In my recurring garden fantasy, I pad outside every morning in my robe and slippers to snip sprigs of chamomile for afternoon tea and basil for evening cocktails.
But the logistics of a backyard cutting garden aren’t feasible for me. Space constraints, seasonal limitations and a hectic work schedule have always conspired to keep me from breaking ground.
Fortunately, I’ve found a lovely alternative: indoor cutting gardens. These mini inside plots have become my culinary secret weapon, producing a constant supply of edible flowers and aromatic herbs. I snip whatever I need, as I need it, and the quality of flavor and fragrance is profound.
Technology’s newest contribution to the indoor cutting garden scene is the smart hydroponic garden. Thanks to these compact devices, I can now grow plants at home without soil. Expertly programmed and easy to use, they turn anyone into a master gardener of fresh herbs, flowers, fruits and vegetables — all from the convenience of the kitchen counter.
Products like Miracle-Gro’s AeroGarden eliminate the guesswork surrounding a plant’s growing needs by custom-prescribing a care regimen according to each plant type. Simply choose your seeds and drop them into the hydroponic base; the device handles the rest. An interactive LCD screen collects information on what you’re growing, then tailors the watering, lighting and feeding to each plant’s optimal conditions. No soil, no weeds and no gardening experience needed. Cheers!
Fresh-herb infusions, syrups and garnishes are a top-shelf way to add depth and sophisticated twists to classic cocktail recipes. With the bounty afforded by your own cutting garden, it’s easy and fun to experiment as often as the mood strikes. Here are my top tips for mixing and garnishing with herbs and florals:
- Many store-bought flowering plants, even the edible varieties, are treated with toxic chemicals not suitable for consumption. Grow your own edible flowers to ensure their safety, or choose only blooms labeled as food-grade.
- Aromatics take cocktails to another level. Consider herbs an essential ingredient, whether you use them as direct infusions or simple garnishes.
- Slap herb sprigs against the palm of your hand just before adding to drinks to release their oils and aroma.
- Be strategic about straw placement. By nestling it directly into a garnish instead of the other side of the glass, you experience a more robust scent with every sip.
- Don’t overlook lavender leaves as garnish. They emit a scent as intoxicating as the cocktail.
- Reserve fresh blooms for garnishes and infuse spirits with dried flowers, which are more widely available at health food stores and online.
Take Yours Dry: Many craft cocktails call for dried herbs, which you can achieve by arranging fresh sprigs on a parchment-lined tray and setting in a cool, dry spot for one week.
With only three ingredients, the Bee’s Knees cocktail is as simple as it is refreshing. The addition of lavender makes it the quintessential spring sip.
Lavender Bee’s Knees
- 2 oz lavender-infused gin
- .75 oz honey syrup
- INFUSION: In a sealed container combine 1 tablespoon dried lavender and 1 cup gin. Let sit for 3 hours, shaking occasionally. Strain through a fine mesh sieve lined with cheesecloth or a nut milk bag. Store in the fridge.
- HONEY SYRUP: Combine 1 cup honey with ½ cup hot water in a container with a tight lid. Shake until the honey is completely dissolved. Store in the fridge.
- Into a cocktail shaker combine infusion, honey syrup and ice. Shake vigorously for 15 seconds. Strain into a chilled coupe glass. Garnish with a sprig of fresh lavender.
Much like its close relative, the Negroni, a Boulevardier is bracing, bitter and bold. Chamomile lends its delicate florals and crisp apple notes to lift and liven the classic.
- 1.5 oz chamomile infused rye
- .75 oz Campari
- .75 oz sweet vermouth
- Infusion: Combine 1 heaping tablespoon of dried chamomile with 1 cup of rye in a sealed container. Let sit for two hours, shaking occasionally. Strain through a fine mesh sieve lined with cheesecloth or a nut milk bag and store in the fridge.
- Into a mixing glass combine infusion and ice, mixing until chilled. Strain into a rocks glass over one large ice cube. Garnish with fresh chamomile flowers.
A technique called blender-muddling gives this swizzle its fresh-from-the-garden flavor and vibrant green hue.
Thai Basil Swizzle
- 4 oz white rum
- 2 oz fresh-squeezed and strained lime juice
- 1.5 oz simple syrup
- 2 dashes angostura bitters
- 10 g (about 15 large leaves) Thai basil
- Pinch of salt
- In a Vitamix or other high-speed blender, combine rum, lime juice and Thai basil. Blend on low speed for 1 to 2 seconds, just long enough to break up the leaves. Switch blender to highest setting and blend for 3 additional seconds. Strain through a fine mesh strainer into a chilled highball or pilsner glass filled halfway with crushed ice. Add simple syrup, salt and bitters.
- In glass, twist a spoon or swizzle stick until cocktail is mixed. Top with more crushed ice and twist spoon until the glass frosts over. Garnish with remaining whole Thai basil and serve with a straw.