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Herbal Mixology

Fun summer drink recipes from Herb Garden Weekend

Karen Z. —  August 9, 2014 — Leave a comment

So many great ideas came out of our most recent Herb Garden Weekend (always the fourth weekend in July) in the Regenstein Fruit & Vegetable Garden! Here are a few to get your taste buds going:

  • Add a bit of mint to a basil pesto (a Chef Series tip)
  • Grow thyme in unexpected flavors: orange, lime, lemon (all are growing in our kitchen herb garden)
  • Dry and mix your own herbes de Provence (check out our recipe here)
  • Infuse lavender blossoms in lemonade (delicious advice from local vendor Three Tarts)

Speaking of infusions, “herb mixologist” Kasey Bersett Eaves had enthusiastic crowds at the demo tent on Saturday and Sunday, as she opened our eyes to the world of herb-infused beverages.

From Garden to Glass

PHOTO: A sprig of basil tops off a mason jar basil lemonade.

Muddled basil adds a refreshing twist to lemonade.

Just about any herb you’d grow in your yard can be used to flavor drinks. Herbs + fresh fruit = a yummy base for all sorts of hot and cold beverages. Grab what’s in season in the yard and experiment. A few fresh ideas: 

Basil + strawberry
Mint + raspberry
Sage + cherry
Rosemary + watermelon
Lemon verbena + honeydew melon
Thyme + cucumber
Lavender + berries
Dill + lime
Oregano + berries
Cilantro + watermelon
Tarragon + peach

Thirsty for more? Let’s move on to muddling.

Muddling 101

Infusion starts with muddling.

Here’s the first rule of muddling: Don’t overmuddle. Muddling is the process of gently—repeat, gently—bruising the leaves of herbs. As Kasey said, “If you hear the leaves tear, you’re overmuddling.” The goal is to release the fresh, green taste and aroma of the leaves, not to break or pulverize them (think Cary Grant, not Iron Man).

PHOTO: The Fountainhead Chicago mixologist Kasey Bersett muddles basil leaves in a Mason jar.

Herb Garden Weekend presenter Kasey Bersett Eaves demonstrates proper muddling technique—check out the natural wood muddler.

Here’s the second rule of muddling: always hold your arm at a 90-degree angle, pressing straight down from the elbow through the wrist through the muddler. (What’s a muddler? Read on.) Press down once, release, and rotate the jar a quarter turn. Repeat five more times. Six presses are about right for a single drink—more if you’re making a pitcher’s worth.

Here’s the third rule of muddling: muddlers are very cool. Essentially a press that reaches to the bottom of a glass or pitcher, muddlers can be found at most kitchenware stores, both in hardwood (walnut, maple) and stainless steel versions. Yes, a wooden spoon works, too. Vintage aficionados: look for stainless steel bar sets from the ’50s and ’60s. That big bump at the end of the long swizzle stick is a muddler.

Infusions

Herbal infusions are a why-didn’t-I-think-of-that idea that’s easy, healthy, and really tasty (hot on the restaurant scene, too). Kasey shared her recipe:

PHOTO: A mash of water, sugar, watermelon, tarragon, and basil steeps to create a flavored syrup.

A muddle of fruit and herbs, destined to become a tasty beverage.

Herbal Water Infusion

  • Fresh herbs (see list above)
  • Fresh fruit (any but bananas; see list)
  • 2-quart jar or pitcher
  • Muddler or wooden spoon
  • Water

Wash fruit and rinse herbs thoroughly. Place enough herbs inside the jar to cover the bottom. Add about a cup of fruit. (Amounts of both will vary according to taste—feel free to experiment!) Bruise fruit and herb leaves with muddler to release some of the juices and flavor. Do not pulverize! Fill jar with ice and water. Cover and refrigerate for two hours. Strain water into glasses. Refrigerated infusions will keep in the refrigerator up to five days.

Icy & Sweet: Herbal Tea

In summer, iced tea is the beverage du jour. Love sweet tea, but don’t like its sugar? Kasey’s tea recipe uses fresh stevia—an herb that’s 30 times sweeter than sugar—plus other herbs from your garden for a greener version of sweet. Just add ice and a tall glass.

PHOTO: Mint infuses in a quart mason jar for 24 hours.

An infusion of mint and stevia makes a refreshing, instant herbal tea— just strain and serve over ice.

Backyard Herb and Stevia Iced Tea Concentrate

  • ¼ cup stevia leaves
  • 2 cups water
  • 1½ cups fresh herb leaves (mint or lemon verbena taste best, but feel free to experiment!)

For concentrate: Rinse and drain herbs. Add all ingredients above to a small, nonreactive pot and bring to a boil on the stove. Let boil for one minute; remove from heat. Allow mixture to steep and cool six hours or overnight. Strain cooled liquid into a glass jar. Store in the refrigerator up to one week, or freeze for later use.

To use: Mix 1 cup of concentrate to 3 cups water, or to taste. 

Simple Syrups Rock

“Simple syrups” are called that for a reason: they’re truly easy to concoct. Added in place of sugar to your favorite lemonade, soda, sweet tea, or cocktail recipe, simple syrup is the secret to a full-flavored summer drink.

PHOTO: Tarragon simple syrup and fresh peaches enliven a sparkling wine cocktail.

A simple syrup drink made with tarragon + peaches + Prosecco = lovely.

Easy Herbal Simple Syrup

  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ½ cup herb of your choice (whole leaves or lightly chopped, packed into measuring cup)

Rinse and drain herbs. In a small, nonreactive pot, stir water and sugar together over heat until sugar dissolves, bringing the mixture just to a boil. Add herbs in, stir gently for 30 seconds, then remove from heat. Let the mixture cool (approximately 30 minutes). Strain.

Store the syrup in an airtight container in the refrigerator for use within a week to 10 days, or freeze in ice cube trays for convenient later use.

Simple syrups make memorable cocktails. Add a splash of herbal simple syrup to a champagne flute before topping off with Prosecco or dry white wine for a cheers-worthy toast. Or enjoy your herbs on ice—freeze the syrup in ice cube trays (top off each cube divider with a small herb leaf for garnish before freezing) and use as a sweetener for iced tea or cocktails. Imagine a glass of bourbon that slowly becomes a mint julep because you added minty simple syrup ice cubes! 

PHOTO: An array of cocktail mixers and cocktail recipe books.

Stock the hippest minibar in town—yours—with your own herbal elixirs, concentrates, and simple syrups from the Garden Shop.

Interested in dabbling in the cocktail arts yourself? Kasey recommends The Home Distiller’s Handbook as a good starter guide. Find drink enhancers and more at the Garden Shop, including elderflower and rose elixirs, and the mysterious Owl’s Brew tea concentrate—best with bourbons and whiskeys. Cheers!

©2014 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Desert Island Herbs

If you were being marooned on a desert island and could only take one (culinary) herb, what would it be?

Adriana Reyneri —  July 22, 2014 — 2 Comments

In case you missed it, the International Herb Association has named tarragon the herb of the year. “What?” you might be thinking. “What about basil?” 

PHOTO: Unusual herb cultivars in display pots.

Discover a world of uses for your herb harvest—essential and flavored oils, vinegars, jams and jellies—at Herb Garden Weekend.

Sure, tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus) has silvery leaves and an anise-like flavor, but basil is the king of herbs, beloved by all. It’s such a crowd-pleaser that we’re giving away Napoletano Bolloso basil seedlings during Herb Garden Weekend, July 26 and 27, and the rest of the month as well.

Perhaps it’s time to rethink tarragon and the diverse palette of herbs available to modern cooks. The late author and farmer Noël Richardson once wrote, “If we could take only one herb to grow on a desert island, it would be difficult to choose between basil and tarragon.”

How about you? What (culinary) herb would you choose? We put the desert island question to staff at the Chicago Botanic Garden and received colorful, informed, and surprising answers.

PHOTO: Italian basil in the garden.

Italian basil—and other basil cultivars and species—find their way into the cuisine of many nations.

“Wilson! I’m sorry!”

Basil, it turns out, not only tastes delicious, but might also help deal with the many stresses of island life. Gabriela Rocha Alvarez, plant labeling technician, notes that basil repels insects, has antibacterial and antifungal properties, and could help her keep calm while she’s waiting to be rescued. She would pick the varieties Ocimum basilicum and O. tenuiflorum. “These types of basil need warmth and full sun, and self-seed.”

Sophia Shaw, president and CEO of the Garden, says, “Hands down, basil.” She uses dried and whole fresh leaf basil, and pesto. “I hope my island also has tomatoes and garlic!”

Survivor: Desert Island

Inspired by the practices of many coastal societies, Boyce Tankersley, director of living plant documentation, would choose dill (Anethum graveolens). Besides going well with all types of fish and seafood, it’s also a good source of vitamins C and A, and the minerals manganese, iron, and calcium, he says, and the monoterpenes and flavonoids—antioxidants and chemoprotectors—help neutralize the carcinogens found in smoke. “I do love smoked fish,” says Tankersley. “Please let there be driftwood available!”

PHOTO: Dill plant in bloom with an abundance of yellow flowers.

Beautiful in bloom, dill is delicious as a fresh herb, or use the seeds as part of a pickle.

Dill is also known to help soothe upset stomachs and relieve insomnia. “Although the sound of waves on a sandy beach normally puts me to sleep—I might be a bit stressed if marooned. And dill’s volatile oils have antibacterial properties that could come in handy,” says Tankersley, “if I get injured and need to dress a wound.”

The savory herb also wins a vote from Lisa Hilgenberg, horticulturist at the Regenstein Fruit & Vegetable Garden, who likes dill for both its flavor and growing habits. “It’s my favorite tasting herb, especially with fish, which I suppose would be a staple of my diet,” she says. “It is a self-sowing annual so I could save seed and grow it again the following year if I hadn’t been rescued.”

PHOTO: Parsley in a pot.

A mediterranean standard, don’t underestimate parsley—it’s more than a garnish!

It will get stuck in your teeth!

Parsley is the choice of horticulturist Ayse Pogue, who says it reminds her of growing up in Istanbul. “We have many dishes where we mix parsley and feta cheese—pastries, breads, and salads. We also sprinkle it on cold dishes cooked with olive oil and served with parsley and lemon juice.” One such favorite is barbunya.

Pogue appears to have chosen wisely. Parsley is also packed with nutrition—and is used as a natural breath freshener. 

I’d Have the Thyme

Versatility—and a pleasing bloom—makes thyme the herb of choice for Celeste Vandermey, supervisor of plant records. “Thyme adds flavor and aroma to any soup or stew. It is easy to grow and creeps along the ground, producing beautiful little spikes of pink or white flowers,” she says.

PHOTO: Spearmint in bloom.

A refreshing digestive, mint can be harvested more than once in a season; use it fresh in your mojito, or dried as tea.

 

Mojitos, Mint Juleps, and More

Many refreshing drinks—think iced tea, mojitos, and mint juleps—get some of their cool from mint, the herb of choice of Laura Erickson, coordinator of market sales for our Windy City Harvest Youth Program. “Hopefully, I could bring a hammock and a few good books along, too.”

Herbes de Provence

What about cilantro, chives, rosemary, and sage? What about herbes de Provence, a mixture favored by the French? If you’re interested in learning more about these and other flavorful, nutritious, and potentially beneficial herbs, come to our Herb Garden Weekend, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, July 26 and 27, in the Regenstein Fruit & Vegetable Garden.

Looking for more herbalicious ideas? Check out our previous posts on herb grill brushes, and a host of flavorful basils for your home garden.


©2014 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Named for the countryside herbs growing in the hills of southern France, this Today’s Harvest infographic brings you Herbes de Provence!

Heading to Herb Garden Weekend at the Regenstein Fruit & Vegetable Garden on Saturday or Sunday? Be sure to check out the really interesting triangle bed at the entrance to the small-space garden (hang a left at the paw paw tree).

PHOTO: seven types of basil planted in a traditional "pie slice" herb bed.

Seven types of basil (listed below) are planted in the basil bed at the Regenstein Fruit & Vegetable Garden.

There, basil is king. (Of course it is—the word basil is rooted in the Greek basilikos, meaning royalty.) The bed is planted with seven very different basil varieties, laid out in a pinwheel design, and all grown from seed. It’s enough to make a gardener’s—or a foodie’s—head spin with plans for dinner…and for your 2014 herb garden. Discover these varieties of Ocimum basilicum:

‘Dwarf Fine Bush’ – The neat round globes that divide the pinwheel pack a big punch in those tiny leaves. This basil is highly aromatic, rich with cinnamon/anise/clove flavors. Although the leaves are too little to pluck for pesto, sprinkle them on hors d’oeuvres, or use them as a garnish on any dish. Really nice for nibbling, too.

‘Crimson King’ – It’s a Genovese-style basil, with big, curvy leaves, colored purple instead of green—the better to stand out in vegetable dishes, layered in a sandwich, or as a revelation with rice. And it’s our Plant Giveaway for August (pick up a seedling Wednesday through Sunday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.).

‘Serata’ – As the name says, this is basil with serrated edges. Big, ruffly, bright green leaves make ‘Serata’ pretty enough for the front of the flower bed. But it’s truly tasty, too, with real basil flavor, so it’s a great choice for pesto.

‘Ararat’ – Showstopping in a pot on a sunny porch or patio, bicolor ‘Ararat’ is green wherever it’s not purple. Its licorice taste immediately challenges your inner foodie: Salads? Tomato dishes? Ice cream?

‘Genovese Compact Improved’ – A relative of the classic Genovese, this is more compact in overall size. With the same big leaves and concentrated, sweet flavor—though more noticeably less anise in taste—this is the perfect basil for pesto.

‘Purple Ruffles’ – The name tells you what you need to know: it’s a beautiful basil, with a more complex cinnamon/spice/mint/anise flavor. Steep it in white wine vinegar for fresh vinaigrettes all summer and fall.

‘Purple Osmin’ – Fruity and sweet, this is one of the darkest of all basils, and delicious in Italian and Thai recipes.

Check out the kitchen garden bed just outside of our demonstration kitchen window and you’ll find two more interesting basils.

‘Sweet Thai’ – The distinctive spicy flavor of anise and clove make this the basil for red and green Thai curries and pho. Its purple flowers mix nicely in container or window box plantings.

‘Mrs. Burns’ Lemon’ – Pluck the lemony leaves for iced teas and lemonades, and use them generously when grilling.

That’s nine basil varieties to add to your summer repertoire. Need a kickstarter recipe? Garden Café executive chef Paul Choi shares his lemony pesto recipe below.

PHOTO: Ararat basil.

Ararat basil (Ocimum basilicum ‘Ararat’)

Five Tips for Harvesting Basil

  1. Use scissors to clip individual basil leaves from the plant rather than tearing them off—much neater!
  2. Harvest basil branches with a clean cut across the stem, then stand them in cool water ‘til you’re ready to use.
  3. Harvest a whole plant by cutting straight across the main stem, leaving at least one leaf node with two shoots—the plant will rebranch from there.
  4. Start a new batch of seed every month from February (indoors) through September (bring plants in if nighttime temperatures dip below 50° F.) for a continuous, fresh supply.
  5. Picked too much basil (is that possible)? Chop extra leaves, layer them into ice cube trays, fill with water or olive oil, and freeze. The individual cubes are great for cooking.
PHOTO: a bowl of freshly made pesto.

Pesto-licious!

Garden-fresh Pesto

8 ounces fresh basil leaves
1-2 lemons, juiced and zested*
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
¼ cup pine nuts (optional)
3 tablespoons chopped garlic
1 cup Parmesan, grated
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon ground black pepper

*Chef Choi prefers two for a zingier taste.

Place the pine nuts, garlic, and basil in a food processor. Process for about 30 seconds or until everything is chopped. With the processor running, slowly add the oil until the pesto is thoroughly puréed. Add the rest of your ingredients and purée until all are incorporated.

Store the pesto in the refrigerator for up to three days. The pesto must be stored with plastic wrap or another cover to keep air out. Or freeze in ice cube trays—just add a cube to any dish for extra flavor.


©2013 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

It’s the season for grilling—time to share a simple, herb-related trick with the grill master at your house.

PHOTO: rosemary sprigs tied to a wooden spoon make an herb brush

Wooden spoon + rosemary + garden twine = herb brush

Fashion an herb brush out of a wooden spoon, a bit of kitchen twine, and freshly-snipped twigs of rosemary. Use the aromatic brush to flavor roasting meats like lamb, chicken, or pork—just dip it into marinade or olive oil and apply liberally.

Another rosemary trick: Try threading chunks of meat onto rosemary skewers for a delicious infused kabob. Genius!

PHOTO: homemade sage grill brush.

A beautiful plant in the garden, sage is most familiar as the flavoring in stuffing—but it makes a great grill brush, too!

A sage brush is perfect for sweeping marinades onto grilled chicken. After the meat is cooked, snip the herb into softened butter to create sage butter to serve along with it at the table.

The genus Salvia comes from the Latin word salvere, “to save or to heal,” hence this herb’s connection to long life and good health. A wonderful wish, indeed!

PHOTO: snipping tarragon for a garnish.

After using your tarragon brush on grilled fish, snip the herbs over vegetables as a garnish.

French tarragon easily becomes a grill brush for basting butter or marinades onto grilled fish. Just before serving, snip the “brush bristles” atop steamed new potatoes for a flavorful finishing garnish.

Join us for more tips, plus fun, facts, and fragrance at the Garden’s Herb Garden Weekend, July 27-28!


©2013 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org