The herbs to grow for homemade cocktails & teas
Herbs are great all-rounders in the garden. They’re easy to grow and even easier to use as flavour-packed additions in your cooking.
But you don’t have to stop there. Whether you’re a fan of cocktails, mocktails or tea, some freshly picked herbs will give a boost to your beverage of choice.
Warm tea infusions are a good way to start using herbs in your drinks.
The aroma of herbs steeping in a jug of boiling water will warm the house on a wintry morning and a cup or two throughout the day recharges both body and mind. Think of it as an inexpensive and simple way to give your health routine a kick start.
Start by picking your herbs. I usually do this early in the morning when the flavours are at their best.
You can always use dried herbs for brews as well, but I tend to go for fresh options when they’re available.
Getting out into the garden is a nice ritual in itself and regularly picking from your herbs promotes new growth in the plants, helping your garden thrive.
Some of the classic herbs for teas are lemon balm, basil, mint and rosemary.
Many herbs can be used in hot brews, so it really comes down to personal choice when selecting your ingredients.
The only thing I tend to emphasise is using organically grown herbs that are free from pesticides. This is as important for your own health as that of your garden.
Lemon balm makes a delicate, simple tea on its own. It’s a plant I often recommend to new gardeners because it’s easy to grow, relatively low maintenance and the bees love it, when it’s in flower.
To make a warm, herbal infusion, steep two or three of the stems with leaves attached in a jug of boiling water for about 15 minutes.
Once the aromas have risen, pour yourself a cup – with an extra drizzle of honey if you like.
You can also use this basic steeping method to experiment with combinations of herbs.
I follow my nose when choosing herbs to mix together in a hot brew. Aromas are an indicator of flavour, so start with fragrances that you like.
Peppermint is a refreshing addition to any herbal infusion. Try it in a mix with lemongrass and basil. Chamomile can have a calming effect and when steeped with lavender and lemon balm it’s a great pre-bedtime drink. Freshly picked rosemary sprigs also work well brewed alongside thyme and oregano.
If you’re approaching the cocktail hour, there are a few herbs you can’t do without.
Mint is essential for a traditional mojito, which is one the most famous old-school cocktails making good use of the garden.
It’s also part of any mint julep (bourbon, sugar, mint) and a sprig goes well with some gin, Campari and soda.
Thyme, sage, rosemary and basil are similarly indispensable muddled in your favourite stiff or non-alcoholic drinks.
A hint of thyme pairs well with vodka and honey, while rosemary sits perfectly with pear and lemon juice, topped up with sparkling water.
All these herbs will elevate your homemade cocktails from routine to special – and, most importantly, won’t cost you a fortune in the process!
Top 5 herbs
Here are my top five herbs to use when making homemade drinks:
- Lemon balm: Easy to grow and one of those herbs that you’ll find plenty of use for in the kitchen and around the home. It’s great for hot herbal infusions through the winter and served chilled over ice in the summertime. As I mentioned earlier, it’s also great for attacking bees in your garden.
- Mints: There are so many mints to choose from and the good thing is they rate exceptionally well in the beverage stakes. Try spearmint, chocolate mint and peppermint out in the garden and in your cocktails.
- Rosemary: A classic for any kitchen garden. Freshly picked leaves are great in warm teas, adorning a whiskey sour or for infusing in a simple sugar syrup mix that will give cocktails and mocktails a fragrant lift.
- Thyme: A hardy evergreen perennial that plays an essential role in my garden because it’s delicious and low maintenance. Thyme will add depth to your hot brews and pairs well with gin-based drinks and even ginger ale.
- Basil: Often called the king of herbs and for good reason. The full, refreshing herb can be used to spike vodka cocktails, non-traditional margaritas, non-alcoholic lemonades and, of course, herbal teas.