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Home & Garden

Learning to Grow in St. Charles: Herbs add spice to cocktails and summer beverages

A leaf of purple basil is a pretty garnish.
A leaf of purple basil is a pretty garnish.

Growing herbs for crafting cocktails is one of the latest trends in gardening.

Herbs are easy to grow, add a variety of flavors to cocktails, and are versatile in recipes. They can be chopped, muddled, frozen into herbal ice cubes or fashioned into herb-infused simple syrups.

Mint may be the most popular herb grown for cocktails. It grows aggressively, so there will be a plentiful supply of leaves. Plant mint in a pot to avoid unleashing a monster in the garden.

Of course, mint is a must in mojitos and mint juleps, but there are many flavorful varieties of mint to experiment with, including chocolate, lemon and pineapple.

Sweet basil adds its rich flavor mix of mint, licorice and cloves to cocktails. A plant or two will provide plenty of foliage. Pick a few leaves at a time from the top of the plant to keep the plant bushy. And like mint, there are other varieties to play with such as cinnamon, lemon and lime. A leaf of Dark Opal basil, with its deep purple leaves, is a striking garnish.

Rosemary adds a woody flavor to cocktails. Well-drained soil and adequate space are necessary to prevent powdery mildew. Grow it in a pot to control its growing requirements, and so that it can be brought indoors to overwinter in a sunny window. Clip a few sprigs to muddle or drop one in a gin and tonic.

There are many types of thyme – common, lemon, lime, orange balsam – that are delicious in cocktails. Let it trail over the edge of a pot filled with other herbs.

Grow oregano to add to a Bloody Mary. Lemon verbena introduces a hint of lemon to drinks. Lavender complements spring cocktails with a floral flavor and fragrance.

If you are new to crafting your own cocktails, practice with other herbs before you use sage. It has a wonderful, earthy taste, but can be too intense for some people.

Whether herbs are grown in the ground or in a container, most prefer well-drained soil and a spot in full sun. The flavor of rosemary and sage are enhanced if watered sparingly. Basil, lavender, mint and oregano prefer more even watering. Avoid using any pesticides on herbs intended for consumption.

Diana Stoll is a University of Illinois Extension master gardener for Kane County. The “Learning to Grow” column runs weekly during warmer months of the year. Call the extension office at 630-584-6166 for more information. Feedback on this column can be sent to editorial@kcchronicle.com.

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