Homegrown with Heart Column – Cheers to Summer with Herbs!

We have been enjoying or enduring, whatever the case may be, being able to spend much more time at home relaxing, cooking, creating, and gardening over the past few months. Why don’t we gather all those things together and delight in a summer filled with festive fun, even if it is treating only our family or maybe I should say celebrating our family!

Creating a refreshing homemade drink can go a long way towards having a happy-go-lucky kind of summer. I recently read a book that put me in the right frame of mind. It is called, “Growing Your Own Cocktails, Mocktails, Teas, & Infusions” by Jodi Helmer. What a joy it was to inhale this charming and fun-filled book on a lazy afternoon!

First of all, the design and the photographs are captivating, bright, and happy. I was inspired by just looking at the pictures.

Ms. Helmer gives an entire page to each herb she features. She includes the zones they grow in, an appealing photo, extensive how to grow instructions, what vitamins and minerals they contain, and what they are used for. At the bottom of each page, she shares an “In Your Glass” segment for each herb and explains how to make a great tasting treat, rather it be with or without alcohol.

Even for someone such as myself with a quite an extensive knowledge of herbs, I learned a few things. I always love when I discover something new about herbs and spices!

Going on, she describes each different beverage garden she creates. Now, I have heard of a tea garden, but Ms. Helmer gives ideas for a Lemonade Stand Garden, a Drink Your Veggies Garden, a H2O Infusions Garden, a Classic Cocktails Garden, and this ingenious one – a Garnish Garden! I thought that one was marvelous.  What a terrific idea to grow things that make your drink look just as good as it tastes!

The section extolling making the perfect drink and what tools are essential is fascinating. I think there must be an entire industry of drink-making accoutrements!

Preserving your garden harvest prolongs the fun throughout the entire year. Her tips are functional and pretty. Don’t you love to see several types of dried herbs hanging up to dry, or see sparkling glass jars filled with dry flowers and herbs set in a row in your pantry?  So enchanting!

The final chapter ends with how to make simple syrups for basic drinks; shrubs (which remind me of drinks I had at Colonial Williamsburg) which use equal parts sugar, fruit, and vinegar; cocktails with such familiar names as a Garden Whiskey Sour, a Rhubarb Gimlet, a Margarita with Strawberries and Basil, a Mojito, and of course, a Mint Julep; Alcohol free drinks cover teas, juices, lemonades, smoothies, and infused waters. Doesn’t just reading about these goodies make you want to whip up a drink right now?

I’d like to add my own little section – how to put together a gift basket for a shower, a housewarming, or as a hostess gift, that includes dried herbs, drink making tools, a few pretty glasses, and the drink recipe.  Wouldn’t that be fun? I love to do those personalized gifts for my friends and family using things I grow in special ways. Wrap the basket with a big, beautiful bow and you have a gift that is as special and the person you are giving it to. The best part – there won’t be any duplicates!

Explore, imagine, create, and grow – those are the four tenants of a happy life. Use this book, or one like it, to experiment and create something uniquely you. With gardening, you take something utilitarian like a simple herb, and make it something to engrave on your heart, wonderful summer memories!


A Midwesterner by birth, but a Floridian for the past almost 40 years, Debbi Benedict has been a longtime magazine columnist and an even longer edible landscaping enthusiast. Her definition of an edible landscape is, “Food for myself; the birds, bees, and butterflies; and most importantly, for my soul.” As a young girl, her love of the lore and accessibility of herbs started her on her gardening journey. Upon her move to Florida, her gardening world exploded as she was introduced to the magical tastes of tropical fruit trees and the value of native plants. Now her quarter acre yard, known as Benhaven Farm, flourishes with over 100 fruit trees, shrubs, and vines, and an unknown number of native flowering plants.
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