If you are the resident mixologist and cocktail maker in your home and social circle, this one’s for you. With Spring around the corner, we chatted to Melrick Harrison of Radisson Blu Hotel Waterfront about the best herbs to grow that can be used for cocktail garnishes. Fo
r those who don’t have yards or outside space, these herbs can be grown on windowsills or in flower pots, too.
“We use so many easy-to-grow herbs and flowers in our cocktails at the hotel,” notes Harrison. “Starting your own little herb garden for your garnishes is a great idea because it ensures that your ingredients are always fresh. It also keeps costs down, which is an added bonus, of course.”
“These herbs are not only easy to grow, but also quite hardy through some of the toughest conditions,” says Melrick. “All you need is commitment and a little TLC.”
“When you get started, check out the gardening aisle in your closest supermarket. There are always sachets of seeds available for you to start on your garnish venture. You can also head to a nursery to ask for some well-draining pots and soil. As time goes on, the process can be very exciting to watch”.
Below are Melrick’s top five herbs to plant now in spring for delicious summer cocktails.
Cocktail lovers will know that mint is a key ingredient in a mojito. It can, of course, be used in a number of other drinks, too. If you have never grown mint in your garden before, a tip would be to first grow it in a container. Mint grows everywhere and can easily take over your garden. This herb is a hardy one and while it thrives in warmer weather, it can withstand colder temperatures as well. Water your mint two to three times a week and soon you will have an abundance of this refreshing herb.
Lavender is an excellent herb for beginners, because it doesn’t need as much attention as other herbs. In fact, it loves to be left alone and not overwatered. It needs good drainage in order to grow well as it is susceptible to root rot if it’s too moist. Also, the bees love it and we all know that bees are wonderful for gardens! Lavender can be used in a number of drinks including a lavender gin sour or a lavender martini. You can also make a lavender syrup (made with honey instead of sugar as a healthier alternative) that can be added to your cocktails.
Rosemary is a wonderful herb that can actually be grown alongside lavender. Their watering needs are the same, so they make excellent companions in the garden. It’s also a herb that will continue to grow throughout winter if temperatures do not drop below freezing. .Rosemary can be infused into spirits such as gin and vodka. Or you could use a sprig or two as a garnish in your gin and martini drinks.
Basil is perfect for the beginner gardener. It’s easy to grow from a small plant or even a seed and it grows quickly and tall in the right conditions. Basil, like all the herbs listed here, loves full sun for about four to seven hours of the day. If you keep harvesting your basil throughout the season, you will find that it actually encourages growth. You can let some flower and go to seed, and then save and use those seeds for next season. Basil is delicious in gin and vodka based drinks. You can also use it in homemade lemonade for added freshness and flavour. Keep in mind that there are many varieties of basil and not all taste the same. Most bartenders love this herb because it’s full of chlorophyll, which gives a natural green colour to your drink-take the classic basil gin smash for example.
Another hardy herb that loves the same conditions as rosemary and lavender-thyme is suited to warmer climates and thrives in Mediterranean conditions. Keep it in full sun for as much of the day as possible and ensure that there is good drainage in your soil. If your summers are really hot, you can water two to three times a week, otherwise a schedule of every three to four days works out ok. Thyme can be used in bourbon and whiskey-based drinks as a garnish, or you could make an infused cordial and add this to the drinks. This herb also works well in a bloody Mary.
These five easy-to-grow herbs are sure to expand your cocktail repertoire and make for delicious Summer sipping.
Melrick says: “If you are in a hurry and you do not want to wait a few weeks to start growing, you can always buy herb younglings and start your garnish from there. A cheat trick I like to do is to look at what’s in the gardens of my family and friends. If I see something I like, I ask the owners of the property if I could cut a stem of a certain plant and just stick it in soil when home.”
“As a last tip, I’ll say this: Keep in mind to slap your herbed garnish before you decorate your cocktail. We bartenders do not do it for show. This releases the natural scent of the herb which adds to the sensory enjoyment of your cocktail.”
If you’re interested in seeing how the pros use these herbs, you can find Melrick behind the bar counter at Tobago’s Restaurant, Bar and Terrace at Radisson Blu Hotel Waterfront.
If you get a moment with him, we’re sure he’ll let you pick his brain about how he decides which herbs to use where.