I've been fascinated by plants from a young age; from running home from school to check on propagating seeds to studying the process of photosynthesis at university - it's always brought a certain sense of wonder to fixate on the flora that surrounds us, and to study our relationship with the plant world.
The most immediately relevant part was of course our food chain. The dogged approach to both nutrition and agriculture is still a focus of my interests and research, but what's been more enjoyable to explore has been plants and the array of flavours they create.
When I was researching flavour many years ago, internal mechanisms of course led to external stimulus. One of the easiest 'externals' to explore was the different plants that form the bulk (and fringes - through ingredients such as honey) of our food. At first this was different varieties, but soon I began to explore ways of preserving or manipulating plants, or even how to change their flavour depending on how they were grown - especially as Henry began, and I began formulating the concept for Dandelyan.
There's much of this which is outside our control (though no less enjoyable). Finished edible plants are usually bought from stores and supermarkets and are at the mercy of economics and fashion. However, there's much that can be grown with even a modest window box.
In terms of my own green fingers, I've been focused on 'functional' plants - that is, plants that provide something edible for me. With even a small garden this can be short-sighted (especially given the interconnectedness of ecosystems; an issue noted by many gardeners and farmers when their crops fail) but for the time being, given space constraints, I've focused on plants that can provide new flavours for my food and cocktails.
The simplest ones are herbs - quick to grow, bountiful and strong enough to survive some pretty persistent neglect. They also pack a huge flavour punch so are ideal for a cocktail and kitchen addition.
Of course, even in British climes, there's plenty that could be incredible to grow, but without some dedication it's hard to maintain. Herbs can be left in a sunny spot, and except for softer herbs such as basil, coriander and the like, they'll even survive the winter. They can also be harvested easily without damaging too much of the plant, or having to wait for new berries or buds to grow. That said, there's something very satisfying about waiting in anticipation for a lemon or crop of blueberries to ripen (and the endless battle I have with the neighborhood fauna that are similarly tempted by the fruits).
For the very adventurous, there's also the ability to transform your bounty through the wonder of fermentation. A single apple tree can provide enough to eat, bake, make into cocktails and give to friends and still leave enough to have a go at a batch of cider. Following some simple online instructions (and maintaining some basic food hygiene) and you'll have a tasty tipple with all the satisfaction of the homemade.
Returning to more basic means - and one of the simplest twists I enjoy on several levels - is simply plucking a sprig of mint or lemon balm to garnish my G&T. A welcome change from a slice of citrus, the herbs' fragrance has the same fresh lift, and slowly imbues the drink with a greeness that's very welcome. Any of your garden herbs will work a treat, just try to match the profile of your spirit and mixer.
Below is also a recipe for a simple cocktail taking in what grows in my garden.
Gin & Bitter Lemon
Good glug of London dry gin (50ml)
Fevertree Lemon Tonic
Fill a narrow hi-ball glass with ice, add your gin and top with tonic. Add a large sprig of thyme and stir. Enjoy in the garden!
Lyan's House Smash
Small handful of blueberries
6 mint leaves
4 lemon balm leaves
Juice of half a lemon
Tablespoon maple syrup (though yet to make this myself)
Good glug of bourbon (50ml)
Crush blueberries in the base of a glass with the maple syrup. Add all other ingredients and stir well. Fill glass with crushed ice and stir again. Top with more ice and garnish with a sprig of mint. Also enjoy in the garden!