Drink Your Garden

This month's 2014 garden trend is "Drink Your Garden" Coincidentally I also just bought a new book called The Drunken Botanist: The Plants That Create the World's Great Drinks by Amy Stewart. Intrigued? Simply put, there are many different plants that you can grow to make your own delicious drinks.

I suggest getting started with something simple (and non-alcoholic) like a smoothie. I particularly like making homemade smoothies with fruit for breakfast or lunch. One organization has even trademarked a new smoothie name. Get Real...Get Raw calls their green smoothie recipe a Groothie, saying it is "made from homegrown garden fruit and leafy greens."

I particularly like the new term "fermentation gardens." According to the garden trend report, "People are growing hops for home-brewing and grapes for home-made wine." "Nearly 1 million Americans brew beer and make wine at home." The report says that some people like the creative aspect of home brewing, while others like the science behind the brew.

Bob Streitmatter, manager of Luthy Botanical Gardens in Peoria, does a program called The Botany of a Cocktail. He explains how throughout history, most cultures have developed some form of alcohol using plants as the source. Bob says that "Especially here in Peoria there is a rich history, involving distilleries and breweries and, of course, Prohibition." His program focuses on the plants and processes involved in making beer, wine and spirits.

And finally, you may have heard of the trending new drink called Kombucha! Kombucha is the product of tea fermented using both bacteria and yeast to product a tangy, and bubbly, product. I have a couple of friends who love this drink. My friend Cindy says it is also known as the "champagne of life" or "T'Chai from the sea," and has been around over 2,000 years.

Cindy brews both a plain and a fruit infused tea. She says, "MY SCOBY (Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast) start originated in the Ukraine and has been passed down through a family who shared it with me." "You can buy SCOBY starts, but I really like knowing that mine has come through a family as they divided and shared it through the years." She says that you can also infuse the teas with herbs.

As with all edibles, practice good food safety when using Kombucha. University of Wisconsin Extension warns to be sure your tea isn't made using contaminated yeast and bacteria, which may be harmful. Since it is fermented, Kombucha contains a little bit of alcohol (less than one percent); but, a publication that I found online from Cornell Extension explains how to keep the alcohol content low.

I encourage you to Drink Your Garden this summer with a glass of grape juice, apple cider, or maybe some homemade wine. If you don't already grow fruits in your backyard, learn how at our University of Illinois Extension Fruit website at http://urbanext.illinois.edu/fruit/. Bottoms up!