Cocktail Herb Garden
There's no excuse, brown thumbs -- even you should be tending this garden.
Herbs are hearty plants, easy to care for, and growing your own herbs is way cheaper and a lot fresher than buying them.
“They can be done in a container, a raised bed, elevated garden, or you can still plant them in the ground if you have the space,” Susie Bachman of Bachman’s Garden Center told me.
Choosing what to grow is totally up to you, but the mint might be the most common herb; it grows as quickly as a weed, and there are quite a few flavor options. Spearmint and peppermint are common, but there is also grapefruit mint, chocolate mint, ginger mint, and apple mint (among others).
Basil is common and versatile – pulling double duty in Italian cooking as well as in cocktails. Consider pairing basil with clear liquors, cucumber, watermelon, and strawberries.
“Strawberries, if planted in the ground, will come back the next year -- they are a perennial. If they're put in a container it's just the one year” they’ll last, Bachman told me. If you do plant them in the ground, she recommends keeping them somewhat confined, as they tend to spread out and take over quickly.
Lavender – with its pretty purple flowers – pairs well with ginger, blueberry, and lemon, as well as another herb you can grow – thyme.
“Thyme is great because it trails and cascades,” which Bachman says makes it ideal to plant around the edges of pots. Consider using combining thyme and orange.
Thyme is also one of the herbs – along with rosemary and silver-leaf variety sage – that is strong enough to stand up to brown liquor, but still delicate enough to not overpower clear liquor. Scotch drinkers: sage is a particularly good pairing for your palette.
Cilantro – which is the leafy green part of the same plant that gives us coriander -- matches well with aquavit and gin.
Speaking about all herbs, Bachman advised me that “the number one thing is: use them; harvest them. You don't want the herb to go and flower, or go to seed, because the flavor changes on it."
To harvest them, don’t strip leaves right off the stems of the plant; that leaves an ugly looking bare stalk, and doesn’t encourage new growth to form as quickly. Instead, pinch an entire stem off toward the base of the plant, then pluck the individual leaves off once you’re inside. Also – don’t ever harvest more than half the plant at once.
It’s too late in the season to be starting your herbs from seed – that process should begin indoors, under a grow light, in late February or early March. Instead, buy individual plants (for several dollars each) and plant different herbs together in one well-drained pot.
Susie Bachman helped me plant a combination of lavender, basil, thyme, apple mint, and sage. "Once you fill it up with soil, I usually plant the center plant first. Here you want something that's going to be your tallest plant, so we'll choose the lavender [there]."
As you remove the young plants from their individual pots, gently break up the root ball before transplanting them; this will encourage the plant to really take root.
Give the finished pot a thorough soaking, and keep the soil damp for the rest of the growing season. This may mean daily watering during the peak of Minnesota’s summer heat. At least six hours of direct sunlight is enough to keep things growing.
If you use these herbs to garnish a drink, be sure to slap it before placing it into the cocktail – no, seriously! A quick slap will release the aromatics from the leaf, and you’ll get a much bigger hit of scent and flavor.
Another option is to create a flavored simple syrup using one or several of these herbs. If you’re doing that, do not simply place the herbs in a blender and then into the syrup. This will cause the syrup to turn an unappealing color with time, as enzymes turn the organic matter brown. Instead, follow this method:
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil; at the same time, fill a medium bowl with half ice and half cold water
- Once pot is boiling, carefully blanch full stems of your fresh herbs; 15 seconds for more delicate leaves, and 30 seconds for hardier leaves like rosemary
- Immediately plunge the blanched herbs into the ice bath, and let them sit there for 1 minute. They will be wilted
- Remove individual leaves from the stems, and blend the leaves into standard simple syrup
- Strain syrup to remove large solids, if desired
If you’re a gardening geek, or just want to learn the interesting history and science behind plants and their culinary uses, check out The Drunken Botanist by Amy Stewart. It is available in bookstores now, and will be available in Bachman’s stores soon!
Bachman's is a family owned flower, garden, and home store with many locations throughout the Twin Cities. I spoke with president Susie Bachman at their flagship store in Richfield.
6010 Lyndale Ave. S
Minneapolis, MN 55419