Skip to main content

Drinks from the Herb Garden

If you added herb plants into the matrix of your vegetable gardens this year, you may, like most zucchini and tomato growers, have more harvest than you can handle. Your basil may have started flowering because it wasn't pinched, parsley leaves may be yellowing because it needs some fertilizer and the mint has spread beyond its bounds and is now feeding all the bees in the neighborhood. Even in states of neglect, herbs can be used in creative ways by adding them to your favorite cold beverages.

I never have extra basil, because every available leaf makes it into a pesto or a caprese salad with tomato, mozzarella and olive oil. I was skeptical when I heard about basil lemonade, but sacrificed my basil leaves to a sweet concoction. However, the spiciness of the basil was highlighted by the lemons, and the sweetness married the flavors, making me a believer. 'Genovese' proved to be the ideal cultivar. So the adventure began to find drink recipes to feature favorite garden herbs.

Fresh basil leaves were blended with cantaloupe and Stevia water was used to add extra sweetness. Strawberries and honey were softened by soaking in water, then mixed with cooled mint tea and blended with ice to create Agua Fresca, a drink from Mexico. A second Agua Fresca featured strawberries and lemon verbena. Lavender was seeped in with black tea to add a floral note to everyone's favorite summer drink. Thyme was seeped into a tea and mixed with fresh pineapple. Limes were sliced and sprigs of were added to ice water to quench the thirst on especially warm afternoons. Most of the recipes needed double the herbs called for to compete with sweetness of fruit, honey or sugar. University of Illinois Extension Nutrition Educator Jenna Smith says it is important to tear or cut leaves of herbs to release the essential oils and taste. Most gardeners have a pair of kitchen shears dedicated to cutting up herbs. While maintaining herbs during this time of year, it is advised to pinch back the flowers, with the intention of creating a flush of tender and tastier leaves.

Without a doubt, I have only accounted for a few of the endless possibilities that herbs will afford to the vegetable gardener. To learn more about using culinary herbs from the garden, visit the McLean County Master Gardeners at the Illinois State University Horticulture Center Autumnal Festival from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sept. 27 for herb demonstrations and a tour of the newly remodeled herb garden.

Kelly Allsup is the University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator in Livingston, McLean and Woodford counties.