Along the Grapevine


Balsam Fir and Mint Cocktail


In my most recent post on a recipe for Balsam Fir Body Scrub I suggested using this conifer in edible recipes, which I have since done with varying degrees of success. One thing that I learned is that the wonderful flavour gets lost in cooking, so it is best used as an infusion. I began by putting a few sprigs in some olive oil and leaving it for at least a couple of weeks. This has proven to be a favourite for making dressings for winter salads.

Another way to preserve the flavour of the fresh needles is to make a syrup which then can be used to flavour all sorts of things – beverages, icings, fruit salads, or simply served on pancakes or waffles.

To make the syrup, bring one cup of sugar and one cup of water to a full boil. Turn off the heat and add two tablespoons of fresh ground needles and stir. Allow to cool completely, then strain into a jar. This will keep at least six weeks in the fridge, but for longer storage, freeze it.


I spent several weeks in the meantime pondering how to make the most delicious cocktail ever with this syrup. Cocktails are not complicated, but pairing the flavours is a delicate matter. I decided to use gin, as the flavour of the juniper would work well with the fir. Green tea seemed like an obvious vehicle, but I decided to make mint tea from leaves I had dried from my wild garden instead.  A little lime juice and/or some spruce tip bitters rounds out the flavour nicely

Balsam Fir and Mint Cocktail

1 part gin

3 parts strong mint tea, cooled

1 1/2 parts balsam fir syrup

a splash of fresh lime juice

a few drops of spruce tips bitters (optional)



I singed some sprigs for garnish, but this should only be done if the needles are very fresh or else they risk being flambeed. Otherwise this was a huge success and I have definitely raised the cocktail bar with this one.

Linked to: Fiesta Friday #208



Wild Flower Cordial

DSC03429Queen Anne’s Lace (daucus carota), also known as wild carrot, bird’s nest and bishop’s lace is a white flowering plant in the familily Apiaceae. Its feathery leaves are similar to those of hemlock, fool’s parsley and water hemlock, all poisonous cousins, so it is important to identify this plant correctly. At this time of year when they are in full bloom it is easy to spot with its flat-topped white umbel, sometimes with a solitary purple flower in the centre.

Leaves, roots and flowers have all been used in cooking, sometimes as a sweetener as the plant is high in sugar. As this is my first time with this plant, I decided to use just the flowers, and to make something simple and versatile, so a floral cordial it was.

Somehow I got sidetracked by the pink milkweed blossoms from which for the first time I noticed a strong fragrant scent. And while I was at it, I added lavender to my collection. This recipe could be made solely with the Queen Anne’s Lace, but by using a mixture of flowers, I hope to convey the message that any edible, seasonal flower can be used the same way, either alone or mixed with others.


I counted out 3 dozen flower heads including only 1 sprig of lavender. I heated 4 cups of water, turned off the heat and set the flowers in the water until the water cooled. I then strained the liquid and added to that 1 1/2 cups organic white sugar and the juice of one lemon. I brought it back to a full boil and simmered for a couple of minutes.

The milkweed gave it a rich pink colour. I presume that all the blossoms contributed to its delicious flavour.DSC03432

The photo above shows its colour in full strength, but I recommend diluting it with 2 – 3 parts water or soda water with one part cordial. Or if you are wanting something a little fancier,  dilute it 1:1 with vodka for a pretty summery cocktail.

Wild Flower Cordial on Punk Domestics

dsc03443-e1501854487122.jpg Linked to: Fiesta Friday #183; Caramel Tinted Life and Sarah’s Little Kitchen.


Spruce Tip Bitters

This is arguably the greenest recipe I have ever come up with – not so much the actual colour, but the aroma and flavour are as green as it gets. This is my second bitters concoction, a process I describe in full detail in an earlier post on rhubarb bitters.


When I collected this year’s crop of spruce tips, it occurred to me that they would be a perfect ingredient for a novel flavour of bitters, and mixed with other greens from my garden – namely dried hops, mint and fennel seeds, I had all l needed to come up with a unique recipe, which is what I did.


Spruce Tips Bitters on Punk Domestics

If there are no longer any of the tiny spruce tips on the trees, you will probably find that the new growth is still soft and relatively sweet enough they can be used for this recipe.

Spruce Tips Bitters

Step 1

Mix together the following ingredients in a large mason jar.

1 cup spruce tips

1 cup fresh or 1/2 cup dried mint

1/4 cup dried hops

zest of two organic limes

1/2 tsp cinchona bark

1 tsp fennel seeds

Cover with vodka, approximately 1 1/2 cups. Cover and set aside out of direct light for two weeks, stirring at least once daily.

Step 2

Strain the liquid off and store in another jar. Place the solids in a pot and barely cover with water. Simmer it for ten minutes and allow to sit for 4 days to one week.

Step 3

Strain off the liquid and mix with the vodka infusion from step 1. Add 2 tbsp of honey or maple syrup.

If you think that bitters are only used medicinally or for cocktails, you may be surprised to find just how versatile they can be with just a little imagination. I have found they are a great flavour enhancer for ice cream using about 1 tsp per cup of dairy. I have also used it in baking, and hope to have such a recipe with these bitters very soon.

Until then, I leave you with this dry vodka martini to which I added 1/4 tsp spruce tip bitters and in lieu of the olive a spruce tip I salvaged from the discarded solids.



Floral Sun Tea

DSC03136.JPGLast year I experimented with making sun tea, a tisane really, made from mint, lemon balm and a little honey. I was pretty timid about the whole process, but figured the mint and honey would provide enough anti-bacterial properties to ward off any ill effects of infusing the herbs in the sunlight. It turned out to be one of my favourite summer drinks, so I have now continued to add and subtract to achieve a variety of flavours. This is one of my latest formulae where the addition of scented, edible flowers, and fresh stevia leaves to replace the honey makes a super, refreshing, low-calorie and nutritious summer drink. You can read about the benefits of lemon balm here and peppermint, which is what I used, here.

The idea of this recipe is not to limit yourself to the ingredients I find in my garden. Any sweet, aromatic herb can be used. If the herbs you choose do not have anti-bacterial properties, then I would recommend adding some unpasteurised honey dissolved in warm water to the mixture. Likewise, I chose flowers I have in my garden, but depending where you live and what the season, this can vary. No doubt edible leaves, berries or fruit in season would be an equally savoury addition.

I planted stevia in my garden for the first time this year and it is producing a steady supply of leaves which I have been using as a sugar substitute in several recipes. It should grow a lot more before the frost hits, at which time I will dry some for use in the winter. If you are not familiar with it, this article gives a good explanation of its origin, uses and health benefits.


I filled each container almost full, loosely packed, with lemon balm and mint leaves, with about five fresh, chopped stevia leaves in each container. To one container I added and handful of rose petals and chopped rose-scented geranium leaves – to the other about 1 Tbsp young lavender flowers. My lavender is just beginning to blossom – a later version of this recipe will no doubt call for a similar amount of mature flowers.

I filled the containers with water, covered them with a lid and set them in the sun for about five hours. Then strain and chill – or chill and strain. I poured some of the strained liquid into ice cube trays to use without diluting the drink.

Because these herbs and flowers are not cooked, their flavour and nutritional value are not compromised. And what better treat after a strenuous bout of working in the garden than an aromatic elixir of flavours from the very same garden! DSC03135.JPG

Linked to Fiesta Friday #126





Sumac Soda

DSC02869A couple of days ago I wrote about gathering and preserving rhus glabra, or smooth sumac, a departure from my usual rhus typhina, or staghorn sumac. These are only two of the roughly thirty five species of red berried rhuses, and as far as I can tell, their flavours are similar enough that they can be interchanged in recipes very easily. So while I have used the smooth sumac liquid, i.e. berry infused water as a base, you could substitute this with any other edible sumac.

I have made a few natural sodas lately, including tonic water, and the success I have had with all of them has encouraged me to continue experimenting. As sumac is great in a lemonade, tea or mead, I figured it would make a decent soda too. I was not disappointed.

Besides the sumac ‘juice’ as described in my last post, you will need some honey and some starter or bug for the fermentation to take place. The process for making a bug can be found here. Once your bug is ready, you mix the three ingredients in flip top bottles. Ginger is the most common root to use, but I also use dandelion and chicory root where I don’t want a strong ginger flavour as is the case with this drink.

My general rule is to mix the ingredients so that the initial mixture is sweeter than you want the end product, since much of the sugar gets used up in the fermentation process, so while there is a high ratio of honey, the drink is still quite dry. However, the fermentation is speedy and effective, so be warned. I try it after three days instead of the usual five, and open the bottles every two days to let excess gas escape. The drink will continue to ferment, so once you are happy with its flavour and fizziness, keep it chilled.
The proportions I used were as follows: 1 cup bug, 1 cup raw honey, 3 1/2 cups sumac juice.


So here is a soda that is not only delicious but actually good for you. I will be sharing it with the guests at Angie’s Fiesta Friday #104, where I will be co-hosting along with Mila from Milk and Bun. Do drop by for some extraordinary recipes, and if you are a food blogger yourself, feel free to post a recipe of your own. The clear and simple guidelines are outlined here.






A New Year’s Eve Cocktail

Bringing in the New Year is a perfect excuse for a new cocktail concoction – and of course it is only fitting I should make it with some of my foraged hoard. Here I offer you a delectable drink made with my honeysuckle syrup, mixed with bourbon, prosecco and a dash of bitters. So let me drink a toast to all my readers who have encouraged me over the past year, and share with them a little taste of my garden which is now fittingly covered with snow.DSC02821

I first made a syrup with 1 part honeysuckle syrup, 1 1/2 parts bourbon and a few drops of bitters. Mix this half and half with prosecco in individual glasses. It is not sweet, but has a beautiful floral bouquet.


And as I enjoy my drink on this the last day of 2015, I am again reminded of where we live and our beautiful surroundings by my originally decorated Christmas tree – still fresh and fragrant. Dried hydrangeas, sedums and milkweed pods give it a festive, foraged flavour.



May 2016 bring you health and happiness, and great foraging!




Goldenrod Tea


This beautiful and, yes, edible goldenrod (soldiago) is in full bloom just now and has transformed our local landscape into a mass of golden colour. Unfortunately it is often confused with another plant which is also plentiful just now – ragweed. You can see from these two photographs the differences in the plants. Both are in bloom. One is bright, the other relatively colourless. Also, the leaves on the first are elongated ovals while the second has lobed leaves.


Ragweed is the source of much discomfort for people who are allergic to its pollen. Because the two plants occur in the same places at the same time, goldenrod is assumed to be equally noxious. It is not. The difference between the two, other than their appearance, is that ragweed has a light and abundant pollen which is easily carried through the air. Goldenrod, which has a heavy and sticky pollen, is pollenated by insects. So if you suffer from hay fever at this time of year, you know which one to blame it on. My advice is to eradicate as much of the ragweed as you can.

Not only is goldenrod not a noxious weed, it has many health benefits, one of which according to much of the literature I have been reading (for example this article) is its ability to counter the effects of allergies.

Once identified, goldenrod is easy to harvest. No worries about over harvesting this robust perennial, and the blooming period is relatively long in this area – from late August until the first frosts. Pick only the top third of the plant, and preferably young flowers which have not fully opened or are still bright yellow. Leaves and flowers can both be used. Just watch for insects – the pollinators love the stuff.


When I first try a new plant, I always prefer a simple recipe to test the flavour, so here is yet another herbal tea. Begin by shaking any small insects out of the flowers and rinse lightly under the tap. To make, remove leaves and flowers from the stems. For each half cup of these, add two cups of boiling water and allow to steep for 20 minutes. Strain and serve.


The flavour is substantial, slightly bitter and a bit smokey. I advise adding some honey or sugar as a sweetener and you will have yourself a very pleasant and healthful drink.


This is a fine drink for any time of the day, but my experiments don’t stop with this. I feel that this flavour is capable of so much more than just a tisane, so I will be posting an ‘after five’ drink soon

Goldenrod Tea on Punk Domestics