The botanicals beat

Move over craft beers, home distilled gins and garagiste wines - botanical flavours and wild-foraged ingredients are the must-see elements on menus in innovative bars.

It’s clear going green is a major movement – and not just in the planet-saving sense. Chefs have been shifting their focus to ingredients that are foraged rather than farmed for a while now and it was only a matter of time before distillers and mixologists followed suit. This movement really is more authentic than anything that’s been seen before – just don’t ask your grandparents who might be inclined to pinch their lips at this ‘newfound’ trend – because it’s the way many of them grew up.

They picked suurings (yellow oxalis flowers) with their distinctive sour stems on daily walks, pinched quinces from neighbourhood hedges to poach later, and made litres of lemon and wild mint syrup to enjoy with iced water on stifling hot days.

We have our vast and varied natural environs to thank for the plethora of ingredients and inspiration available – from the Cape West Coast to the mountainous Cedarberg and Kogelberg, the Cape biosphere in particular is immensely rich in off-the-beaten-track edible offerings.

A visit to Roushanna Grey, owner of Veld & Sea expeditions near Cape Point reveals just how close to the earth one can actually live. Roushanna is an outspoken advocate for rediscovering the possibilities of the multitude of wild herbs and flowers that can be foraged in her immediate surrounds and regularly runs workshops sharing her flavour discoveries with attendees. One of Roushanna’s sellout courses is where she teaches guests how to make cordials and tinctures from locally foraged bulbs and herbs, and what flavours to marry with which locally made spirits. It’s a thoroughly enlightening experience, opening one’s tastebuds up to so many unique, once-forgotten, now-new flavour experiences.

When it comes to enjoying botanicals steeped and distilled in liquid form, it seems that the worldwide craft gin movement may have brought us to this point. In South Africa alone there are more than 90 handcrafted varieties, many of which are brimming with local botanical ingredients, from the likes of rooibos and Cape camomile to rose petals, black peppercorns, wild rosemary and marula. And aside from gin varieties bursting with botanicals, a major trend is for alcohol-free, botanical flavour-rich drinks too. Like Symmetry Botanical Tonics – a trio of aromatic cordials (Citrus, Florals or Spice) that can be added to gin, another spirit or soda water, and is served on ice in a short glass.

It’s an intense flavour experience that’s enormously satisfying and refreshing when sipped and savoured. Symmetry Botanicals are infused with ingredients like buchu, Cape Snowbush and scented pelargonium, chosen for their health giving properties. Another local non-alcoholic creation is Duchess Virgin Gin & Tonic which offers all the enjoyment of a botanically infused drink, laced with a heavy dose of sobriety. The brand’s newest choice is a floral base infused with citrus blossoms, Primrose and indigenous Honeybush extracts. – with its beautiful packaging and sugar-free, hangover-free status, it’s becoming the drink du jour for people wanting the flavour without the after effects.

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