By Maria Noel Groves
Clinical Herbalist & Author of Body into Balance: An Herbal Guide to Holistic Self Care
On a hot, summer day, look no further than your herb garden for a refreshing drink. This time of year, I head to the garden at least a few times a day for a sprig or two to add to my glass.
Delicious, inexpensive, and calorie-free soda is as simple as a bottle of cold seltzer water. My husband and I drink seltzer so much that we use a soda maker from the local kitchen store, but you can start with a bottle plain seltzer or effervescent mineral water the grocery store. Pour off a little from the top of the bottle and slowly add about three sprigs of fresh herbs, rubbing each with your fingertips before you add them to release their flavor. (It will fizz as you add them.) Cover and let it sit for about 20 minutes in the fridge or cooler before serving. My favorite simple herb sodas include fennel fronds, apple mint, spearmint, peppermint, chocolate mint, lemongrass, lemon verbena, lemon balm, or fragrant heirloom rosebuds. Roses taste best after several hours of steeping. I store fresh lemongrass stalks in my freezer for year-round use – they actually infuse better post-freeze. Some of my favorite combos include fresh lime with spearmint, lemon balm with lemon verbena, holy basil and rose, or Korean licorice mint (or its close relative anise hyssop) with a squirt of vanilla extract.
If you don’t like bubbles, feel free to skip them! These all taste great in plain, still water, too. You’ll feel like you’re sitting poolside at a fancy hotel or spa. I love to add edible flowers when using clear containers, such as rose, calendula, violets, or Johnny jump ups. Anything that’s safe to consume and fits your flavor profile works great.
Experiment with the herbs you have on hand and the flavors that you like. I prefer mine unsweetened. For a little sweetness, add one leaf of fresh stevia or a couple drops of stevia extract or use liquid sweeteners like simple syrup, maple syrup, agave, or honey. Perfect for a day of gardening in the hot sun!
Iced tea is a classic for summertime. You can make iced tea in a variety of ways depending on what’s most convenient for you. One easy way is to make a cup of regular tea (steep one teaspoon to a tablespoon dry or handful fresh herbs in two cups boiling water for five to 15 minutes, then strain), and then refrigerate it for a few hours. For faster iced tea, make a double-strength hot tea and then pour it over ice cubes. If you want to add sweetener, it will dissolve better when added to the hot tea before it’s chilled, or use a liquid sweetener.
You can’t get any better than green or black tea with lemon wedges and perhaps some sugar. However, you can also raid your herb garden or produce department for delicious combinations. I love to combine all the licorice-y, lemon-y, or mint-y herbs I have in my garden. Use about one fistful of fresh herb sprigs per 16 ounces of water. You may have to try a few batches to find the concentration of flavor and sweetness that you like.
Sun teas rely on the heat of the sun rather than boiling water to pull the flavor out of tea bags or fresh or dried herbs. Combine the herbs, tea bags, sweetener, and/or sliced fruit with water in a big jug and let it sit for a few hours in the sun at the height of day. When it’s ready, pour it off into a glass of ice. Fresh produce and herbs combine well here: green or black tea with lemons, mint and limes, strawberries and mint or parsley, cucumbers and mint, blackberries and basil. Dried hibiscus flowers make an amazing tart red tea that Mexicans and Jamaicans drink cold to help cool off the body. (If it’s too sour for you, sugar perks up the flavor.) Depending on how strong of a brew you make, your drink will be light pink to fruit punch red.
I reserve herbal cocktails for special dinners and celebrations. The best-known herbal summer cocktail is a mojito: muddle fresh spearmint or apple mint with sugar and ice, add seltzer and light mojito rum or vodka and fresh lime juice to taste. However, you can use other flavorful herbs to bring new light to classic cocktails. For example, lemon verbena or rosemary in a martini, tarragon in a cosmo, basil in your bloody Mary, lovage stems as a bloody Mary straw. Herbs are generally added to cocktails in one of two ways. Either muddle or shake the fresh leaves with ice before adding the rest of the ingredients, or make an herb-infused simple syrup. Simmer two cups of sugar with one cup of water until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and add one tablespoon of dry herbs or a small handful of fresh herbs. Cover and let sit until the syrup is cool, strain. Add simple syrup to sweeten and flavor cocktails. They can be refrigerated for up to one week or frozen as ice cubes for up to one month.
Keeping It Chill
One of the best ways to keep a cold beverage handy throughout the day is to put it in a thermos with an ice cube or two. It stays cold all day and won’t sweat all over your desk or travel bag. Double-walled glass tea infusers allow you to see your work of art as you sip. If you’ve got a drink with bubbles, make sure your container can handle the pressure... before you pop it in the beach bag next to your iPad!
Maria Noël Groves, RH (AHG), clinical herbalist, runs Wintergreen Botanicals, nestled in the pine forests of New Hampshire. Her business is devoted to education and empowerment via classes, health consultations, and writing with the foundational belief that good health grows in nature. She is the author of Body into Balance: An Herbal Guide to Holistic Self Care. Learn more about Maria and herbs at www.WintergreenBotanicals.com.