Do love potions exist? I say yes. Okay, kind of. The words potion and elixir both imply conjury – perhaps a bubbling test tube or a little amber bottle of murky liquid – but I’m referring to something much less hexed. It has more to do with the allurement that draws us outdoors to the first camphoric buds of spring and makes us pinch them right from the stalk. I’m talking aromatherapy meets sugar and cookery. Kitchen alchemy with herbs and flowers.
Our sense of smell is estimated to be ten thousand times more sensitive than our sense of taste. So, getting together flowery herbs and dessert is an exciting thing! Of course, this is not a new idea. Infused simple syrups have long been a staple of confectioners and the effects of aromatherapy on the body and spirit have been studied for ages. The novelty here is using herbs and flowers with specific characteristics. Intoxicating floral notes (lavender, rose) and stimulating scents (mint,citrus) are best suited for syrups we’re giving the conceit of “love elixir”.
Just like any simple syrup, these can be be poured over ice cream, added to cocktails, or drizzled over buttermilk-vanilla bean cupcakes with the recipe provided at the end of this post. Most infused syrups are colorless, and if you make a lot of different infusions at the same time as I have, adding a drop of complementary food color to each syrup is a good idea (i.e. green to mint-infused). This will help you identify them quickly and easily.
It was fun to learn about each herb’s characteristics as I stirred them into syrup, and I’ve given some information with each elixir I created below, but it’s also fine to disregard the back story and just enjoy them for what they are – yummy on dessert.
l to r:
Lavender-Juniper Berry – floral and heady with evergreen flavor. Maybe we should call this elixir “keep calm and forget-me-not” because lavender is known for relaxation and juniper berry reportedly helps improve memory! This one is a nice addition to cocktails.
Rose-Vanilla – rose is sweet and intoxicating and vanilla bean evokes feelings of safety and home. Cuddle up with your favorite person and a little of this over vanilla ice cream (one bowl, two spoons of course).
Lemon-Thyme – the scent of lemon is bright and energizing. Thyme has traditionally been associated with courage and reduces fatigue. Let’s toss out our energy drinks and have a little of this over poppyseed pound cake instead, shall we?
Mint-Rosemary – cool with a kiss of pine. Mint is refreshing and invigorating. Rosemary is mood-lifting. Both pair extremely well with dark chocolate -and don’t forget, chocolate supposedly simulates the feeling of falling in love. Mint/Rosemary/Chocolate? Win/win/win.
I hope you’re inspired to create your own elixirs. Here’s a little cheat sheet of lovey-dovey aromatics and their characteristics. This is by no means a complete list, but it should get you started.
Intoxicating: Rose, lilac, jasmine, honeysuckle, marigold, hibiscus
Refreshing: citrus, bergamot, mint, lavender, rosemary, thyme
Stimulating: peppermint, orange oil, lemon oil, black peppercorn
Stuff you should know!
Use organic flowers and herbs, or forage from a trusted landscape. Use only flowers and herbs you can positively identify.
It’s not a bad idea to make friends with your local florist, too – they may be a little more costly to buy from, but they’ll have a good source for safe organic roses. The best roses for infusing are the wild-growing variety that are bursting with fragrance in summertime. If you can’t find a good source for fresh petals, use a bit of rosewater in the syrup instead.
If you are pregnant, be extremely well-read on herbs and oils before you use them. Some should not be taken during pregnancy. The best safe-guard is to consult your physician.
Now, honestly. I don’t know of any magic elixir that will cause instant and abiding affection. I think that has much more to do with temperament of the heart. However, I do believe that certain aromatic infusions are mood-lifting, anxiety-reducing and promote a feeling of happiness and well-being. And those are some of the same things I love about love.
Infused Simple Syrup
Yield: about 1 2/3 cup/ 400 ml
1 cup/ 200g granulated sugar
1 cup/ 8 oz. water
In a medium saucepan, combine sugar and water. Bring to a bubble over medium heat, stirring occasionally until sugar has dissolved. Steep with herbs as desired (further information below). Place syrup in lidded jars and store in the refrigerator.
Syrup inclusions (per 400 ml batch)
- Lavender syrup: 2 tablespoons/5g organic culinary lavender buds, steep for 5 minutes in hot liquid then sieve to remove lavender buds.
- Vanilla syrup: 1 vanilla bean, split and scrape vanilla bean, add seeds and steep in hot liquid with pod for 10 minutes, discard pod before using syrup.
- Mint syrup: 1/2 cup (5-7 sprigs) packed fresh mint leaves, steep for 10 minutes in hot liquid then sieve to remove leaves.
- Thyme or rosemary syrup: 3-5 stalks of thyme, steep whole stalks with leaves for 5 minutes then sieve to remove stalks and stray leaves.
- Rose syrup: 2 cups (about 60 large) fragrant, organic rose petals , stir petals into hot liquid, let steep until syrup is cool; sieve to remove petals. If fresh rose petals are out of season, stir in 1/8-1/4 teaspoon of purchased rosewater.
Buttermilk Vanilla Bean Cupcakes
Source: Adapted from marthastewart.com
Yield: about 18 cupcakes
Prep: 15 minutes, total time about 1 hour
1 cup/200g sugar
1/4 cup/57g unsalted butter, softened
1 large egg plus 1 egg yolk
1 1/2 cups/192g all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup/8.5 oz. reduced fat (1.5% milkfat )buttermilk
Seeds of 1 vanilla bean pod
- Preheat oven to 350F. Line two muffin tins with paper liners, set aside.
- Combine the butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl. Beat on medium speed with an electric hand mixer. Add the egg and yolk and beat until combined.
- In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add the flour mixture and buttermilk alternately to the batter, mixing well between each addition. Begin and end with flour. Add the seeds of the vanilla bean and mix on low speed.
- Fill each muffin cup about 2/3 full. Bake for approximately 15-20 minutes, or until the cakes spring back when pressed in the center. Allow the cupcakes to cool in the pans for 10 minutes, then remove them from the pans and allow them to cool completely on wire racks, about 15 minutes.
- Frost with vanilla Swiss meringue buttercream, if desired (recipe here).