Mixology Herbs with Mike Darcy

August 15, 2019

Inspired by Amy Stewart’s book The Drunken Botanist, The Drunken Botanist Plant Collection has just arrived at Wilco. This collection has been grown by Log House Plants from Cottage Grove, Oregon and I think the plants are almost worth buying just for their labels. For example, East Indian Lemon Grass, “Strappy green leaves with intense lemon flavor form large, upright grassy clumps. Muddle a few fresh leaves in rum, gin, or vodka drinks for a citrusy touch”. Then on the back of the label is a recipe for Lemongrass Express. Even though lemongrass is not winter hardy in the Willamette Valley climate, it makes a good container plant for the summer. I have a large pot of it in my garden, it gets full sun and the plants are thriving.

Mixology herb garden

The selection of different varieties from this collection is quite large and most stores will have over a dozen to chose from. While the above-mentioned lemongrass is best treated as a summer annual, some plants in the collection are perennials that do quite well in our local gardens. Rosemary ‘Arp’ is an example and the plant tag for this reads; “Aromatic, gray-green, needle-like leaves add a surprising pungent note to cocktails. Try combining with watermelon and tequila. Hardy, upright, 3-5′, plants are easy to grow, with pale blue flowers in summer”. Rosemary is a very popular plant in many local gardens and in addition to the aromatic leaves, the flowers are an excellent food source for honeybees.

Another summer favorite plant is Lemon Verbena. “Bright green leaves have a sweet lemony scent and flavor. Use for muddling or making simple syrup to add brightness but not too much acidity to a cocktail.” I also grow this in my garden in a pot and we use the leaves for tea. It is fast-growing and can reach 5′ in one season. It is a fun plant to have around where children are present because a light crush of a leaf will emit a strong lemon fragrance. It might overwinter here but best treated as a summer annual.

While I have never grown Mexican Sour Gherkin, last summer Salem gardener Harry Olson introduced me to this plant and the fruit it produces. This is a vining plant and the plant in Harry’s garden was growing on a trellis and was loaded with small watermelon-like fruits. The Log House plant label states; “Tiny 1-2″ fruits look like mini watermelons, with citrusy, sweet and sour cucumber flavor that blends perfectly with gin. Try them muddled or as garnish”. This plant is a summer annual and wants full sun.

A very easy to grow summer annual is Blue Borage. The label says; “Beautiful blue starlike flowers make a stunning garnish floating atop a cocktail. Freeze them inside an ice cube for a welcome surprise”. Young tender leaves, which have a cucumber-like taste can be used in salads and the flowers are often used as a garnish. Borage is a very easy to grow summer annual and has been used in herbal medicine for centuries.

In my garden, it would not be summer with basil. Every summer we have a pot of basil near, or on, our deck for easy access to the kitchen. Basil is a very easy to grow summer annual and is an excellent container plant. Give it full sun and it will thrive. The Drunken Botanist selection is ‘Genovese Compact’. The label reads; “Large, tender, mid-green leaves have classic sweet and spice basil flavor. Good for muddling, garnish, infusions; pairs with citrus, tomato, or melon in a tequila drink”. Keep basil flowers picked to encourage more leaf growth.

The examples that I have mentioned are just part of the Drunken Botanist collection. Be sure to check this assortment of plants at your local Wilco. All of these can be planted now and I would suggest getting them into the ground as soon as possible and enjoy them for the balance of the summer and early fall.

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