Refreshing herb DRINKS & SYRUPS
Syrups, liqueurs, herb wines and old-fashioned wine cups all make refreshing, sophisticated drinks for fancy soirees.
Homegrown herbs aren’t just good for flavouring foods, they’re an excellent ingredient in homemade herbal wines and liqueurs. Donna Lee of Cottage Hill Herbs, who frequently makes her own tipples, says anyone can have a go. “The method is quite simple. Use herbs and fruits or a mixture of either. Just make a tincture-type extract in a glass container by using the herbs and/or fruit, cover with vodka and leave for about three weeks. Then strain and add sugar to taste by using a double boiler and just enough heat to dissolve the sugar. White sugar gives a lighter flavour; brown sugar a heavier, more full-bodied taste.”
Once your liqueur has been opened, keep it in the fridge. “If any cloudiness develops, refilter,” says Donna.
Try Donna’s lemon verbena liqueur. The sugar in this recipe doesn’t need heating up, says Donna. It will dissolve over the weeks with the shaking up.
Ingredients • ½ cup tightly packed lemon verbena leaves • 1 teaspoon grated lemon rind • 4 cups vodka or brandy • 2 cups sugar
Put lemon verbena and lemon rind in a large jar with vodka or brandy and steep for 2 days, then add sugar and steep 3 more weeks, shaking daily. Strain and filter, and transfer to bottles. Age an additional 3 weeks.
Prefer to drink wine? Bushcraft instructor and wilderness guide Mark Lane (wildernessguide.wordpress.com) often collects wild materials to create his own herb wines. “Wild blossom, fruit and herbal wines open up a whole world of tastes and aromas that can make conventional wines just end up tasting, well, conventional.”
Mark’s primrose and dandelion wine makes a fine foraged wine. Pick the heads – at least a couple of litres each.
First, boil 4.5 litres of water and dissolve 1kg sugar, the juice of a lemon, the juice of an orange and 2 teaspoons cream of tartar.
Put flower heads in a large container and pour in the water. Cover the container with a clean tea towel and leave for 3 days. Strain juice from the heads into a sterile demijohn. Add yeast and an airlock. Leave until fermentation has finished.
“You can bottle it as is, but I prefer a bit of a sparkle in all my country wine, so I add a small teaspoon of sugar to each bottle to prime it and then seal,” explains Mark.
The priming sugar will then start a secondary fermentation and put a fizz into the bottle. Make sure you use bottles (such as old sparkling wine bottles or plastic fizzy-pop bottles) that can stand the pressure. Leave for at least a further two weeks, or even longer if possible. Serve chilled!