I am resuming the series that I started last fall on various ways to preserve herbs. Last year, I preserved them in vinegar and salt, froze them and dried them. I hope to add a few updates to those techniques over the coming month. Making and storing syrup is yet another way to preserve flavorful herbaceous plants to perk up the dark days ahead. .
We never have canned soda in our house but are addicted to fizzy glasses of seltzer. With the recent gift of a Sodastream seltzer maker, I revived an old practice of making herb syrups. The most typical application of herbed syrup, for me at least, has been a concoction of mint steeped in hot simple syrup and added to iced tea. However, with my new toy, I’ve been experimenting successfully with other herbs, particularly with our local lemons: lemon verbena, lemon balm and lemon basil. All have been a great lemony success. Verbena was the cleanest and least grassy of the three. Lemon balm was darker and richer, and basil was light and almost spicy.
What I like about DIY syrups is that you can control the sugar. Whereas many simple syrups have a 1:1 ratio of water to sugar, I prefer a 2:1 or even a 3:1 ratio for this purpose. There’s just a hint of sweetness and the tangy lemon flavor shines through. The syrup keeps for at least a week in the refrigerator, possibly less if you leave the herb in the syrup. I drain them out after the herbs have thoroughly steeped to avoid potential rotting. When the sugar content is not too high, these syrups can also be frozen into cubes that are popped into water with or without additives. Adding a tiny sprig of the herb to each cube makes it special. It also helps you identify which one you’re using.
I am guessing that syrups can also be preserved through water bath canning. I just haven’t gone there yet.
1 c water
1/3 – ½ c sugar according to taste
Handful of herb leaves, cleaned and chopped
Optional: tiny sprigs of herbs
Bring the water and sugar to a boil and add the herbs. Turn down the heat and cook slowly for a few minutes. Set aside to steep for an hour or so. Strain out the herbs, squeezing them over the syrup to extract as much of their essence as possible. When cool, either refrigerate the syrup (use within a week or so) or freeze it, floating little fresh sprigs in it if desired.