It’s truly beautiful when the skies are that azure blue, clear and almost sparkling; and the wisps of white clouds playfully float across the sky. This is Scotland in the sunshine and possibly the one day of Summer that we will have this year!
It was a perfect day and I got to spend it in a magical green space just outside Edinburgh learning about botanicals for the use in gin! I was spending the day at the Secret Herb Garden out near Straiton (3 minutes from IKEA) on the new Botanicals Workshop from the Edinburgh Whisky Academy and run by Hamish Martin, owner, story-telling and herbologist.
On arrival, you head straight into the quaint wee cafe where they bake up some scrumptious delights – cakes, bakes, breads and soups to fill your tummy and make you happy from the inside out. You can sit inside, there is very minimal seating here or head out into the greenhouse. There are also random seating areas dotted across the entire garden – in barns, sheds and under trees.
Before we even got started it was essential that we fuel up and so I ordered the cheese and chive scone
and the obligatory morning latte.
We headed out to the greenhouse. A warm cosy sheltered space dappled with sunlight. A mix n match of tables and chairs surrounded but lush plants, and wild life. Beautiful!
Hamish is so passionate and enthusiastic about his work in the garden; it shines through and you hang on every word he says. It ALL makes sense when he talks about how plants and herbs have healing powers, how they were essentially grown as medicine and how that has evolved into us using plants and herbs for food and drink.
He also explains that in this day and age we shy away from using plants and herbs, we are told by our parents from a young age not to eat that, installing in us a fear that plants will do us harm. Obviously there is much foliage out there that can harm us, but once you learn how to identify between the good and the bad, you’ll find there is much that can cure just about most things.
We head into the School and Herb drying room which is lined with containers filled with dried flowers, seeds, herbs and plants. Black peppermint, borage, lemon balm, coriander and angelica are just a few of the many wonders in this room.
It’s brilliant to actually see, feel and taste all the botanicals that we learnt about the previous day during our Gin Diploma Course. Many of us know what coriander looks like – the green leaves stuffed in a packet at the local supermarket, but what does the actual plant look like? What do the seeds look, feel and taste like when dried? What’s the difference between the seeds, the leaves and the powdered version. All this and more gets answered on our workshop with Hamish.
Hamish leads us into a wee room at the back. It’s filled with large wooden trays laid out covered in leaves. The drying trays, dehydrating.
The selection of seeds have been collected, dried, stored and meticulously packed in their prep room.
Next up it was a walk around the garden, led by Hamish. It’s fascinating. His knowledge is vast and his appetite for plants is infectious. Above is tulip – which is edible and soon to be a delicacy on many top restaurant plates.
You can grow something just about anywhere!
The Secret Herb Garden are in the process of planting up their Gin Garden and have planted over 1000 Juniper trees. Within the Gin Garden, you’ll also find Angelica, Coriander and Orris Root; the three main botanicals in most gins.
Hamish feeling very at home in his office.
Nasturtiums – The flowers and leaves are edible and look wonderful in salads and as an attractive garnish. They have a strong pepper taste.
Yarrow – White to pink flowers with tough stem and feathery leaves. This aromatic herb relieves indigestion and is effective in lowering blood pressure.
Sweet Cicely – Tiny white flowers in umbels followed by elegant green seeds. Added to salads, soups and stews, also used as a sweetener and flavouring for yogurt and stewed fruits. Roots can be eaten cold in salads or as a vegetable.
After an amzing walk around the garden, we headed back to the greenhouse for a spot of lunch. Homemade soup and bread.
And to learn about all things gin, specifically about Old Curiosity Gin made at the Secret Herb Garden. But this gin has magical properties…
Hamish and business partner, Steve own the Old Curiosity Distillery. Hamish is the herbologist and Steve the mixologist. They have three gins on the market and are in the process of producing another two.
They currently have Chamomile and Cornflower, Apothecary Rose and Lavender and Echinacea. All the ingredients in these gins are grown onsite and the chosen botanicals are distilled down to a concentrate rather than using dried herbs and infusing in the still.
When you pour out the gins – the Chamomile and Cornflower is a blue, The Lavender and Echinacea is purple and the Apothecary Rose is pale pink. We got to try the two new gins but I am sworn to secrecy on what they are.
Add the tonic water or something acidic like lemon and the blue Chamomile and Cornflower turns candy pink; the Lavender and Echinacea turns an orangey pink and the Apothecary Rose turns from pale pink to a warm deep pink.
The Lavender and Echinacea is infused with the restorative qualities of Lavender with the medicinal powers of Echinacea. If ever a gin could heal the soul it would be this.
The Chamomile and Cornflower is an infusion of pure cornflower pigments, naturally a vivid blue, and the subtle notes of the chamomile flower. A calming tincture that embodies the magic of nature.
And lastly, my favourite, Apothecary Rose. The Apothecary Rose is one of the oldest roses in the world and has been around for over 5,000 years. The Secret Herb Garden is now the UK’s largest growers of these roses. It’s subtle in fragrance and naturally floral in flavour.
What can I say about this Botanicals workshop that will encourage you to sign up and visit the Secret Herb Garden? It has to have been one of the best days out that I have had in a long time. If you are a lover of gin, nature, flowers, gardens, distilling or just want to do something different, then sign up for this workshop. It’s fast paced, informative but in a really relaxed setting, you mingle and meet like minded people, Hamish from the SHG is genuinely fantastic as is Ian from the Edinburgh Whisky Academy.
The food is delicious, the company varied and enjoyable (we had two people visiting from China specifically to do the Gin Diploma and this Botanicals Workshop) and the gin is magical.
You can sign up for the Botanicals Workshop through the Edinburgh Whisky Academy www.edinburghwhiskyacademy.com
Or visit The Secret Herb Garden, 32A Old Pentland Road, Edinburgh, EH10 7EA Tel: 0131 445 5888 www.secretherbgarden.co.uk/