In honor of World Absinthe Day (March 5) we are posting how to make your own absinthe as well as other liqueurs and cordials. We do urge you to be careful with your alcohol, and have a safety page on alcohol – here.
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In Europe, liqueurs started as medicinal beverages made with herbs and alcohol. Popular in 17th century Europe, these evolved over time to pre-dinner and post-dinner drinks, said to stimulate the taste buds and digestive juices. They are meant to be sipped and enjoyed – to invite appreciation, not inebriation.
In the spirit of this tradition, (pardon the pun) I started making liqueurs and cordials out of the plants and herbs in my landscape, and/or the fruits of my garden and the Sonoran Desert. I have successfully (and quite tastily) used many different products, ranging through the alphabet from anise and Artemisia, through juniper, lemon, prickly pear, pomegranate, rose petals, all the way to Ziziphus jujuba.
Ingredients for Liqueurs and Cordials
It’s easy. All you need is flavorless alcohol (vodka or Everclear), flavoring agents, and time. You get flavor from herbs, spices, edible flowers, fruit, and possibly sugar. If I add sugar I consider them cordials, and more for after dinner consumption – like a dessert wine. Liqueurs tend to be “dry” and for before dinner consumption.
I use the cheapest vodka there is because aging it with flavoring agents smooths out the flavor and makes the vodka’s humble origins quite unnoticeable. You could also use the pure grain alcohol, sold as Everclear. All you need something that is at least 40 percent alcohol by volume (ABV). You want enough alcohol in the mix to kill any bacteria or fungi that might want to inhabit your beverages. Dilution can occur after decanting and before consumption.
All liqueurs are best aged for a minimum of 6 months. The absolute tastiest I have made is some dandelion cordial that is going on 8 years old now, and every year it just gets smoother and mellower. I imagine that at some point this time advantage will be lost but I only made a few jars so the experiment has a limited life span.
Always label what you have! Include the date! Sharpies write on glass and are easily erased with some rubbing alcohol. You can make fancier labels for gift giving when/if the time comes.
This liqueur has all manner of myths and facts surrounding it – and we encourage you to create and consume with caution. Personally, if I have more than a single shot of any “hard” alcohol I feel miserable the next day so I imbibe very little of any alcoholic beverage.
Traditional European absinthe is created with common European wormwood (Artemisia absinthium) anise, and fennel. Other herbs are added, like horehound (mentioned last week in our newsletter) or hyssop, lemon balm, mint, coriander, or juniper. Or a blend.
Some time ago, I created a Southwest absinthe using our native wormwood, Artemisia ludoviciana. To this I added herbs that grew in my garden at the time – fennel leaf, lemon verbena leaf, and mint. From the cupboard I added anise seed, coriander (seed), cardamom, nutmeg, and some star anise. After six months I sampled the results. A tad bitter for my taste, Well, absinthe was traditionally sipped with sugar cubes. So I added a half cup of sugar to the pint and put it back to age some more. After 3 more months of aging, it was quite fine, so I stained out the herbs. That was indeed a tasty liqueur! It is all gone, or I’d share pictures.
Recipe for Absinthe
1 pint alcohol
1 cup dried wormwood leaf
1 tablespoon ground star anise
1/2 nutmeg, grated
plus these herbs and spices – combine them in a mortar and grind very lightly – just enough to scar the seeds and open the pods.
2 tablespoons anise seeds
1 tablespoon fennel seeds (or 1 /4 cup dried fennel leaves)
1 tablespoon dried lemon peel
1 teaspoon coriander
4 cardamom pods
Place the dried ingredients in a jar, add the alcohol. Label! Now put it away in a cool dark* place and forget about it for six months.
Limits the chance of bacterial or fungal pathogens developing. Yes, you are using alcohol, but those microscopic lifeforms are tricky devils. Traditional absinthe is made by steeping these herbs then distilling the results. We are skipping this distillation which would otherwise kill all manner of microbes.
* Why dark?
Artemisia is in the sunflower family. Dr. Soule’s rule after years of study – NEVER muck with the sunflower family and light photons. This is one plant family that easily creates photo-active compounds known to harm mammals when consumed.
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More cooking and using Southwestern native plants in Father Kino’s Herbs: Growing and Using Them Today (Tierra del Sol Institute Press). This link is to Amazon and if you buy the book there the Horticulture Therapy non-profit Tierra del Sol Institute will get a few pennies at no additional cost to you.
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