Lemon Verbena Liqueur

A few weeks ago I gathered half a cup of my wonderfully aromatic lemon verbena leaves and put them in a large jar, to which I then added one litre of vodka.

In the June sunshine it shimmered like liquid gold…

I sealed the jar, and let it sit on my windowsill to infuse for exactly two weeks. The scent of lemony bonbons was heavenly when I opened the jar to add the sugar – 500g of it.

After another 2 or 3 weeks, in which I occasionally  gave it a little shake to help the sugar dissolve, I strained the liqueur and filtered it into some bottles. But there was a drop left that didn’t fit into the second bottle, so I just had to test it…

Mmmmmmmmm. So delicious, yet so simple to make.

Best enjoyed in a tiny glass in very small quantities, to make it last as long as possible…


Summery Flavours: Orange Mint

Mentha citrata

(Otherwise known as Orange Mint or Bergamot Mint)

There are a lot of different types of spearmint in my garden (which are spreading a little too much), occasionally used when cooking potatoes, or added to a salad. But the orange mint has remained in a pot next to my lemon verbena and citrus thymes. Not being a great lover of herbal teas, I was a little worried about finding a use for it.

Well, I took the plunge and picked a few leaves, popped them in the teapot and poured almost-boiling water over them. A few minutes later I poured some into a teacup and… it was delicious! Nothing like the dried tea I’ve had before. This tasted smooth and almost sweet. Not at all bitter. And not what I associate with the tea prescribed for tummy aches or indigestion!

It tastes very refreshing cold too.

Other uses:

  • Mint goes very well with beetroot
  • One or two leaves added to a salad gives a nice element of surprise
  • Use the flowers as decoration (or eat them!)
  • Simply chewing a leaf now and freshens the breath
  • Add a couple of leaves to some other finely chopped herbs, to mix into cream cheese

Perhaps I’ll be a little more adventurous with mint later in the year…

What do you do with mint?

Elderflower Liqueur

The other day I made elderflower cordial, and since I just adore this flavour I always make some elderflower liqueur too. This year a good quality vodka will be used, as it gave wonderful results with the elderberry liqueur last autumn.

Elderflower Liqueur

You will need

  • 30 flower heads
  • 1.5 litres of vodka
  • 450g granulated sugar

Harvest and prepare the flowerheads, as for the cordial (see here). Cut off as much of the stalk as possible. Place in a 2-litre, sterilised preserving jar and cover with the alcohol. Seal.

Keep in a cool dark place for a month, shaking occasionally. The flowers will turn brown, but that’s fine as long as they are covered with alcohol… if necessary top up your jar with more vodka to keep them covered.

Don’t these flowers look beautiful in the jar!

After a month, strain, and pour the clear liquid back into a newly sterilised jar. Add sugar, seal and shake. Return to a cool dark place and shake from time to time. Once the sugar has dissolved, it’s ready to drink!

(This is especially good to sip during the winter while sitting in front of the fire… a strange thought in June, I know!)

By the way, the elder tree is said to ward off witches and evil spirits, and it is considered bad luck to cut one down…

Be warned! 😉

This concludes my series of posts on elder for the time being; soon the flowers will lose all their petals, and the fragrance will fade, but I know there will be an abundance of shiny berries in the autumn and  I can look forward to wandering into the woods again, bucket and shears at the ready…

Elderflowers: The Fragrance of Summer

There is a heavenly scent in the air. Is it the fragrance of summer? As I walk the few paces along the footpath next to our garden  the answer is revealed. The elderflowers are opening!

I wish I could make perfume out of it, but I know the next best thing. I can drink it!

Elderflower Cordial

I usually make the syrup first, so that it can cool while I go out foraging in the woods. I put on long trousers and long sleeves. I take my bucket and gardening sheers. And before going out the back gate I spread out an old yellow tablecloth near the back door…

After fighting my way through stinging nettles almost as tall as myself, I inhale deeply and start snipping. Only the biggest, most aromatic flower heads fall into my bucket, which will still smell of the flowers days later. Snip, snip. I dawdle a little, deep in the woods, invisible to anyone walking the footpath. A moment of peace and fragrance!

My bucket brimming, I return home to the yellow tablecloth outside my back door and spread the flower heads out, shaking them a little. Within seconds all the little flies crawl out onto the yellow surface. I don’t need to wash the flowers now.

Here’s the recipe:

  • 1 litre water
  • 1kg white sugar
  • 18 elderflower heads
  • 1 large lemon, organic, sliced
  • 30g citric acid

Mix the sugar with the water in a large saucepan and bring to the boil while stirring. Once the sugar has dissolved remove from the heat and leave to cool.

Collect the elderflowers in good weather, preferably around midday when their aroma is most intense. Do NOT wash the flowers, but shake them and spread on a yellow cloth or paper until the insects have all come out! Remove as much of the stem as possible without breaking up the flowers too much. Put them in a large bowl and place the lemon slices on top. Sprinkle over the citric acid and then pour the cooled syrup over the flowers. Cover and leave to stand for 24 hours or even a couple of days. Stir occasionally.

Finally sieve and then strain through a very fine muslin cloth into sterilized bottles or jars. Stored in the refrigerator, the syrup can be kept for several months or even a year.

Drink diluted with chilled water, or add to sparkling wine. I also use it in desserts and in the glaze on top of my strawberry flan. ( I just had enough left from last year for my first strawberry flan this spring).

Another way to preserve the aroma of elderflowers is in alcohol…  😉

Recipe for Elderflower Liqueur coming soon!

Frozen Treasure (and my 100th post!)

I discovered some home-grown rhubarb in the bottom of my freezer the other day, and while pondering what to do with it (how long does it keep frozen?) I kept thinking about my winter spice syrup recipe…

So, to celebrate 100 posts on Words and Herbs I made this:

Milchreis (rice pudding) with winter spice syrup and stewed rhubarb.

The rice:

250g short grain rice

1 litre milk (use almond or soya for the vegan version)

pinch of salt

A little cream

Bring the milk to the boil, remove from heat and stir in the rice and the pinch of salt. Put back on a very low heat, put a lid on the pan and leave to barely simmer for about twenty-thirty minutes, stirring now and then. Mix in a little cream before serving. Serve warm.

The rhubarb: simmer over a low heat until soft and then turn up heat to reduce some of the excess liquid. If very sour, add a little sugar.

The syrup:
1 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
3 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp cardamom
1 tsp allspice
6 cloves
2 cinnamon sticks
seeds of 1 vanilla bean
1/2 tsp ginger

Bring all ingredients to a simmer, stirring constantly to combine. Strain through a mesh sieve.
Can be kept in the fridge for a couple of weeks, but may need straining again.

Now put a little of each in a dish and enjoy!

By the way, the syrup tastes good in fruit tea, mixed with sekt or ginger ale, and is especially fine on pancakes or even porridge…