How to Start a Cocktail Garden 🍸🪴 – Grow the Best Herbs for Drinks

This post may contain affiliate links which means we may earn a small commission at no cost to you if you make a purchase using these links. See our full Affiliate Disclosure.

Love cocktails with fresh ingredients? Want to try new cocktails without constantly buying ingredients that go to waste? Growing cocktail plants in the garden, on the patio, or even indoors means you’ll always have fresh cocktail herbs at the ready.

From unique and popular herbs for drinks to cocktail herb garden kits, here are fun ways to get started with your own cocktail garden to take your drink game to a new level!

Here are the essential herbs to grow for cocktails and the easiest ones to find. Most of these cocktail herbs can be grown in a windowsill and have easy care requirements.

Lavender

  • Pairing: Brandy, gin, vodka, rum, lemon, mint

Lavender is one of the best herbs to add to your garden, adding its fresh aroma to the patio or indoors. It’s easy to grow in full sun and well-draining soil. You can grow lavender from seed, but it’s notoriously challenging and slow. You may find it easier to grow from cuttings or a nursery plant.

Lavender Lemon Drop

We made Lavender Lemon Drops with a sweet lemon variety, an easy lavender simple syrup, and a lavender sugar rim.

  • 2 ounces vodka
  • 1 ounce lemon juice
  • ¾ ounce triple sec
  • ½ ounce lavender simple syrup

How to make lavender simple syrup: Boil one cup water and 3 tablespoons fresh or dried lavender buds. Reduce heat and stir in 2 cups sugar until dissolved. Simmer for 10-15 minutes then remove from the heat and allow to steep for at least an hour. Strain the lavender syrup into a bottle and store in the refrigerator.

Sage

  • Pairing: Bourbon, tequila, gin, honey, lemon

Sage has distinctive grey-green, long, fuzzy leaves with a pungent aroma that’s somewhat musky and minty. A member of the mint family, sage is usually used in robust dishes like creamy pasta, cured meats, sausage, and stuffing, but it also makes a perfect cocktail herb. Sage pairs well with liquors that have robust or herbal flavors like gin, tequila, and even bourbon.

Bourbon Honey Sage Cocktail

One of the best sage cocktails we’ve tried is this very simple honey sage bourbon drink. It’s sweet, warm, and a nice treat for Old Fashioned drinkers like Olive. It’s just 3 ounces of bourbon and 3 tablespoons of honey sage syrup with sage leaves and an orange peel as garnishes. The honey simple syrup is worth it!

Honey Simple Syrup

Bring 1 cup of water, ½ cup honey, and about 10 fresh sage leaves to a boil over medium-high heat. Stir and reduce to low, simmering for three minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool.

Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to one month.

[azonpress template=”grid” columns=”2″ asin=”1782497943,1616200464,1604339799,1642504963″]

Mint

  • Pairing: Rum, bourbon, tequila, citrus, cucumber, berry
  • Spearmint
  • Peppermint
  • Chocolate mint
  • Pineapple mint
  • Apple mint

Mint Julep

One of the most iconic mint cocktails is the Mint Julep. There are only four Mint Julep ingredients: bourbon, mint, sugar, and crushed ice. Try this classic mint cocktail with fresh mint from your garden!

Muddle about 5 mint leaves with two sugar cubes in a glass until the sugar is dissolved and the mint is aromatic. Add 2-1/2 ounces bourbon, fill the glass with crushed ice, then stir well. Garnish with a sprig of mint and enjoy with a straw.

Tarragon

  • Pairing: Tequila, gin, absinthe, citrus, strawberry

Common in French cuisine, tarragon is an aromatic herb with a fresh flavor and hint of licorice or anise. It’s similar enough to basil, a common alternative to tarragon in recipes, but it has a stronger anise bite and it’s a member of the sunflower family, not the mint family.

Tarragon complements golden rum and citrus flavors. It also pairs well with earthy tequila. You can even try it in a cocktail that uses absinthe as a garnish or infusion.

If you’re going to grow tarragon in your cocktail herb garden, be aware of the two varieties: Russian and French tarragon. Russian tarragon is hardier and can be grown from seed, but it has very little flavor compared to the French variety. The superior French tarragon can’t be grown from seed. You’ll need to grow it from a young nursery plant or even a cutting.

Thyme

  • Pairing: Bourbon, vodka, gin, white rum, lemon, grapefruit, berries

Thyme is an aromatic, delicate herb that’s a member of the mint family. It’s one of the most commonly grown herbs in indoor herb gardens because it’s so low maintenance. Thyme is great for more than just cooking, though; it’s mild flavor works well in alcoholic and non-alcoholic cocktails and drinks. It’s often paired with clear spirits, citrus, and fruit.

Here’s one of our favorite cocktails with thyme.

Strawberry Thyme Cocktail

This refreshing summer cocktail comes together quickly with an easy strawberry thyme syrup, lemon juice, and gin, vodka, tequila, or rum.

To make the strawberry thyme simple syrup: Bring 1 cup sugar, ½ cup water, 8 ounces hulled fresh strawberries, and 4 sprigs of fresh thyme to a low simmer. Stir frequently and cook for about 10 minutes until the strawberries are soft, the sugar is completely dissolved, and the syrup is brightly colored. Let it cool for about half an hour then strain out the thyme and strawberries.

You can store the strawberry syrup in an airtight container in the fridge for about a week if you’re making a small batch of cocktails.

This cocktail with thyme comes together very easily. Shake 2 ounces strawberry thyme syrup, 2 ounces lemon juice, and 4 ounces of your choice of spirit with ice and strain into a cocktail glass filled with ice. Garnish with a sprig of thyme and fresh strawberries. We used gin and Meyer lemons, a sweeter lemon variety.

Dill

  • Pairing: Gin, vodka, aquavit, lime, cucumber

Dill is a unique herb with a distinctive aroma that comes from two carvone chemicals found in essential oils: one that lends a caraway aroma and another that smells like spearmint.

Dill is most frequently used in recipes with fish and pickles. It may be the last ingredient you consider for herb drinks, but it can be a wonderful addition for a uniquely refreshing cocktail. Just make sure you use dill carefully – it can easily overwhelm the flavor profile.

Try using dill in an aquavit cocktail. This spirit’s signature ingredient is caraway or dill, but it can also include fennel, cardamom, anise, clove, coriander, and more. An aquavit & tonic uses fresh dill and cucumber, or you can replace the cucumber with cranberry juice and a squeeze of lime.

Dill also pairs perfectly with the juniper in gin. A cucumber dill gin cocktail is a wonderfully crisp summer drink made by muddling a few fronds of fresh dill with ½ teaspoon sugar, half a sliced seedless cucumber, and ½ lime in wedges. Strain over 3 ounces of gin in an ice-filled cocktail glass and top with club soda.

Basil

  • Pairing: Vodka, gin, tequila, lemon, strawberry, grapefruit

Basil enhances the flavor of the alcohol without overpowering. It works well with light liquors like gin, vodka, and tequila. Most basil cocktails use sweet basil (Italian basil) which is very aromatic with a slightly sweet flavor that’s a bit peppery.

Gin Basil Smash

This herbaceous drink is very refreshing and light, perfect for summer. It only needs four ingredients: gin, fresh basil leaves, lemon juice, and simple syrup. The basil is muddled gently, not mashed, to release the oils.

Specialty Drink Herbs

Lemon Verbena

  • Pairing: Gin, vodka, tequila, lime, melon, sage, mint, buzz buttons

Shiso

  • Pairing: Rum, cachaça, sake, gin, citrus, berry, cucumber

Shiso, also known as perilla or Chinese basil, is a member of the mint family. It’s one of the 50 fundamental herbs of traditional Chinese medicine and a common component of Korean, Thai, Vietnamese, and Japanese cuisine. The heart-shaped shiso leaf is known to most as a sushi garnish, but it’s much more than that! You’ll find shiso is popping up in cocktail menus across the U.S. thanks to bartenders looking for distinctive and uncommon flavors.

Purple shiso seeds – GardenEazy @ Etsy

Shiso is a refreshing, aromatic herb with a bright, citrusy flavor reminiscent of basil. It’s grassy and a bit astringent with a hint of cloves, mint, and cinnamon. There are two varieties: green shiso and red shiso. Green shiso is much more common and flavorful. Red shiso has a milder flavor, but some people find it more bitter due to the anthocyanin compound.

This Japanese herb is versatile and fun to use, but it’s hard to find outside Japanese or Asian specialty markets. The good news? You can easily grow shiso in a container in your cocktail garden.

If you want to shake up your drink game, try making a shiso cocktail.

  • Try a shiso mojito, swapping out mint for shiso leaf.
  • You can use it in place of mint or basil in your favorite herbal cocktails.
  • Try replacing lime or lemon juice in a recipe with yuzu juice (also called yuja or yuza) to craft a shiso herb drink with a unique flavor profile.
  • You’ll find a wide range of liquor bases work well including light rum, Brazilian cachaça, Japanese sake, and herbal gin.

Papalo

  • Pairing: Tequila, gin, ginger, jalapeno

Papalo is a distinctive herb with a strong flavor that’s used in Mexican dishes in some regions. With a flavor described as a combination of rue, cilantro, and arugula, it’s often used as a replacement for cilantro and it’s one of the most unique drink herbs you can add to your garden.

The herbal, medicinal flavor and pungent aroma of papalo is an acquired taste, but it’s the perfect accent to tequila based cocktails. Because it has a very strong flavor that can easily overwhelm a drink, avoid muddling papalo. Instead, give a single leaf a quick rub and add it as a garnish.

The Papalo herb (Porophyllum ruderale) is a specialty plant that can be hard to find. The best way to add it to your cocktail garden is buying papalo seeds.

Toothache Plant (Buzz Button)

  • Pairing: Tequila, gin, lemonade and citrus, ginger

Acmella oleracea goes by many names including the toothache plant, buzz button, Szechuan button, or electric daisy. It does more than just impart an interesting flavor to your cocktails – it produces a numbing and electrifying sensation and alters the drink’s flavor profile completely!

The toothache plant is surprisingly easy to grow. It thrives in containers or in the ground, although it can’t handle cold temperatures. Even young plants will produce a decent harvest of buzz buttons which are a fun cocktail garnish, or they can be used as a tingly cocktail rim or for infusions.

You can grow buzz buttons from the seeds in fresh or dried buzz button flowers (as long as they were air dried and not dehydrated with heat). You can also find live nursery plants if you want a jumpstart.

Check out Pineapple’s Limoncello buzz button cocktail recipe & ways to use buzz buttons.

Stevia

Stevia, a member of the sunflower family like tarragon, is perfect for sweetening cocktails or mocktails and it’s easy to use in baked goods. In concentrated powder form, it’s about 200x sweeter than regular sugar, so a little goes a long way. Research indicates stevia improves insulin sensitivity, helps control blood sugar, and does not spike blood sugar or insulin levels. It’s generally considered a good sugar substitute for diabetics.

This sugar-free, calorie-free sugar substitute can be used in powder form, or you can grow stevia in your cocktail garden and use stevia leaves as a sweet, edible garnishes or to sweeten a drink. Another way to use stevia in cocktails is creating a stevia simple syrup.

How to Make Stevia Syrup

Add half a cup of dried stevia leaves to two cups of warm water in a glass jar. Allow it to steep for 24 hours then strain the leaves. Cook on low heat to reduce to a more concentrated syrup then store in the refrigerator in an airtight container.

One teaspoon of stevia syrup is equal to a cup of sugar in sweetness!

The stevia sweetener powder you can buy is a concentrated extract. The fresh leaves of the stevia plant are about 10-15x sweeter than sugar. Dry leaves are even sweeter and can be ground into a powder with a mortar and pestle. One teaspoon of ground dry stevia leaves is about as sweet as 10 teaspoons of regular sugar.

If you want to grow stevia plant, look for Stevia rebaudiana or sweet leaf. It’s easy to grow in a kitchen garden and gets up to 30” tall. Pinch leaves from the top as needed to encourage the plant to grow bushier. Pinch off flower heads to encourage more growth.

GNRL Click & Grow

How to Use Herbs for Drinks

As your cocktail garden begins to thrive, you can begin using your drink herbs in many ways.

  • The simplest option is using garnish herbs. A simple sprig of rosemary in a martini or a dill frond added to a gin cocktail can add be enough to add visual interest, aroma, and subtle flavor.
  • Make herbal ice cubes for a fun addition to gin- or vodka-based drinks with flavor that’s slowly released as the ice melts.
  • Muddling herbs with a mortar and pestle releases the herb’s fragrance and aroma. Don’t grind the herb; very gentle taps are enough. Muddling is a common technique for drinks like the mint julep.
  • Try simple syrup recipes that use herbs like lavender, rosemary, or thyme. You’ll never want to settle for ordinary simple syrup after trying your own lavender or honey simple syrup!
  • Make your own herb-infused liquor by adding fresh herbs, spices, or fruit to your favorite liquor in a sealed container. Let it infuse for a few days then strain.
  • Create homemade cocktail bitters by infusing spirits with botanicals including herbs, spices, bark, and roots. Here’s a great guide explaining how to do it.

Cocktail Plants

Cocktail gardening can go beyond herbs – even with a small yard or just a patio, you can grow cocktail plants like lemon trees and even olive trees! Here are a few options that work well in containers.

Dwarf Lemon Tree

A fun and versatile addition to your cocktail garden is a citrus tree. Dwarf citrus trees can be grown in the ground or in containers on the patio or even indoors with enough space and light.

Dwarf lemon trees are one of the most versatile options for cocktails. Look for a lemon tree that bears fruit year-round like the dwarf Eureka lemon tree which grows well in a container and has no seeds.

Meyer lemons are also a great choice. A popular cocktails plant, a dwarf Meyer lemon bush produces sweet, savory lemons that are a cross between sweet oranges and sour lemons.

Berries

Love summer cocktails with fresh strawberry or blueberry? There are many berries that grow well in containers including blueberry bushes and strawberry plants. You can even grow strawberries indoors without taking up a lot of space!

It can take a year or longer for a berry plant to yield a harvest, and you may not get as large a yield from a container plant as you would from a berry bush planted in the ground. Still, most berries are easy to grow with little effort.

Growing blueberries in a container is easy, but make sure you give them what they need to thrive:

  • 6-8 hours of full sun daily but light shade from intense afternoon sun,
  • Shelter from dry or cold winds during the winter
  • Very acidic soil that’s sandy and well-draining – look for a potting mix made for azaleas and rhododendrons or amend as needed
  • About 1-2” of water per week to keep soil consistently moist but not soggy
  • Most blueberries self-pollinate but putting two or more different varieties near each other allows cross-pollination for larger crops of fatter berries

Want windowsill berries? Growing strawberries indoors is easy with the right variety. Try Alpine strawberries which are tiny with intense flavor or Baby Belle strawberries which grow slowly and produce small, flavorful berries. Note whether the strawberry plants you get are everbearing strawberries, which tend to be compact and produce three harvests, or sprawling June-bearing strawberries which have larger berries and two harvests in spring and summer.

Olive Tree

Imagine a dirty martini with your own homegrown olives! You don’t need to live in a Mediterranean climate or have a lot of land to grow a mature olive tree and enjoy regular olive harvests.

Arbequina Olive Tree @ Yarden.com

Olive trees are drought tolerant and adapt well to different climates. An olive tree will even thrive in a container or indoors; just bring it inside before temperatures drop too low. Hardiness varies by variety, but most mature olive trees can handle cool but not frigid winters and brief temperatures as low as 15 °F.

Most varieties also self-fertilize. That means you don’t need more than one tree to get a crop of olives! Growing multiple olive trees near each other does tend to increase yield though.

How to grow an olive tree indoors or in a pot:

  • Use rocky, well-draining soil
  • Choose a terracotta pot or another breathable material to make sure roots don’t get waterlogged
  • Growing olives in a colder climate requires balancing the need to protect the tree from very cold temperatures with giving them the brief cool weather they need to bear olives
  • Make sure your olive tree has a two-month dormancy period with temperatures between 40° and 50°F or it won’t bear fruit
  • Water regularly, especially during the growing season, but cut back on watering during the fall and winter
  • Prune as needed but remember the tree bears fruit on the previous year’s branches
  • If the tree will remain indoors, choose a dwarf olive tree variety and prune as needed to prevent it from getting too large
  • Place an indoor olive tree where it can receive 6 or more hours of sunlight every day like a south-facing window and supplement with grow lights if you need to

Popular smaller olive tree varieties include the Arbequina olive tree which is very cold-tolerant and the Arbosana olive which has a high yield.

Edible Flowers

Fresh edible cocktail flowers, SugarBakersBakery @ Etsy

Edible flowers for cocktails are a gorgeous way to take your drink to the next level. You can use edible flower petals for a decorative cocktail glass rim, on a cocktail pick with an assortment of flowers and berries, or as a garnish. Flower petals can also be used to make a simple syrup, bitters, or an infusion.

Depending on the flower, you can use them fresh, dried, or candied.

Here are some fun edible flower cocktail options to try.

  • Hibiscus: floral, tart flavor with notes of pomegranate or cranberry
  • Peonies: sweet, mild flavor with peach or strawberry notes (*some people are sensitive to peonies and may develop gastrointestinal issues)
  • Violas: subtle sweet flavor with hints of wintergreen and mint
  • Roses: try rose pedals fresh, dried, or muddled in a cocktail
  • Honeysuckles: sweet honey flavor and aroma
  • Pansies: mild flavor similar to lettuce with a hint of mint
  • Cherry blossoms: enjoy raw or candied with a sweet, fruity rose flavor like cherries
  • Apple blossoms: sweet, fruity flavor
  • Carnations: only the petals are edible with a sweet flavor and aroma similar to cloves
  • Chamomile: mild flavor reminiscent of apples
  • Lavender: flower buds, stems, and leaves are safe to eat with strong floral scent and flavor
  • Marigolds: only some marigold varieties are edible including Pot marigold (Calendula officinalis) with a mild pepper taste, African marigold (Tagetes erecta), Mexican mint marigold (Tagetes lucida) with a flavor like tarragon, French marigold (Tagetes patula), and lemon marigold (Tagetes tenuifolia) with a citrusy flavor. Stick to only eating the petals.

Before using edible cocktail flowers, verify they are grown without pesticides and are safe for consumption. Double-check that you are getting an edible variety (especially in the case of marigolds) and, when in doubt, use only the flower petals. With some edible flowers, only the petals are edible, but with other plants, the leaves and stem may also be edible.

How to Start a Cocktail Garden

Now we get to the most important part: how and where to grow cocktail plants. The best option will depend on how much space you have available, what you’re growing, your hardiness zone, and your budget.

Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Most herbs grow well in containers in a windowsill with southern exposure, but you probably need supplemental light if you don’t have good sun exposure.
  • Check the plant’s mature size to choose a suitable location and container. Some plants can be pruned as they grow to keep them bushy or smaller if you aren’t worried about the largest yield.
  • Make sure your plants get the light they need. This is especially important with an indoor cocktail garden! Indoors, expect to use grow lights – but make sure they provide the right PPFD to support growth without burning the plant.
  • If you live in a colder climate, you can have an outdoor cocktail garden and bring in plants that won’t survive the cold. Plan ahead: it’ll be easier to bring the plants inside if you keep them in containers.
  • There are several options for indoor gardening if you lack outdoor space. You can make use of vertical space and use grow lights to overcome limitations.

1 Comment

  1. Gianni
    February 25, 2023

    I didn’t realize Shiso was a “drink herb”. Is it used fresh or dried?

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to top