Tag: Plants

Revolutionizing Sweet Tea

As part of our Cocktails and Mayonnaise series, we decided to explore what a locally-foraged sweet tea could be using an herb called Bee Balm, otherwise known as Wild Bergamot.  Although you can technically grow a tea plant (Camellia sinensis) in North Carolina, they are not exactly widespread and prefer a slightly warmer climate.

Bee Balm, on the other hand, is native all across the United States and can therefore be foraged in meadows, clearings, and farmland across North Carolina (or if you are me – in your neighbor’s front yard!).  If you see it growing in your neighbor’s yard in the next month or so, ask them if they would mind if you gave it a little haircut for them.  It’s probably getting a little leggy by now anyway, and it won’t last past the quickly-approaching first frost anyway!

Bee_Balm_Plant

Wild Bergamot has a revolutionary past…

Bee Balm was collected and used by Native Americans as a seasoning and for its medicinal value.  It began its subversive hay day during the American Revolution.  Due to its common flavor with the ingredient Bergamot found in Earl Grey tea, Wild Bergamot was often used as a tea replacement as colonists began to boycott the tea coming from England.

This fun fact inspired us to see if we could recreate a more modern Southern favorite – sweet tea vodka – using this readily available wild ingredient rather than the imported tea variety.

Making Wild Sweet Tea Vodka

To make Wild Sweet Tea Vodka, you can use either fresh or dried leaves and blossoms from a Bee Balm (Wild Bergamot) plant.

To dry your leaves for later use, a particularly energy-friendly technique during the warmer days of North Carolina summer, is this super simplified “solar dehydrator.”  When I say super-simplified, I mean it:

Lay out your leaves on a metal rack on a tray. Cover this with something breathable that doesn’t let in a lot of light (light is the enemy of flavor for your dried herbs).  I used a paper bag.  Set the tray somewhere hot until the leaves/blossoms are dry and crispy.  My front brick walk works wonders!

Solar_Dehydrator

To infuse the leaves and blossoms in vodka, you can again make use of the sun.  Think sun tea, but boozy.  Fill a jar with leaves and blossoms (dry or fresh).  Cover them with vodka so that all the plant matter is completely submerged under the liquid.  Set in the warm sun for 1-3 days.  Feel free to taste as you go until you get the desired flavor!  You can do the same thing with water if you prefer the non-alcoholic version.

PrePost_WildBergamont_SweetTeaVodka

Once the vodka is infused to your liking, drain the leaves and blossoms from the vodka.  Add enough simple syrup to make it the desired sweetness for sipping or leave unsweetened if you prefer to sweeten later on a per-cocktail basis.  [To make simple syrup, heat equal parts sugar and water until the sugar dissolves.  Allow to cool.]

Enjoy mixed with lemonade (perhaps Wood Sorrel Lemonade?) over ice for an easy cocktail or on its own as a digestif chilled ice-cold with a wedge of lemon.  After all, bee balm was used by Native Americans to aid digestion…

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Preserving the Merriment: Making Herb Syrups

Our last few posts have featured some fabulous herbs – Borage and Wood Sorrel – that are great fresh, but how do we preserve their flavor to enjoy past their season?  A great way to do this is by making a flavored syrup out of them!  Infused herb syrups have so many uses and can bring a fresh, leafy flavor to drinks and dishes all through the winter.  My favorite ways to use herbal syrups:

  • Cocktails – So many cocktails call for simple syrups, so why not switch it up by replacing plain simple syrup with a flavored one?  You can make our Borage G&T all year long by using Borage syrup in place of fresh Borage.
  • Sodas and “Ades” – Mix herb syrups with water in a 1:3 ratio to make sodas by using fizzy water or still water to make “ades” like the Wood Sorrel Lemonade described below and hinted at in our previous post.
  • Desserts – Replace the liquid called for in cakes or muffins with herbal syrups or brush herbal or floral syrup between cake layers after baking to add that extra little something.

Borage Syrup and Wood Sorrel “Lemonade” Concentrate ready to give out to our give-away winners!

Making Syrup

Simply fill a heat safe bowl or pot with herb leaves or flowers.  The more you pack in there, the stronger your final syrup flavor will be.  You can tear or crush/pound them to release more flavor.

Pounded Wood Sorrel

Heat a kettle of water to boiling.  Pour enough of the boiling water over the leaves to cover them completely.  Let steep covered with a lid for at least 20 minutes, but ideally overnight.

Steeping Wood Sorrel

Strain leaves and squeeze out any liquid.  Reheat herbal infusion with an equal part sugar (i.e., 1:1 ratio) until sugar is fully dissolved.  You can also add lemon or lime juice at this stage if you prefer an added tartness.

Herb Syrups

If stored in a sterile jar in the refrigerator at this point, the syrup will keep for a couple of months.

Featured Syrup Idea:  Wood Sorrel Lemonade

As our previous post mentioned, a common yard weed, Wood Sorrel, can make a tasty all-local lemonade substitute!  Use the Wood Sorrel plants as the herb in the above recipe to make Wood Sorrel Syrup.  Mix the syrup with water in a 1:3 ratio and serve over ice for a delicious lemonade drink!

Wood Sorrel Lemonade

Stay tuned for our next post, when we’ll go over how to mix this with our Wild Bergamont infused vodka for a delicious sweet tea vodka and lemonade cocktail!  

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Ireland Lied to Us

I’m gonna blow your mind in two parts, are you ready?

1. The plant the Irish told you was the inspiration for St. Patrick and the representation of the Holy Trinity–and ultimately one of the most recognizable symbols of Ireland–is not actually clover.

Imposter!

Imposter!

2. The truly inspirational plant is one that you’ve been walking over your whole life…and NOT EATING, even though YOU COULD HAVE.

Oh yeah, this stuff!

Oh yeah, this stuff!

This plant, this one right here. You probably have it growing in your yard right now. We’ve seen it our whole lives–growing among the grass at our parents’ house, alongside wildflowers, on the playground in elementary school–and even as curious, daredevil kids we never tried to put it in our mouths.

Until now. Well, a few years ago for one of us, and just a couple months ago for the other, when we started menu testing for the picnic.

Like this, but with leafy greens.

Like this, but with leafy greens.

Basically, this little plant, wood sorrel to finally put a name on it, is kinda awesome. It’s high in vitamin C and it has been used to treat ailments such as scurvy, fever, stomach upset, and to stop bleeding. It’s great raw in salads to add a sour kick, and you can also dry it or steep it like tea to make a pretty close substitute for lemonade, which is what we did at the picnic. Best of all, it grows almost everywhere, so we just had to step outside to pick it and use it!

Pretty neat, huh? Bet you want to know how to make that lemonade yourself, don’t you? Well, you’ll have to wait for the next blog post!

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