I just love the smell of lemon verbena. The leaves release a lemony scent when crushed, with distinct floral notes. It’s sort of like a lemon version of kaffir lime! That elusive flowery-but-not-soapy quality. The leaves have a weird texture, though, rough and scratchy, which makes me feel like I wouldn’t want to consume them, only use them to infuse things with their flavor.
So when I got a pile of “mojito mix” herbs (lemon verbena and mint) in the CSA bag I scored at work, I thought about what I could do with them (we’re not exactly big mojito people) and decided to make a lemon verbana syrup for a gin and jam cocktail. I was inspired by a recipe I found that used lemon verbena and blueberries to make a vodka martini. Blueberries inevitably remind me of jam—especially since fresh blueberries aren’t really a thing here—so it was a small leap to the gin and jam drink. I honestly didn’t read the recipe much further than the name and the first couple photos—having someone connect the dots between lemon verbena and blueberries was enough for me.
Years ago, back when the Cooking Channel was new, they had a show called “Drink Up.” It was pretty goofy, and we weren’t quite sure why we kept watching it, but the episode on gin demonstrated a cocktail the host simply called “Gin & Jam.” (I have tried to find more information on this, but apparently the host, Darryl Robinson, passed away unexpectedly earlier this year and it’s impossible to find any references to the gin episode that actually work. Of course, the idea is not exactly novel and there are many iterations of gin and jam cocktails.)
At any rate, the cocktail was extremely simple—gin, lemon, simple syrup, jam, stir—and we enjoyed having them on hot evenings. It’s the sort of thing you can whip up in someone else’s house and look impressive doing because you figured out how to make a cocktail out of practically nothing. Basically, this is a go-to drink for me when I want something, but I really can’t be bothered to make an effort at doing much of anything.
My first attempt at the drink was a pretty faithful reproduction of the Gin & Jam we remembered from the show. I just replaced the simple syrup with the lemon verbana syrup, and muddled some mint and lemon verbena leaves before shaking, finally adding a plop of jam at the end.
Frosty gin with a little jewel of blueberry jam hanging out at the bottom. Pretty enough, and quite refreshing and tasty, but kind of boring, I thought.
“Thoughts?” I queried Shake. I complained that I thought it was boring looking.
“I don’t know. It tastes good,” he replied. “Maybe if you shake it with the jam before you pour it?”
He never wants to invent his own drinks, but he’s really darned helpful with fine-tuning my creations, I have to say.
And had I read that original Blueberry Lemon Verbena Martini recipe more carefully, I might have thought of shaking the jam in in the first place!
So, Take Two:
Oooh, so pretty!
Now, it IS a really shocking shade of pink so manly men might prefer that you not shake theirs before serving, and just let them stir the jam to break it up and mix it in. The drink is also less sweet overall that way, though you do run the risk of slurping up a chunk of jam.
These are also a bit sneaky because you’re really just drinking flavored gin. There’s just a tiny bit of lemon juice and simple syrup—the rest of the glass is just gin. It makes a lovely drink on a hot afternoon or evening, but it’s awfully easy to keep sipping them down.
I couldn’t think of a good name for the drink when I made it and I’m still pretty stuck. I’m going with “Lemon Verbena Blush” but if you can think of something better, by all means, please suggest it!
Lemon Verbena Blush Cocktail
The lemon verbena syrup in this drink is also great for sweetening your iced tea!
- 2½ ounces gin
- ¼ ounce lemon juice
- ¼ ounce lemon verbena simple syrup (recipe follows)
- 1 teaspoon blueberry jam (a big heaping one, if you have a sweet tooth)
- Lemon verbena
Reserve a few sprigs of the herbs to use as garnish. Muddle several lemon verbena and mint leaves in a mixing glass with the lemon juice and simple syrup. Add jam and gin to the mixing glass. Add ice to about ¾ cover with tin and shake vigorously. Strain and pour into a rocks glass with a large ice sphere or cube. Garnish with herbs. (Bruising them first—give ‘em a hearty spank on your palm—will add a great scent and flavor experience, but then the leaves aren’t as pretty. Your call.)
Alternative presentation (The Non-Blushing Manly Style): Do not add jam to the mixing glass before shaking. Add jam to the rocks glass, then add ice; strain and pour the cocktail into the glass and garnish. Serve with a spoon or swizzle stick so the jam can be stirred and broken up. Watch out for big chunks of jam as you sip. Overall, the taste of the drink will be less sweet.
Lemon Verbena Simple Syrup
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 cup water
- Generous bunch lemon verbena
Combine sugar and water in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Turn off the heat. Bruise the lemon verbena (you can hold the bunch in two hands and twist in opposite directions, like wringing out a towel—not too hard, though; you just want to release the oils, not tear the leaves apart like a savage). Add to the hot syrup and cover. If you are having a stinky kitchen day, it is a perfect time to make this! The entire place will smell amazing. Allow to steep for about 20 minutes. Remove leaves—try to get out any tiny floaters that might be hanging out. Cover again and let cool to room temperature. Once cooled, pour into a glass jar or bottle (strain if necessary to get rid of any leaf bits) and refrigerate. Great for cocktails, desserts and tea!