This blog was written by my friend, Jacquelyn Walker Choate, who grew up here in Fredericksburg, the same time as my son, Roy. Over the past few years I’ve seen her love of herbs grow, so recently when she was here at URBANherbal, I ask her if she would like to contribute to our blog. I was thrilled that she accepted. A native of the Texas Hill Country, Jacquelyn Walker Choate has always had a passion for local herbs and plants. In addition to caring for her growing family, she is currently completing an M.S. in Nutrition and Integrative Health with a concentration in Herbal Medicine. Her interests include the culinary, historical, and medicinal uses of plants throughout the world. Jacquelyn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Two End-of-Summer Drinks to Refresh and Revive You
As we approach the close of summer, the heat has no plans of relaxing its grip on the Hill Country. It will follow us well into the Fall. Here are two refreshing drink recipes that will keep you cool and brighten your spirits for the end of summer.
The first is Turk’s Cap Lemonade. Throughout Central Texas, this native mallow (Malvaviscus arboreus) is blooming everywhere and readily accessible. If you don’t have it in your garden already, you can easily find it growing wild in many places. Turk’s Cap is an edible native plant of Texas; its leaves, flowers, and fruits are all safe to consume. I first learned about its versatility from Dr. Mark “Merriweather” Vorderbruggen, the man behind the “Foraging Texas” website. He gives monthly plant walks in Wimberley at Spoke Hollow Ranch, where I first learned of Turk’s Cap Lemonade.
The important thing is to harvest the flowers in the morning, when the nectar content is greatest, to obtain the most flavor for your drink. The pollinators and hummingbirds zooming around your Turk’s Cap might clue you into when exactly this is, and do remember to leave some of the flowers for them! How much you collect is completely up to you. Think of them as a lovely garnish and flavor enhancer for your favorite lemonade recipe. They will even impart a bit of their lovely red or pink color to your drink. Children especially love collecting the dainty flowers from the tops of this plant, so include them in your harvesting. This recipe would be a huge success at any neighborhood lemonade stand!
If you have an abundance of this beautiful plant, you could also make a syrup with the Turk’s Cap flowers to concentrate the flavor of the nectar, a delicate taste similar to honeysuckle. Decorate salads, baked goods, or even include them in your pancake batter (another idea from Dr. Mark!). In the Fall, the flowers will give way to little red fruits that can be made into jam or jelly. In the Spring, the young, tender leaves can be eaten raw or cooked.
For now in our late summer season, when the flowers are abundant, here is the recipe to include them in your garden soiree beverage:
Turk’s Cap Lemonade:
1 cup lemon juice (8-10 lemons)
¾ cup sugar
6 cups water
Turk’s Cap flowers (up to you depending on how many you have!)
*You can play with this ratio to find your own desired level of sweetness.*
Juice the lemons.
Dissolve the sugar in the lemon juice by whisking until combined. This allows you to skip making a simple syrup to dissolve the sugar.
Combine with water.
In another bowl, rinse your flowers a few times to remove dirt and bugs. Then macerate the flowers with a pestle or spatula end to release the color and flavor.
At this point, you can add the mashed flowers to each serving glass, or combine with the lemonade mixture.
Pour over ice and serve.
The second is Lemon Verbena Gin Fizzy.
I was first introduced to the idea of this drink while at Jekka’s Herb Fest near Bristol, England. The presenter Mark Diacono, author of Herb: A Cook’s Companion, passed around “gin fizzies” as the English call them, with his homemade lemon verbena syrup. For him, this herb captures the essence of summer with its bright flavor and zingy taste, unmatched by lemon balm or any of the mints.
If you do have access to this herb (Lippia citriodora) in your garden, you can easily make the syrup at home, or you could try to source the herb from your local grocery store.
For a non-alcoholic version, just combine the lemon verbena syrup with sparkling water over ice.
With any extra lemon verbena on hand, you might try to make a lemon verbena cheesecake, but you will have to tease the recipe out of Urban Herbal’s Bill Varney first!
Lemon Verbena Syrup for summer cocktails:
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
½ cup loosely packed lemon verbena leaves
Dissolve one cup sugar into one cup water in gently simmering water.
Add a half cup of lemon verbena leaves and continue simmering gently for fifteen minutes.
Cool slightly, then strain through a sieve into a bottle for storage in the refrigerator. It will keep for up to six months.
Add to your favorite gin and tonic recipe or other summer cocktail.
“Foraging Texas” information on Turk’s Cap:
Lemonade recipe inspired by The Kitchn:
Although the Lemon Verbena Syrup recipe was described at the Herb Fest, here is an article describing it as well: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/gardening/howtogrow/9985512/Six-unusual-herbs-to-sow-in-your-garden.html