The Bartender's Garden

The Freshest Cocktail Ingredients Come From the Garden

mint in the garden
Westend61/ Getty Images

Fresh, fresh, will hear mixologists talking about fresh ingredients all of the time. Using fresh squeezed juices, garnishes at their peak, and fresh herbs make otherwise "decent" cocktails spectacular and you cannot get any fresher than growing fruits, vegetables and herbs in your own garden.

If you browse the thousands of cocktail recipes available you will see numerous possibilities for garden-fresh mixers and garnishes. Planting a Bartender's Garden is just one more way to customize and improve your drinking experience. If you enjoy gardening anyway, there is no reason not to design a portion of your plantings around your drinking preferences.

I do this in my own garden; planting annuals to experiment with, perennials that are reliable favorites, and choosing faster growing, higher yielding, or more flavorful varieties that work just a little bit better in drinks.

Here are a few suggestions of plants you may want to consider adding to your garden which will enhance your cocktails and homemade spirit infusions, syrups, and other drink mixers. If you have a favorite drink or flavor, add those plants to the list.

illustration of herbs you can grow for cocktails
Illustration: Chelsea Damraksa. © The Spruce, 2019

Fruits & Vegetables:

Use as garnishes, fresh juices, and flavored infusions.

Herbs & Flowers:

Perfect for custom spirit infusion, homemade bitters, shrubs, and syrups, as well as garnishes and muddling.

  • Basil - Surprisingly, used quite often in new cocktails.
  • Chamomile - Most often used as tea, though it can be used to make liqueurs, infusions, even homemade bitters.
    Drinks: Gunpowder GimletTea Tini
  • Dill - Best left for infusions and homemade bitters and shrubs.
  • Fennel - Similar to dill's strength and best used for the same.
  • Ginger - Very useful for syrups, infusions, muddled, even making your own ginger ale or ginger beer.
  • Lavender - Perfect for adding a light floral flavor to drinks via muddling, infusions, or syrups.
  • Lemon Balm or Lemon Verbena - Often used as a tea, though can be used for infusions or homemade mixers as well. Drinks: Jalisco High-TeaTea Tini
  • Lemongrass - Use for infusions of spirits (especially tequila) and syrups.
  • Lilac - Add a darker floral flavor to drinks than lavender by using the flowers to make liqueurs and syrups.
  • Mint - Try different varieties but beware that it is notorious for taking over a garden, so plant in a controlled space or container. Mint is the most popular herb used in many drinks most famous being the Mint Julep and Mojito.
  • Rosemary - As popular as lavender and with the same uses: infusions, syrups, muddling.
  • Sage - Often used directly in the drink via muddling, though it can be used for infusions and homemade shrubs and syrups.
    Drinks: Homecoming Caipirinha, Pineapple and Sage Gimlet, Sage Lady
  • Tarragon - Can be used directly in drinks via muddling or for infusions of spirits or syrups as well as homemade bitters and shrubs.
  • Thyme - Muddle with syrups or infuse into spirits or use to make bitters, shrubs, and the like.
    Drinks: Old Thyme Sour

Keep your hardiness zone in mind when you are choosing plants, as well as what grows best in your type of soil. For year-round freshness, plant a container garden and bring the pots in when the temperature drops. Containers are perfect for herbs.

Also, think about edible flowers for garnishes. Be sure when buying flower bedding plants (pansies, geraniums, etc.) that they are either organic or pesticide and growth hormone free if you are going to use them in food or drinks, many are not.