I can’t believe it’s midsummer already. I’m pretty herb-focussed at the moment, making a lot of herbal refreshers to go with meals, both ordinary and celebratory (though every meal is a celebration really), and preparing herb talks, walks and demonstrations. I’ll be scaling up for Sustainable Bungay’s July Happy Mondays’ meal and making an alcoholic and non-alcoholic version for 100 people, and introducing Dark Mountaineers to wild and cultivated herbs at the Uncivilisation festival in August.
Last night at a friend’s birthday gathering, several people asked me about my method. I must have come across as rather coy, quite unlike me, as I stumbled around trying to describe the process. I realised that making these herbal drinks is second nature now, and I tailor them to the situation or event, who will be drinking them etc.
Then I remembered that I had actually posted a method last year around midsummer on This Low Carbon Life after similar requests. Below, by way of an introduction, are extracts from a couple of posts, along with one of the methods. As you can see the number of plants in these drinks can vary widely!!! I also write a little about method here.
At the moment I’m using a lot of Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis) in the drinks. Balm has one of the most cheering effects of any plant I know. Just rubbing and smelling the leaves on your way past it can lift the spirits.
(i) from Because the worlds are round…and wavy
I set about making a midsummer birthday herbal drink for Charlotte to take on her journey to the Transition Tin Village at the Sunrise festival later that day. It was some time before seven, the sun well risen and the whole garden alive and shining with its mix of wild and cultivated plants and bushes. Plant and flower time can be a very different experience from clock time and when I glanced again at the kitchen clock it was way past nine o’ clock!
By then I had gathered 47 different plants for the midsummer herbal cocktail, and they were infusing in the teapot. You could smell them throughout the house: a whole array of mints, English and Japanese mugwort, elder, heartsease and marigold flowers, two types of fennel, lovage (one small leaf!), anise hyssop, giant mexican hyssop, lemon balm, salad burnet, southernwood, lemon verbena, two sages, chia, epazote (very small leaf!), lavender, vervain, alecost, plantain, white deadnettle… and twenty-odd more. I added some fresh organic lemon juice and some fruit syrup (we’d run out of honey, which tastes better, but the syrup was okay) et voila!
(ii) from Life is Roses…Sometimes
“One of my favourite things to do in summer is make fresh herbal drinks from plants in the garden. I recently made a summer solstice one with 47 herbs. Our garden is a mix of wild and cultivated with areas left untouched for birds, frogs, snakes, newts and insects and a few beds for vegetables and herbs, so I can put plantain and yarrow leaf in the drinks along with Swiss peppermint and lemon balm.
Yesterday, Kevin, Diana and Jeppe from the Dark Mountain group in Norwich visited us for our July meeting. So it was the perfect opportunity for another herbal refresher. This time I was more restrained with the plants. Having been inspired at the Sustainable Bungay Newsletter production day last week by the fab salad Josiah prepared to go with those fava bean falafels, I based the drink on Rose and Lemon Balm. Here’s what I did:
ROSE AND LEMON BALM HERBAL REFRESHER
Makes 1 litre
Bunch of lemon balm
One fragrant rose bloom
Small sprig of lemon verbena
Small sprig of mugwort
One sprig of Swiss peppermint (‘Ricola’)
Juice of half an orange (I’d run out of lemons)
Dash of grapefruit juice (organic)
Local honey to taste
Fairtrade demarara sugar to taste
- Boil water, let stand for a minute or two. Put lemon balm, rose and mugwort into teapot and pour on water.
- After some minutes add lemon verbena
- Steep about fifteen minutes (I sometimes let it stand longer)
- Add the honey, sugar, lemon/orange/grapefruit juice slowly, stirring and tasting until it’s just right. Don’t overdo the sugar/honey, you want to be able to taste the subtlety of the flowers.
- When cool enough pour into litre bottle, pop in the peppermint, put in fridge and serve later to friends and fellows be they dark mountaineers, transitioners or friendly neighbours.
The drink was a great accompaniment to Diana’s polenta bake, Charlotte’s hummus made with, you guessed it, great British fava beans (I’m not putting another link there!) and Kevin’s salad of broad beans from his garden. And along with the boiled new potatoes from Malcolm, this was a delicious lunch on the first day that has felt like a ‘real’ summer this year in this place.”
And I made another one in August at Sustainable Bungay’s Noughty but Nice birthday celebration in case you’d like a peek.
All text and images by Mark Watson, Creative Commons with Attribution Non Commercial No Derivatives