I planted a small garden last month. Herbs and flowers, nothing too crazy. This was a momentous occasion for me, however, and has been a constant source of worry and joy – sometimes alternating, sometimes all at once – ever since.
The thing is, I’ve never actually been successful in making anything grow. Why would I have planted a garden then? (you may ask) Well, there’s just something about living in Oregon that made me feel like I needed to try again. Everyone here has a garden! Well, OK, not everyone, but many, many people. Many more people than in any other place I’ve lived.
And all these gardens – in front yards, in back yards, in that little strip between the sidewalk and the driveway, in boxes and beds – they are all thriving. Plants just seem to go nuts here. And it makes sense – the temperate weather, the rain, the summer sun. So, I thought, “Why not me? Why can’t I, too, be a gardener – here in the land where everyone manages to be a gardener.”
So, here I am. A fretting, uneasy, emotionally delicate gardener watching her little herbs like a hawk and erupting into disproportionate celebration when they, you know, grow. Or don’t die, I’ll take that too. Thankfully, they have been growing, well most of them, and I haven’t yet managed to over- or under- water them.
I was not successful with seeds – none of the flower seeds ever sprouted and only one tender, teeny-tiny cilantro shoot out of a whole mess of ’em managed to pop its head up out of the soil. The catnip and the chives are going gangbusters though. The marigolds are blossoming anew every day. The parsley and thyme are making it. And the mint and lemon verbena are chugging along.
One of the books I’ve been using as my Bible for this process is Grow Cook Eat by Willi Galloway, and Willi says that one of the mistakes people often make when growing herbs is not harvesting often enough. I have definitely been guilty of this in my past herb-growing attempts. She attributes this to the thinking that you will “save up” all the leaves on the basil or mint or whatever for one big harvest so that there will have enough to do whatever you want to do with it. My reasoning has been much simpler…I’m just afraid to kill the thing.
With Willi’s assurance that harvesting early and often will make for a healthier, fuller plant, however, I recently ventured forth, scissors in hand, and gathered my first harvest of the season.
A mighty harvest it was not (I may have gotten a little sheepish and started to worry I was cutting off too much), but it was a start. And I made the lovely and refreshing herb infused beverages below with my bounty. So, here’s to summer, and new growth!
Mint & Lemon Verbena-Infused Sparkling Water and Iced Tea
Inspired by Willi Galloway
Makes two quarts total
This isn’t so much a recipe as an idea: take a handful of herbs, throw them into some water, and get creative! Here’s what I did, but please feel free to customize – use more or less herbs to suit your taste, use different herbs, add other flavorings and add-ins. In short, go nuts.
- 2 1-quart glass jars
- ~1/4 cup lemon verbena leaves
- ~1/2 cup mint leaves
- 8 cups water
- squeeze of lime
- 3-4 black tea bags
Rinse herbs and split them between the two glass jars. Fill with water.
Add a squeeze of lime to one jar and the tea bags to the other. How many tea bags you use is up to you – I read somewhere long ago that a good rule of thumb is one tea bag per cup of water, so I added four.
Close up the jars and chill in the refrigerator for at least 5 hours, but preferably overnight. If you’re not ready to drink the water after that, you can leave the herbs in for as long as you like – it just keeps getting more herb-y and delicious – but do take out the tea bags.
When ready to drink, pour water through a fine-mesh sieve to strain out the herbs.
In order to make the one sparkling, you’ll need to have one of the contraptions that does such things and you should follow the instructions for said contraption. If you don’t have one of these doohickeys, simply enjoy the water un-carbonated. For the tea, add any sweetener you like, but it is also deliciously bracing when enjoyed unsweetened.