by Jenna Poncelet, Gardener, Gardens on Spring Creek
The annual Spring Plant Sale at the Gardens on Spring Creek is right around the corner, and I’m here to remind everyone who’s planning out their perfect garden that herbs aren’t just for the kitchen. In terms of multi-use garden plants, herbs have endless applications both practically and ornamentally. They’ll give you more flavor in cooking than you’ll ever get from a spice jar and can be used to make fresh teas, potpourris, etc. They also are a beautiful green addition to container gardens and flower boxes.
Botanically speaking, most herbs are leafy, tender plants that will die back in our harsh Colorado winters. They can be pretty competitive in a garden (ask anyone with wild mint in their yard) but do well when contained in raised beds or pots. They are low maintenance and with strong scents can even be a deterrent to garden pests like rabbits and deer.
Any multi-use plant in a garden is a good plant in my book, but my absolute favorite use for fresh herbs crosses over my two careers, horticulture and bartending. An interesting combo, I know, but more related than you would think. The oldest and most tried-and-true cocktails revolve around three ingredients – spirit, sugar, and herbs.
As spring progresses and the days get warmer, more and more of us will be out on patios again enjoying the sunshine and company of friends. All those refreshing spring cocktails from your favorite bars and restaurants are a lot easier to make at home than you would think, and it’s so satisfying to be able to make a beautiful and delicious cocktail that came from your own hard work in the garden.
The two easiest ways to incorporate a fresh herb into a drink are to either use it straight or to make a simple syrup. Simple syrup is just one part water, and one part sugar heated on the stove until the sugar has melted and the mixture is clear. Simple syrups play the double duty of adding both flavor and sweetness to your drink. You can add fresh herbs to your syrup on the stove or steep them afterward in an airtight container. The best part is that simple syrups are completely customizable. You can steep for longer for a stronger flavor or change the amount of fresh herb added. They’re also non-alcoholic and can be added to make elevated lemonades and iced teas.
Consider adding herbs like mint, basil, rosemary, or sage to your garden this year, and spend your summer experimenting with flavor combinations and enjoying refreshing beverages that you make yourself.
Genovese Greyhound (Makes 2 cocktails)
- 3 ounces vodka
- 1/2 ounce basil simple syrup
- 4-5 fresh basil leaves
- Juice of 1 whole grapefruit (or ½ cup bottled grapefruit juice)
- Soda Water
In a shaker:
- Add vodka and basil leaves & muddle
- Grapefruit juice, simple syrup, and ice. Shake!
- Strain over ice and top with soda water. Garnish with fresh basil.
Tips: Simple syrup can be adjusted to desired sweetness OR use only fresh basil for a more refreshing, tart beverage.
Cucumber Mint Lemonade (Non-alcoholic)
- 6 cups water
- 1 ½ cups lemon juice
- Mint simple syrup
- 1 lemon
- 1 large cucumber
In a large pitcher:
- Stir water and lemon juice together. Add mint simple syrup to desired sweetness.
- Slice lemon and cucumber into thin medallions and toss in.
- Refrigerate for a few hours or overnight to allow cucumber to steep.
- Serve over ice and garnish with fresh mint or a lemon wedge.
Tips: Serve within a day or two. Cucumbers tend to get bitter after 48 hours.