You might already know that marigolds protect your melons and attract beneficial insects. But did you know you could eat them? Marigold petals can be sprinkled on salads, or transformed into a potent Marigold Bitters—just one fabulous way to make cocktails from the garden. Gem marigolds are a perfect component because of their distinct bitter flavor and for the lovely amber hue that results. Here’s how to grow marigolds.
Marigold Bitters (Amaro)
Makes 1 quart
Amaro is an Italian herb-infused bitter liqueur, originally used as an after-dinner digestif, chilled or over ice. Recently, however, there’s been a bitters revival, with cocktail enthusiasts mixing the bittersweet digestif into beverages beyond just classic cocktails such as the Manhattan and the old fashioned. For amaro’s signature tartness, we’ve added some chinotto orange rind, the key ingredient in Campari, the popular Italian herbal aperitif. Use regular orange rinds if you can’t find chinotto.
For the Amaro
Enough herbs and edible flowers to fill a 1-quart jar. Feel free to experiment, but for example your ingredient list might include:
1 cup gem marigold flowers and leaves
1 to 3 sage leaves
2 to 6 anise hyssop flowers and leaves
1 sprig rosemary
1 to 6 lavender blooms
Small bunch of thyme (such as French, English, or lemon)
1 to 6 calendula flowers
1 to 6 bee balm flowers and leaves
Small handful of rose petals
1 to 8 viola petals
5 to 10 alpine strawberries or other berries
Rind of 2 chinotto oranges
2 (750-ml) bottles Hangar One Vodka or a similar good-quality, unflavored vodka
For the Simple Syrup
1 cup water
1 cup organic sugar
1. Make the Amaro. Gently rinse the herbs and flowers, leaving the blooms intact to capture the bitter attributes of their centers. Add them all, along with the berries and citrus rind, to a 1-quart jar. Fill the jar with vodka to just below the rim (you might not need it all) and seal with a tight-fitting lid. Store it in a cool, dark place.
2. Check the amaro daily or every couple of days, and give it a good shake to ensure that there are no floating leaves or flowers. After 4 weeks, taste the amaro. If you prefer it stronger, allow it to infuse for another week or so. Once you’ve achieved the flavor you like, strain out the herbs, edible flowers, berries, and rind.
3. Make the simple syrup. Combine the sugar and water in a nonreactive pan. Place over medium-high heat and bring to a simmer, stirring to prevent sticking. Once the sugar has dissolved (about 5 minutes), remove the mixture from the heat and let it cool slightly.
4. Add 1 cup of the simple syrup to the strained amaro liquid and let infuse for an additional 2 weeks, then taste. If you find the amaro more bitter than you’d like, add more simple syrup but remember the sweetener is meant to take the edge off of the bitter taste rather than mask it. Once the bitters are to your liking, store indefinitely.