Flowers are synonymous with springtime, but they’re completely underutilized in the kitchen – or behind the bar.
Unbeknownst to many, flowers, botanicals and even weeds have a long history in the world of spirits, and some of the more popular floral liqueurs have begun finding their way out of obscurity and into some of the country’s leading cocktail bars.
From dandelion wine to gardenia vodka, here are lush, springtime cordials and spirits worth seeking out.
Originally a working man’s wine in medieval Europe, dandelion wine became popular among settlers moving west across the plains of North America who encountered the pervasive yellow weed as they went. Recipes for making a batch at home usually include some combination of the plant’s petals, sugar and citrus, and many are readily available online. In addition to packing a moderately high alcohol content, dandelion is the rare wine that reportedly improves liver function, thanks to its naturally-occurring Vitamins A, B, C and D, along with loads of potassium.
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Once called the aperitivo di corte, or “drink of kings,” this Italian liqueur enjoyed a popular run in the 1800s before being banned in the court of King Vittorio Amedo III, who favored vermouth. The once dominant spirit never recovered. But rosolio, which is made from rose, lavender and citrus fruit like bergamot, has bubbled back up in recent years thanks to craft cocktail bars the world over.
Try it: Italicus Rosolio di Bergamotto
Oftentimes confused for another botanical liqueur on this list, Crème Yvette is a violet flower cordial infused with strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, black currants and honey. Originally dreamed up in Connecticut in 1890, the recipe is today produced just outside of the Bordeaux region of France. Sophisticated cocktails made with Yvette that once dominated metropolitan menus include the Submarine Kiss and the Stratosphere.
Try it: Crème Yvette
A personal favorite, Cathead’s Mississippi-made vodka is a staple on bar shelves across the South. This vodka infused with delicate honeysuckle and Louisiana cane sugar goes down sweet, and packs a romantic, heady aroma along the way. Mix it in a springtime cocktail, or sip it neat. It’s hard to go wrong with this one.
Try it: Cathead Honeysuckle Vodka
Another boozy botanical that traces its roots back to Italy, Strega has 70 different ingredients including mint and fennel. But this golden liqueur’s most famous ingredient is no doubt the saffron from which is gains its hue. Strega is semi-sweet and a bit more viscous than some of the spirits you’re more likely used to. Enjoy it neat as an aperitif, or in a culture-bending Armenita cocktail, mixed with tequila and apricot.
Try it: Liquore Strega Liqueur
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Once used to treat flatulence and other potentially embarrassing digestive issues, this Mexican herbal liqueur is made by fermenting honey produced by bees with the nectar of the Xtabentún flower, and then combining it with rum and anise seed. The combination creates a sweet alcohol with heavy notes of licorice. Ancient Mayas once consumed the beverage rectally via boozy enemas, where the Xtabentún was absorbed more quickly into the body to produce hallucinogenic visions. Today, you can just drink it the old-fashioned way.
Made from the flowers of the alpine Genepi plant, better known to most people as wormwood, this botanical beverage is similar to the better known drink, Absinthe. First cultivated as a medicinal drink, Génépi is known to reduce sweating, aid in digestion and provide antiseptic cleansing to exterior wounds. It will also get you drunk. Wormwood plants are heavily regulated in France today, but a number of distillers still produce bottles of the beverage.
Try it: Guillaumette Genepi Liqueur
Crème de violette
Potentially the most famous floral alcohol of all, crème de violette is the bold, purple-hued liqueur made from infusing violet flowers in brandy. You’ve likely tried it in an intimidating classic cocktail bar in the form of an Aviation, where it is mixed with gin. Floral, sweet and easy to mix with gin, champagne and even scotch, this floral addition to any home bar will really help class up the joint.