In an age where flavored waters are everywhere, wouldn’t it be great to hydrate with drinks fresh from your garden? Gardens have great drinkable potential because so many plants can be used to flavor waters or teas, or to make convenient, big-flavor syrups for stirring into water. Because they are enriched with antioxidants that leach from plant leaves, berries or blossoms, thirst-quenching drinks from your garden may have health benefits over plain water. Plus, there is the reduced packaging. Day after day, you can refill your water bottle with refreshing, garden-grown potables made in large canning jars, with zero waste.
Peppy Flavored Waters
To get started, make up a batch of infused water today and let it chill in the fridge until tomorrow. From your garden gather a celery leaf or some parsley, or save some thinned carrot or cilantro seedlings. Add a few sprigs of mint or catnip, give everything a good wash, and place in a quart glass jar, filled to the top with warm water. Chill for several hours or overnight, and pour through a strainer. It’s that simple.
From dill to thyme, you can use bits from any culinary herb to make infused waters, along with fresh green leaves gathered from blackberries, raspberries or other bramble fruits, sliced into ribbons. And why not add a few violet blossoms, or a sunny sprinkling of dandelion petals, snipped off the heads with scissors? Because infused waters are never heated, they are a great use for edible flowers and other delicate plant subjects.
Tasty Garden Teas
It takes a good bruising in very hot water to make many drinkable plants release their flavors and nutritional riches. Most mints, for example, come alive with flavor when well wilted with almost-boiling water, and the same is true of lemon balm, tulsi basil, and other trusted tea herbs. At my house, the daily recipe for garden tea varies with what is abundant, and often includes weeds that offer up bitter (yarrow) or tangy (summer purslane) taste notes.
When I know I’ll be working up a thirst outdoors in warm weather, I plan ahead to have cold garden tea waiting in the fridge. The best thirst-quenching drinks are cold and ready to be enjoyed in big gulps. When you’re really thirsty, the gulping of cold water or other cooling beverage tells the brain that the body’s thirst is being satisfied, so you feel instant relief. A mint tea allowed to chill all day in the fridge is great for this, or you could use rhubarb water accented with fresh ginger, bruised borage leaves with cucumber, or sprigs of rosemary or basil steeped with bee balm flowers. You get the idea.
Make Syrups and Mocktails
Clearly you must let your creative mind wander and be ready to try new things, which also applies to making simple syrups, one of the easiest ways to capture garden flavors in drinkable form. Simply heat a 50:50 mixture of sugar and water until it just begins to boil, stir in a few handfuls of bruised herbs or berries, and allow the mixture to cool. Strain and store in a clean jar in the fridge. This is a great use for small harvests of tart, seedy fruits like blackberries.
You will need only a splash of say, rosemary-rhubarb or blackberry-mint syrup to make plain water more delicious, and it’s fun to make a different syrup every week or so, to experiment with new flavors.
If you want to be extra fancy, freeze flavored syrups in ice cube trays with violets, borage, or other small edible flowers, or even little sprigs of blooming basil.
In scientific terms, the ability of a drink to quench thirst is called its beverage hydration index. Cold temperatures help raise a drink’s score, as does fizziness, which is hard to come by in a natural kitchen. That said, there is a certain vibrance of flavor that comes from working with fresh plants, whether you are steeping fresh chamomile with mint, or making a warming nectar by simmering and straining a basket of blemished apples. In addition to their homemade allure, herbal teas or punchy plant waters may satisfy thirst better than water because they contain small amounts of nutrients.
It won’t take long before looking to your garden as a source of good things to drink becomes a habit, especially during the thirsty season. Of course you should chop that kinky cucumber into a quantity of mint water, or make a pitcher of tea using rose petals and cilantro! With a little practice, you will wonder why it took you so long to start enjoying thirst-quenching drinks from your garden.