Foraged Tonic Water – The Graveyard B&T


I may be drummed out of The Guild of Foragers for saying this, but I’m not a huge fan of eating dandelion leaves.

For my taste, they are just a little too bitter for all but a smidgen in a mixed wild salad, or, suitably blanched, in savoury puddings with dock and nettle. But that very bitterness had long reminded me of tonic water, and a wild tonic water to drink with The Botanist had been on my list of things to try to make for some time. After all, what’s the point in drinking fine, artisanal gin of sublime providence, then mixing it with crappy tonic water. I know Fever Tree has filled a gap in this market, but they still get their core ingredient – chinchona bark –  from the Congo. It costs the earth, literally and metaphorically.

So when I was goaded into a windswept graveyard on Islay’s Atlantic coast in mid-March by a photographer who was more excited about backdrops than flora, time and place rolled themselves into opportunity and The Graveyard B & T was born.

Young, fresh, pre-flowering dandelions were fringing the graves. The sublimely named ivy-leaved toadflax was creeping over the sheltered sides of the walls. Sorrel, as always, abounded. And the snappy basal leaves of ladies smock was poking through the moss in the damp dips between the stones.

So I loaded up my now ever-present rapid unfuser (see here) and half-filled it with dandelions and sorrel and few pinches of ladies smock.

Why mix your artisanal, foraged gin with mass-produced tonic water? Make your own tonic water with everyday plants…

Topped up to 2/3 full with some water, a quick double charge of N2O, and the bitterness of the dandelions, the pepperiness of the smock, and sourness  of the sorrel leaves were smashed into the water. And the taste….well, i’m not going to claim that its tonic water – its not going to cure malaria. But for my mind, it does all the same jobs in the mouth – especially if you strain it and balance it with a little sugar syrup (I had a small vial of cloveroot syrup with me, which added some subtle deeper backnotes. Sadly, this hadn’t been foraged in a graveyard, but it easily could be). The N2O provides a light effervesence, but if you like a fuller fizz,  charge it a final time with some CO2.

Mixed with a large measure of The Botanist, and scattered with ivy-leaved toadflax leaves (the flowers are even better later in the year), and i’d take it over a gin and feverfew tonic any day.

You can pick these plants most places in the world at any time of year, and in pretty much any habitat – including cities. But its more fun to forage them, mix and drink them, in a graveyard…Toast the residents, and thank them for their fertile bones.

When I shuffle off this mortal coil, I hope friends will toast me with a Graveyard B & T.

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