Mom always told you to drink your milk. But did she tell you to drink your herbs?
Given the nutrient value, fun and economy of drinking herbal teas, infusions and punches, perhaps she should have.
Not only can herbs liven-up and jazz-up routine drinks, they offer off the charts amounts of antioxidants including A and E and substantial levels of vitamin C among others. Used in drinks, herbs provide a healthy boost, while adding flavor and interest.
Teresa O’Connor, author of Grocery Gardening, says that growing herbs generally begins as a lifestyle decision based in the sense of real pleasure that comes from growing your own foods. Gardeners don’t always think about the added health benefits. Herbs are increasingly being recognized for their potent health benefits. Recent studies by the USDA show that herbs pack more punch ounce per ounce compared to fruits and vegetables. Oregano contains the most antioxidants.
So how do you drink your herbs? O’Connor says to begin by growing your own. For example, chamomile is easy to grow from seed, in fact she said, it can actually self-seed a bit. Mint is classic for it’s robustness. Oregano, thyme and basil are long time gardener’s favorites.
“Growing herbs is a great way to save money. You pick what you need and use it immediately at the peak of nutrient value and freshness,” she said. Nothing is wasted.
There are several ways to turn pungent herbs into perky drinks. Try infusions, teas, and punches. You can also add herbs to ice cubes, or add them directly to water for flavor and interest.
For leafy, fresh herbs, try infusions. Choose about one fist full of fresh herbs and cover with about 2 cups of boiling water. Let steep about 10 minutes and filter through a sieve. Serve warm or chill and add ice.
Herbs fall into several flavor categories like flower, herb and mint. “If herb flavors work well together in food, they tend to work well together in teas,” she said. Try blending herbs together from the same family. Flowery flavors include citrus flavored herbs like lemon verbena and lemon balm as well as rose geranium, pineapple sage and chamomile. Mint family includes basil.
“If you don’t like lemon balm, don’t despair,” O’Connor said, “You might really like lemon verbena.” Go easy with adding lavender at first. And try adding herby flavors like oregano and thyme to flower or mint families first.
“Let your creativity run wild,” said O’Connor.
Herbs have long been used for their medicinal properties and modern research is backing up those traditional practices. “Thyme is high in Thymol - an ingredient found in many mouthwashes and cough syrups -and good for colds, chills and digestion problems,” she said.
To add herb flavors to punches, begin by making an infusion with fresh herbs and boiling water as above.
For a spiced chamomile apple punch from The Herb Companion, start with chilled chamomile infusion, add apple juice, lemon and orange slices, and cinnamon sticks, and serve with small scoop of lemon or orange sorbet.
“Chamomile was called “Ground Apple” by Ancient Greeks because of its lovely aroma. It’s relaxing and good for stress, which is why Peter Rabbit received a cup from his mother in that fairy tale.”
Try adding infusions of rosemary and a little lavender to lemonade. For presentation, include sprigs of fresh rosemary or lavender in a clear pitcher. Add edible flowers for more interest. Freeze strong herb infusions in ice cube trays to add to sparkling or spring water.
“Serve basil ice cubes in a glass of spiced tomato juice for a treat – or freeze borage flowers and spice up sparkling water,” O’Connor said, “Borage is easy to grow from seed, and has been eaten since at least the 16 th century, when it was said to make the mind merry.”
For a subtle flavor, simply add a handful of your favorite herbs, like lemon verbena or rose geranium, to a pitcher filled with sparkling or spring water and chill for several hours before drinking. “You can also throw a handful of mint, lemon verbena or lemon balm in your sun tea to steep along with your tea bags,” she said, “This adds a nice minty or lemony flavor.”
Using herbs in drinks allows you to create custom flavors. O’Connor enjoys experimenting with different flavors together since there’s really no way to make a mistake. “If you can eat an herb, you can drink it.”Creating pleasing and healthy drinks from your own garden herbs, is just one more way to stretch your food budget while producing a greater percentage of your own food at home.