With an abundance of lemons and limes, this is the perfect time of year to gather friends and enjoy an artful cocktail, elevated by hand-plucked herbs, fresh from your own balcony, pot or garden.
Inspired by World Cocktail Day, here are my tips for easy-to-grow herbs and lesser-known botanicals to enhance a refreshing cocktail or mocktail.
The classics: mint, oregano & thyme
Mint has plenty to offer the glass, but I invite you to think beyond common mint, and consider growing spearmint, chocolate mint and pineapple mint for your cocktails. Chocolate and pineapple mint have fantastic, pungent flavours that are a welcome addition to even a simple gin and tonic, or mojito. Mint is easy to grow and perfect for a pot, as it spreads rapidly. Mint will grow in the sun or shade and is a great plant to enjoy throughout the autumn-winter months, only requiring adequate watering.
Oregano offers a classic savoury flavour that is lesser used than mint, but can enhance a tangy Bloody Mary or Virgin Mary beautifully. Italian and Greek oregano are both easy to grow, but Italian has a milder flavour. With free-draining soil, sun and the occasional feed, oregano is a self-sufficient herb. Top tip - plant in a terracotta pot, as these are porous and drain quickly.
Thyme grows well in a pot and comes in lots of varieties to enhance your favourite drink - including common thyme, lemon thyme, caraway thyme and silver thyme. It does require sun and loves the heat, so might be one to grow indoors by a sunny window. It is drought-tolerant, preferring free-draining soil, and will grow all year round once established.
The experimentals: shiso & lemon verbena
Shiso is another brilliant plant for cocktails, as a member of the mint family, with a bright, almost spiced-like flavour. Muddle your classic mojito with shiso and you will not regret it! The leaf releases a magical aroma when bruised. The green variety is preferred for drinks. It grows well in a pot or the garden. The seeds are very hard, so benefit from soaking overnight before planting - then pop in 4-5 seeds per pot. Once planted, mist the soil as opposed to watering it and they will take 7-10 days to germinate. Shiso is frost-tender, so will grow better on the window ledge at this time of year. Water once a week following germination.
Finally, my favourite flavour of all the plants is lemon verbena. It is such a versatile plant and makes a great herbal tea too. It does well in pots and will eventually grow to need a pot of about 30cm width after a year or two. It loves the warm sun, so if starting in autumn, grow in a warm sunny spot and protect from frost. It prefers free-draining soil and would love to be fed in early spring and late summer. Lemon verbena is a stunning botanical to accompany the clean flavours of gin and vodka.
Cheers and happy gardening!
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