We are having hot weather, which means we should be hydrating a lot. I’m harvesting the mints and monardas and lemon balm and these herbs are wonderfully refreshing when infused in water. Add a little fresh seasonal fruit–and you have a fiesta in a glass–full of vitamins and minerals and delicious! I call these herb-and-fruit-infusions botanical waters or flavored waters.
Aguas frescas translates to fresh water or cool water. This is a drink native to Mexico and Latin America, which has been drunk for centuries. The traditional drink is made with fruit, water and sugar. Sometimes it has herbs, spices or even vegetables, grains or seeds added. It is considered to be like a soda pop.
Generally, the fresh fruit is pureed with the water and sugar–sometimes it is left thick as is–and sometimes it is strained to make more like a juice consistency. It is served from big jars; often there are pieces of fruit added to the liquid. There are often sold by street vendors or in shops and restaurants. In bars, these agua frescas are often made into cocktails by adding tequila or rum with a squeeze of citrus or a dash of sparkling water.
I make my own versions of agua fresca using herbs and seasonal fruit, however many times I do not puree the fruit, so in actuality it is more like a fruited and/or herbed water infusion. Also depending upon what fruit I am using–if it is a sweet watermelon or cantaloupe–I do not add sugar. I make a thirst-quenching water infusion with lemon and/or lime and mint or lemon herbs. I also enjoy cucumber slices infused with lemon and mint which is very refreshing. I tend to not add sugar and am totally happy without the sweetener.
Melons make the sweetest botanical waters. Tamarind, hibiscus, lemons and limes make the tartest waters, so people tend to add sugar to them. Berries and stone fruits can be both sweet and tart, so you’ll need to taste and see if you want to add sweetener.
My Version of Agua Fresca or Botanical Water
Use whatever ripe fruit that is in season and pair a summer herb with it. The lemon herbs, mints, monardas, basils and scented geraniums are my favorite for herbs for flavoring water. I like to use the red flowers of Monarda didyma and Salvia fruticosa or S. dorisiana, calendula petals, rose petals, red clover and scented geranium flowers. Be careful with lavender flowers as they can easily overpower a drink with their strong perfume. Don’t use too many ingredients: I usually add 1 or 2 fruits and 1 herb, and perhaps a flower to the infusion.
I am fortunate to have good-tasting well water. Use spring water if you don’t have a well. If you must use chlorinated water, fill a pitcher and let it sit overnight before using.
To make 1 quart
About 1 cup fresh fruit chunks or slices
About 1 cup loosely-packed herb leaves
Small handful edible flowers, optional
About 1 quart water
Put the fruit in a clean, 1-quart canning jar. Add the herbs and flowers, if desired. Fill the jar with water. Stir and place the lid on the jar. Refrigerate for at least an hour (I like it best after at least 3 hours) and drink within 24 to 48 hours. Enjoy the fruit.
We’ll be making aguas frescas and botanical waters, elixirs, herbal pastilles and energy balls in my upcoming summer folk school class Fun & Healthy Herbal Foods at the Ozark Folk Center: https://www.ozarkfolkcenter.com/!userfiles/Fun%20Healthy%20Herbal%20Foods.pdf. It is not too late to sign up–this will be a fun and tasty, hands-on workshop.