Amy Stewart is the author of Flower Confidential, Wicked Plants, Wicked Bugs, and now The Drunken Botanist: The Plants That Create the World's Greatest Drinks. She's the co-founder of the blog, Garden Rant, and a contributing editor to Fine Gardening magazine. She will be at Village Books on Friday, March 29, 7pm.
Anybody who read Wicked Plants knows that I have a dark side. A surprising number of botanists who discovered the plants we drink today met with rather dreadful fates, and I could not resist telling some of those stories. One of them was Joseph Dombey, a French botanist who went to Latin America in 1778, only to find himself stuck there in the middle of Peru's civil war. Then he had to deal with an outbreak of cholera and a shipwreck before he finally got to Spain with this collection of plants that represented years of hard work and near-death experiences. Imagine how hard it would have been to keep a plant alive on board a long ocean voyage in those days. But somehow Dombey did it, only to find out that customs officials wouldn't let his plants through. Most of them rotted and died in a warehouse when he got to Spain. Lemon verbena, a woody herb with incredibly fragrant leaves, was one of the few to survive.
Dombey went on to have more bad luck on his next expedition and eventually died in prison. How do you come up with a drink for a guy like that? I picked a classic cocktail called the Last Word and renamed it Dombey's Last Word. It's a rather grim name for a cocktail, but the drink is lovely. You can also make your own lemon verbena syrup for cocktails like this one by heating equal parts sugar and water on the stove. When the sugar is melted, turn the heat off and throw in a big handful of fresh lemon verbena leaves. Let it cool for about an hour, then strain it to get all the bits of plant matter out. Store it in a jar in the fridge and use it up quickly — which shouldn't be a problem!
Dombey’s Last Word (p. 175)
In honor of Joseph Dombey, a twist on the classic cocktail the Last Word. This version replaces Chartreuse with a more overtly lemon verbena-flavored liqueur and substitutes the lime for lemon. Given the political turmoil that he found himself in, it seems only fitting that this cocktail combines ingredients from three countries that were also in constant upheaval: England, France, and Italy.
½ ounce gin
½ ounce Verveine du Velay
½ ounce Luxardo maraschino liqueur
½ ounce fresh-squeezed
1 sprig fresh lemon verbena
Shake all the ingredients except the lemon verbena sprig with ice and strain into a cocktail glass. Rub a lemon verbena leaf around the rim of the glass and garnish with another leaf. If you can’t find Verveine du Velay, green Chartreuse is a fine substitute.