CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- One of the hottest new trends in gardening is beverage gardens. This trend includes options for the health-conscious (growing your own teas and ingredients for juices and smoothies), the DIY crowd (growing ingredients for homemade sodas) and those who enjoy an intoxicating beverage or three (ingredients to brew or flavor homemade alcoholic beverages).
There are lots of things you can grow to drink instead of eat. Authors and bloggers are picking up on the trend and a flood of books has been hitting the shelves on how to grow and create their own special beverage concoction.
Why the interest?
This groundswell of interest in growing and making your own beverage is influenced by a few different factors. First, there is a growing DIY movement around the country. Believe it or not, young people are more and more interested in growing things, making things, home canning, knitting, quilting and more.
A second influence is a growing trend in appreciating unique and interesting beverages, both homemade and commercial. This has given rise to an increase in local microbreweries and vineyards, a swell in the popularity in old liquors such as bourbon and gin, and the desire to experiment by making your own.
What can you grow?
There are lots of different plants that can be used to make or flavor beverages. Herbal teas are a pretty straightforward affair, and herbs can be dried for use in teas throughout the year. To find out what plants are in your favorite intoxicating beverage, I suggest "The Drunken Botanist: The Plants that Create the World's Great Drinks" by Amy Stewart. The book is basically a laundry list of plants and how they are used in alcohol, with lots of history, lore and science thrown in. It's a great little book that is a quick read.
Fruits lend themselves both to a large number of uses, from juicing and sodas to producing wines. Grapes, of course, are the fruit of choice to make more traditional wines, but fruit wines such as raspberry and peach are popular homebrews as well. Last week I sampled a homemade red currant wine that was pretty tasty. It's not all that easy to grow European wine grapes here in West Virginia, so you won't be making your own cabernet or merlot, but several varieties of American and French-American hybrid grapes, such as Van Buren, Catawba, Norton, seyval and chambourcin, make good wine.