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DSC03258 (photo: Hannah Zwartz)

Kawakawa leaves and the tasty orange fruits which ripen later in summer.

Decem­ber for garden­ers is a month of lush­ness: plen­ti­ful rain, warm soil and still-length­en­ing days. Long twi­lights and early dawns pot­ter­ing out­doors are my favour­ite anti­dote to the stresses of the silly sea­son. Decem­ber is also the sea­son for cool­ing bever­ages. A few key plants can set you up for a sum­mer­time of drinks in and from the garden.

My fantasy garden (the one inside my head, rather than the one out­side the back door) includes a tea pavil­ion sur­roun­ded by a pick­ing garden of herbs. But even those garden­ers mak­ing do with a few pots will have room for some mint. It thrives in damp part-shade, spread­ing along the ground, so give it room to grow; in pots it needs fresh com­post each year or so. (In a bed, good plant­ing com­pan­ions include the bright orange nat­ive Liber­tia per­eg­rin­ans, provid­ing col­our when the mint dies down over winter.)

For refresh­ing and stom­ach-sooth­ing mint tea, pour boil­ing water over a 5‑centimetre sprig, or allow about five leaves per cup. If brew­ing in a cup rather than a pot, cov­er with a sau­cer so essen­tial oils don’t escape. Leave the brew for five minutes, or drink it cold. Pep­per­mint, apple mint, spear­mint, com­mon mint and the many hybrids in between all work well as teas, hot or iced.

Mint is also essen­tial for cock­tails such as juleps or moji­tos. For an excel­lent recipe for water­mel­on mojito, see Gay­la Trail’s Drink­ing the Sum­mer Garden. As well as ori­gin­al cock­tails, the book includes health­ful thirst-quench­ers such as mint limon­ada or rose and straw­berry shake, and a few nibbles (my favour­ite is lettuce pie — like a spin­ach pie, but great for using up gone-to-seed lettuces). Avail­able as a book or e‑book from, Drink­ing the Sum­mer Garden could be the per­fect gift for a garden­er or food­ie in your life.

Slip­ping sprigs of herbs into your water bottle or jug is an easy way to make a simple infu­sion. My new favour­ite, with yel­low flowers that bright­en any water jug, is Mex­ic­an marigold. (Just to be con­fus­ing, sev­er­al Tagetes spe­cies, such as the anise-fla­voured T. lucida and giant T. minuta, are also com­monly known as Mex­ic­an marigold; I’m talk­ing about Tagetes lem­monii.) This grows to a 1 metre-high shrub, with finely cut leaves and daisy-shaped flowers. It likes full sun and is drought-tol­er­ant, mak­ing it a good can­did­ate for a pot.

Dill or fen­nel flowers or seeds give an anise fla­vour to teas, syr­ups or infu­sions. The purple-flowered bee-mag­net anise hyssop is anoth­er great can­did­ate for the water jug, with a liquorice-mint fla­vour. For a lem­ony tang, try zingy lem­on ver­bena or lem­on balm — not botan­ic­ally related, but shar­ing cit­rus oils in their leaves. If you like things on the sweet side, add a few leaves of Stevia, a nat­ur­al sweetener.

Con­trary to pop­u­lar belief, the herb ber­ga­mot (Monarda) is not the fla­vour­ing used in Earl Grey tea (that’s ber­ga­mot orange, a type of cit­rus), but it does make a deli­cious minty/citrusy tea that nat­ive Amer­ic­ans used to com­bat coughs and colds. Oth­er herbs, like sage and thyme, also have anti­bac­teri­al qual­it­ies, so their teas are great for sore throats (espe­cially with honey). And if your garden has a shady corner or fenceline, grow kawakawa, a nat­ive ron­goā (medi­cin­al plant). Its heart-shaped leaves can be used to make a spicy tonic.