements vodka and gin.
- Drink ideas: Sangria, lemon verbena gimlet, herbal sodas
The English lavender is the most flavourful of its many varieties and ideal for drink-making. Both its leaves and flowers can be added to drinks, depending on your cocktail recipe. With its distinct woody and floral tones, a little sprig goes a long way.
- How to grow: Lavender is a hardy herb that thrives even in hot and dry regions. However, you do need to water it regularly on its first few years to help it grow a sturdy root system. Plant it in potting soil with good drainage then place it in the sunniest spot of your cocktail garden. Make sure to harvest the flowers as they begin to bloom.
- How to use: Infuse it in simple syrups or use it as a beautiful garnish. Avoid shaking it with ice as it can lose its fragrance. Pair it with vodka, gin, sparkling wine or lemonade.
- Drink ideas: Lavender negroni, lavender Collins, lavender mint soda
Rosemary is yet another hardy herb with needle-like leaves and woodsy aroma. I love this versatile herb as you can use it for cooking and medicine-making. A pot of this in your kitchen even works as an air freshener. When preserved and dried, rosemary can retain its sharp flavour and scent.
- How to grow: Rosemary grows well in pots while basking in full sun. Like lavender, it is drought-tolerant and doesn’t require frequent watering. However, you do need to take it inside during the cold months as it can only withstand mild winters.
- How to use: Infuse it in syrups or use a sprig as garnish. Avoid adding too much as it can easily overpower your drink. Use it with gin and tonic, bourbon, tequila and vodka.
- Drink ideas: Mezcal margarita, old-fashioned, whiskey sour