Written by Jackye Meinecke • Photography by Olivia Belcher
Condensation carves trails down a chilled glass pitcher sparkling with ice, colorful fruit, and herbs, enticing us to quench our thirst. With temperatures reaching for triple digits and humidity making us sticky, an ice-filled glass of water tastes ultra-refreshing. When water is subtly infused with fruit and herbs from the garden, it becomes an indulgence — though a healthy one, and with fewer calories than cheesecake.
Restaurants often serve a classic infused water with a hint of cucumber. Spas may offer a sophisticated sip of water infused with lemons, limes, and mint. We can create these swanky waters at home to impress family and guests at our summer barbecues and picnics as easily as we make sun tea. To raise the “wow” factor of infused water for a party, add fresh-cut fruit and herbs to a clear pitcher and serve with simple syrup, sparkling water, or champagne for guests to create their own libation. Infused water is beneficial beyond being pretty and a change from the usual tea and soda. Health professionals note that infused water encourages hydration and provides traces of vitamins and minerals from the produce and herbs.
No special tools or ingredients are required to make infused waters: just use water, ice, your favorite fruits or vegetables, and herbs. Mix the concoction together and allow it to steep in a large jar or pitcher. Some produce and herbs — like cucumber, melon, citrus fruits, and mint — release flavor almost immediately, while others, like rosemary, berries, apples, and ginger, may need to infuse overnight. When in season, use fresh fruit. However, when a particular fruit is out of season, frozen fruit may be the better option for the most flavor. The mount of produce added to an infusion will be determined by the quantity of water to be infused and the intensity of flavor you want to achieve. Obviously, the more fruits and vegetables added, the more intense the flavor will be.
It is best to mash or muddle the fruit with the back of a wooden spoon or muddler before placing the infusion in the refrigerator to help release the flavors into the water. The infused water’s intensity also depends on how long you let the ingredients infuse. Plan to infuse the water at room temperature for a minimum of two hours. For more flavor concentration, allow fruitand herb-flavored waters to infuse for at least 12 hours, if not overnight. To prevent bacteria growth, infusions should be stored in the refrigerator. The infused water will keep for up to a week when refrigerated. The produce and herbs should be strained out after 48 hours.
Many of us have herbs growing in our gardens and flower beds. Numerous gardeners have a container growing any of the several varieties of mint. Desert gardens often are landscaped with rosemary and edible sage. I cook and bake with herbs, so my garden also includes herbs such as lemon verbena, lemon balm, lemon grass, basil, and thyme. Gardens may feature edible flowers, such as lavender, rose, or calendula, that add a floral flavor to infused water. Use whatever herbs you like or happen to have on hand.
I experimented with more than half a dozen fruit and herb combinations, using locally available fruit, vegetables, and herbs from my garden. I discovered that creating the infusion took only a few minutes, though I needed patience to wait for the final results. I’ve included recipes for my four favorite sips. With fresh pineapple at bargain prices, I will repeat the pineapple and mint water all summer. To my surprise, another favorite was the grapefruit and rosemary, not a combination that would have leaped to mind. The blackberry, orange, and ginger offered a more complex sip plus a beautiful color in the glass. Traditional cucumber water received a twist with the vibrant green and citrus taste of lemon verbena. As scorching as our summers are — making heat exhaustion a real risk — staying hydrated is critical. Alluring pitchers or jars of tasty infused water will
keep us hydrated — and, most especially, not bored with the flavors.