One of my favorite ways to use fresh herbs is to add them to different drinks. It brings a completely new dimension to what may already be a familiar drink. It can be as simple as adding mint to your iced tea, basil to your lemonade or rosemary to your orange juice.
There are many ways to impart the herb flavor into your drink. Infuse sprigs of herbs into a hot liquid, allow it to steep (the waiting period), and remove the herbs before drinking. This is a good method when making hot or iced tea. Just add the herbs and the tea bag to the hot water, steep and strain. Try infusing mint, basil, lemon verbena, lemon balm, lavender, thyme or chamomile into your tea.
Another way to get herb flavors into your beverages is to muddle them. A muddler is a bartender’s tool, much like a pestle, and is used to press the herbs against the glass, releasing the oils of the herb or juice of the fruit. It’s important not to muddle too much, especially when working with delicate herbs, such as mint or basil, as it can turn bitter. A mojito is probably the best-known drink that uses the muddling technique, but it also works with other summer cocktails, with or without alcohol. No muddler at home? Try the end of a dowel rod or French rolling pin. You can also reach for your blender and pulse the herbs.
A simple syrup is another way to experience herbal beverages. Heat one-cup boiling water with one-cup sugar and your favorite herb, such as lavender flowers. Reduce the heat, cover and simmer one minute until sugar dissolves and it becomes a very thin syrup. Remove from heat and let steep for 30 to 60 minutes. Use a mesh strainer to remove the herb and stir as much of the syrup as desired into your favorite beverage. Beat the heat with an herb infused cocktail or mocktail!
Mint Limeade (Printable PDF)
1 quart (4 cups) water
½ cup lime juice (about 2 limes)
½ cup sucralose (Splenda®) or sugar
10-15 fresh mint leaves
Add 1 cup of water, lime juice, sucralose (or sugar) and mint leaves to a blender. Blend until mint leaves are finely chopped. Add remaining 3 cups water; blend until thoroughly mixed. Pour over ice and store remaining limeade in the refrigerator.
Yield: 4 servings
Nutrition Facts (per serving) using sucralose: 20 calories, 0 grams fat, 5 milligrams sodium, 6 grams carbohydrate, 0 grams fiber, 0 grams protein