We’ve reached that point of the summer where gardens are exploding. I came back from several weeks out of the country and my sweet little plot in a community garden had grown to Amazonian proportions due to a rainy June and generous fertilizing. My cute tomato plants were 6 feet tall and growing in every direction like gangly, awkward teenagers. And like teenagers, they needed some firm guidance and a bit of discipline. The sugar snaps had wound their invasive tendrils into damn near everything and needed to be redirected. And the herbs, oh god the herbs. They were enormous unruly bushes, candidates for a topiary or bonsai artist perhaps. I went in with a pair of shears and aggressively pruned those suckers. Aggressively. I tamed those beasts.
Shortly thereafter, I met a friend for breakfast and bemoaned the fact that I had all these herbs to deal with. She looked across the table, with sarcasm dripping from every pore and said “It’s so damn difficult to be you, isn’t it?” Point taken. I shut up, went home and got to work, sorting my trimmings into messy piles. The ridiculous large pile of basil predictably became pesto for the freezer, to enjoy in a few months when the weather takes its inevitable icy turn. It will make me so happy then and I won’t even share it with my sarcastic friend. The big tangle of parsley went into a batch of tabbouleh, infusing its fresh grassy flavor into every bite. But the lemon verbena is what I was really looking forward to. It is one of my favorite herbs, with a bright lemony floral scent and I don’t use it as often as I should. I’d been waiting months to do just this: an iced lemon verbena tisane.
I’ve always been more of a tea than a coffee drinker and consume copious amounts of ice tea (iced tea?) during the summer months. I picked up a nifty little technique from my French friends – herbs steeped in hot water make a delightful drink. They call it a “tisane”, which just sounds so much better than herbal tea doesn’t it? I drink herbal tea all the time; why it hadn’t occurred to me to do it with fresh herbs is beyond comprehension. Fresh herbs + hot water + a smidge of honey = wow. It’s even better iced, refreshing beyond belief. In fact, I think you need to seek out lemon verbena for this very purpose. It might take a little effort, I snap up a plant in the spring to grow my own but occasionally see it at the farmers market.
I wouldn’t even call this a recipe; it’s more of a good idea. I frequently make a mix of whatever I bring home from the garden, whatever sweet herbs I’ve trimmed that day. As I’m a little obsessive with keeping my herbs from flowering, I often have copious amounts of herb trimmings and this is the perfect use for them. Though lemon verbena is obviously my favorite, any sweet herb will work … lemon balm, mint, and bits of basil. I sometimes toss a few sprigs of Thai royal or lemon basil in the mix which is nice. As gardening season starts to wane, I’ll dry many of these herbs to use for winter tisanes, perhaps including some ginger, lemon or lemongrass too. When I wipe out on an ice sidewalk for the fifth time, a hot mug of homemade herbal tea will make the backside sting less. A shot of whiskey in there would be even better. Oooooh “Tisane Hot Toddies”. Now there’s an idea I really like.
STRESS THERAPY BAKING FACTOR: SWEET RELIEF. It’s hot. My refrigerator is packed to the brim with garden overflow. A glass of iced lemon verbena tisane not only uses up copious amounts of trimmings, it does a bang up job of cooling me down. Do it. Have people over and serve them an iced tisane. They’ll think you’re so sophisticated. No need to tell them it’s really a bunch of garden trimmings soaked in hot water. That doesn’t sound terribly glamorous. It’s all in how you market it.
Six years ago: Corn Pudding, Herbal Infused Simple Syrups, Chocolate Peanut Rice Krispie Treats, Chanterelles & Fresh Pasta
Five years ago: Peach Blackberry Cobbler
Four years ago: Life in Southwest France
Three years ago: Breaking Bread with Emmanuel Hadjiandreou, Sleeping It Off in Gascony
Two years ago: Prosciutto Stuffed Figs, Sunday Lunch – Pimento Cheese
Just last year: Guinness Crème Anglaise
ICED HERB TISANE
Makes as much as you need or as many herbs as you have
This is hardy even a recipe; more of a good idea that more people should know about. And a really good, really easy use for those piles of herb trimmings that accumulate.
Big bunches of “sweet” herbs – lemon verbena, lemon balm, mint, basil
- Stuff all the herbs into a pitcher or large heatproof container. If you have a lot of herbs, a big stockpot would work perfectly.
- Pour boiling water over the herbs and let steep for at least 30 minutes. The longer you allow the herbs to steep, the stronger the flavor. An overnight sit is not unheard of.
- Discard the herbs and chill. Serve cold over ice, with a bit of honey or a lemon slice if you like.