Simple Summer Herbs: Refreshing Infusions
By Meg Dickey, contributing writer
Behold the flowers that deck the field,
The gentle breeze perfuming
And tender herbs their fragrance yield
Are health and life diffusing.
~Harvard Shaker Community Herb Catalog, 1843~
For some of us, the tantalizing breezes of summer are already wafting over our gardens. As the days warm and the herbs in our gardens increase in size and production, there’s no better time to indulge in a pitcher of iced herbal tea, or herb flavored water kefir.
There are some standard herbs that make wonderful tea – mint, lemon balm, lemon verbena – but don’t limit yourself! One of my new favorite summer blends is a combination of lemon basil, basil, lemon rind, and stevia leaf. It makes a nearly perfect effervescent lemonade when cultured with my water kefir grains!
Try these other tea herbs to boost your summer flavors!
- lavender, rose petals, borage blossoms: wonderful floral taste, and you can add rosehips for a little sweetness!
- anise hyssop: delicate taste of licorice & mint (another one of my favorites for water kefir!)
- chocolate mint: this is divine when you’re craving something sweet!
- hibiscus & chrysanthemum: our drink of choice on blistering hot days. Chrysanthemum promotes sweating, which cools our body down. Hibiscus adds a refreshing tart taste that perks us right up.
- lemongrass, lemon balm, lemon verbena, lemon thyme, lemon basil, lemon geranium: summer tastes like lemon to me! Any of these herbs, separately or combined – are wonderfully refreshing. I like to float lemon slices in the top of the pitcher whenever I’ve made a lemony-herb infusion. Very pretty!
To brew an herbal infusion:
Harvest leaves and flowers and rinse. Put a few handfuls into a pitcher (I usually use a half gallon mason jar) and fill with cold water. Refrigerate overnight. Strain, pouring over ice, and garnish with fresh leaves and flowers.
You can sweeten to taste, but I usually choose to throw a little stevia leaf in with the herbs if I think it will need it. Always try it without sweetness first – I’ve sweetened many an infusion with stevia, licorice, or cinnamon, helping to avoid adding any more sugar to our diet.
Next time, I’ll be talking about using herbs to stay cool naturally in summer!
What are some of your favorite herbal infusion combinations?
top photo credit
Do you find any difference in flavor strength using fresh vs. dried herbs? I have grown stevia for several years now, and it seems to me that it’s sweeter after it’s been dried. Also, with stevia if you don’t let it flower it won’t have that bitter aftertaste, so keep pinching it and it will get nice & bushy and no aftertaste.
@Lois, I really appreciate the flavor of fresh stevia in these, versus dried. I think it gives a brighter flavor, without that “artificial” bitterness that I find when purchasing the dried herb (my homedried tastes better than bought, too). Right now though, licorice is my go-to sweetening herb. 🙂
i feel refreshed just after reading the post! these sound wonderful. 🙂
I just received some water kefir grains a few weeks ago and am still learning how to use them. Do you put the herbs in the water while it is culturing or add them after you remove the grains?
Also, so far I have found the water kefir to be sweeter than I was expecting. I only use 1/4 C. of organic sugar per quart of water. Is that correct?
What other ways can I use the water kefir? I feel guilty pouring it out, but can only drink a small glass a day.
@Angel S., I add my herbs after I’ve cultured the water kefir for 24 hours. I do a “double ferment” without the grains for another 12-24 hours after adding the herbs. I find this eliminates a great deal of the sweetness of the water kefir. And yes, I use about 1/3 cup of sugar to my little-less-than 1/2 gallon size jar, so about 1/4 c. per quart would be right. You can throw a few more kefir grains in there, if it’s still too sweet after 24-36 hours for you.
Water kefir keeps for up to a week (although ours rarely lasts that long), so even drinking one small glass a day should keep up with your quart size jar. Try the different flavorings – I dislike plain water kefir, so I flavor it to add interest. 😉 You can flavor one pint one way, and another pint differently. Mix it up a little. 🙂
I use it to water my plants if for some reason I have excess amounts… but we rarely do. Hope that helps!
My parents made lemon geranium ice-cream once. Yummy!
@Sarah, That sounds fantastic! Mmm…
Ooooh, I can’t wait to try out some infusions this summer when my herb garden takes off! Thanks for the delicious ideas.
I am so glad you posted this info! I was just looking at my lemon balm and wondered what to do with it. I have been growing it for about 3 years and NEVER have used it.
Also, do Stevia plants come back each year? I just bought two this year but don’t know much about them.
Any suggestions on growing basil? Mine keeps dying….uggh.
@Terri, My stevia plants come back, but we live in a fairly mild area. Basil can be really fickle – sometimes it’s something like too much water, or too much sun. 🙂 Keep trying different techniques, and see if that helps (More water, less water, more sun, less sun). If all else fails, switch to a curly leaf basil, or the purple basil, or the ruffled basil – they all have different temperaments. 🙂
@Meg, I’m trying purple basil this year in addition to my regular basil. Do you find that the taste is really similar? It smells almost the same, but it looks so unique. 🙂
@Stephanie @ Keeper of the Home, Yes, I’d say it has a more colorful flavor – as in, I can pick it out blindfolded. 😉 It just tastes… purple. But really, it’s pretty much the same. And it makes a GREAT pesto for kids! I’ll swirl green and purple pesto in a bowl, and they totally get a kick out of the colors. 🙂
Thanks for the great ideas, I’ve never heard of this before am and enjoying my herbal infusions daily! What a great idea…..I had the same problem not knowing what to do with the lemon balm….