I’m not a big drinker but I do appreciate a delicious opportunity to partake in an adult beverage, especially when I can make it beautiful, nutritive and play with some of my favorite herbs along the way.  Here are some inspirations to try that are pretty easy, fun to make, won’t land a sugar bomb on your system and exclude the gluten and sulfites found typically in beer and wine.  Use these techniques – infused vodkas, blossom ice cubes, and herbal garnish –  as starting points to make your own delicious and creative concoctions!

Infused Vodkas
This is by far one of the simplest and easiest techniques! Vodka is about half water and half alcohol, which makes is really good at extracting the flavor and goodness out of many herbs without the need to add sugar as preservative.

Basically, it’s like making an herbal tincture with less plant material and less rigor: fill a mason jar nearly halfway with dried herbs (more if its fresh), and top it off with vodka.  Shake it every few days, and taste it along the way to see when the flavor has come through as desired.  When it’s ready, strain and store in a glass jar out of direct light.  Enjoy sipping it on its own, or blend it into your favorite cocktail, bubbly water, or lemonade. Here are some of my favorites:

Citrus  – I often collect the rinds from local, organic mandarins, but you could do this with meyer lemon, oranges, lime, whatever inspires you.  You can use the rinds fresh (or dried).  I will often sip mandarin vodka on its own, and sometimes I combine it with cinnamon vodka to spice it up and support my digestion.

Violets – These spring blossoms come in many varieties and colors – the viola family is all edible, and I go for the variety that grows rampantly in and around my garden, rich in purples and blues that will give my cocktail a beautiful hue. Collect and use the blossoms when they are fresh (you can take the green part off to avoid the bitter), about 1 cup for every 8 oz of vodka.  Here is the trick – you will get a vibrant color if you pre-heat the vodka.  But if you heat vodka, the alcohol will begin to steam off and you don’t want that! So here’s what I’ve done – put the vodka in a mason jar and cap the lid, then put the jar into a pot of water, and slowly heat up the water in the pot until it lightly boils. Turn off the heat, and let the vodka sit for awhile in that hot bath so it gets pretty warmed up. At that point, I take the jar out, wipe it down, shake it up (to capture any evaporated alcohol on the lid), and pour it over the violets waiting in another mason jar, and then put on the lid.  The vodka will begin changing color before your eyes! Sometimes I add a few drops of lemon juice to bring in more purple/pinks to the color.

Violets blossoms are medicinal, used in many traditions for coughs and sore throats.   For the medicinal use, you could make this vodka with a higher concentration of violets blossoms (as many as you could fit in the vodka), or try making a syrup.  This blog on violet syrup from Mountain Rose Herbs has a great tutorial on the process.

Nutritive and Supportive Herbs – If I’m going to sip on a vodka or dash it into a bubbly drink or lemony water on ice, I might as well infuse it with some goodness to nourish my body.  I like to use nutritive and supportive herbs for this reason, those that have very wide safety margins where there is no risk of having too much at a time (remember, a tincture dose is usually about a ¼ -1/2 teaspoon, so a shot of infused vodka, although less potent, is significantly more!).  My two favorite herbs in this category are oat straw (or even better, milky oats) and tulsi.

Cordials and Syrups
Go at it with cordials and syrups if they float your libation boat! I tend to avoid them due to my sensitivity to sweets, but they do offer some nice options for mocktails, as alcohol is not needed as a preservative.  Occasionally I will play with sweeter concoctions – a dear friend made some beautiful meyer limoncello and while it was too sweet for me to sip on as is, I cut it with tulsi infused vodka and it made delightful combination to sip on before dinner. Be creative! Cordials and syrups can make great additions to cocktails in so many creative ways.  Mountain Rose Herbs’ Blog is a great resource for some of these recipes.

Interested in more Mocktail options? Check out these recipes for summer teas and thirst-quenching shrubs.

Herbal Garnishes
This part is mostly about beauty, which I value when putting together a celebratory drink!

The winter months are a great time to slice up the wide variety of citrus that can be dried into beautiful slices – blood oranges, lime, lemons, tangerines – they can offer a beautiful hit of color but also flavor when floating on the top of a drink.  Dry them in a food dehydrator or in an oven (180 -200 F is a good range).  This takes some hours (and watch it closely if you use an oven as they can get too dried out and lose their color).  Or, you can string up the slices on a thread, giving each plenty of room to naturally dry over several days, depending on your indoor climate. Slice them about 1/4″ thick (or less, if you can do that and keep them whole), and consider pressing them first on paper towels to soak out part of the liquid before drying.

Herbal salts are fun way to fancy up the rim of a drink and add some flavor. I prefer first rim the glass with a cut wedge of citrus to help things stick, and use pink Himalayan salt as the base.  For something tangy and colorful, I like using 1 part sumac, one part salt.   For something spicy, try 1 part cayenne, 3 parts salt.  To garnish a cool summer drink, try 1 part minced rosemary and 1 part salt.

And don’t forget herbal ice cubes!

There are so many options here across any edible flowers you might find in your garden, such as calendula, chamomile, violets, or rose petals.  You can also play with different shapes of ice cube.  Here are some manzanita blossoms I harvested this March and plunked into a round ice cube tray. – I’ll store the beautiful cubes in a mason jar in the fridge and pour them into cool drinks this summer.

 

 


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