With bars and restaurants closed and social distancing measures in place, many people are finding new and creative recipes for food and drinks using the ingredients available in their cupboards. I am one of these people. With limited ingredients on hand and a desire for a cocktail, this is how I discovered the Mountain Mint Julep.

What happens when you’re craving a mint julep but don’t have any mint? Answer: See what you have in your garden!

Luckily, I remembered that I had planted some native Virginia Mountain Mint on the side of my yard. My colleague Jenny McGarvey gifted me some about a year ago. I planted it immediately and had forgotten all about it.

Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemum virginianum) is native to North America and the Chesapeake Bay region. The name is misleading because it predominately found in moist soils along streams and ponds and not mountains. Nevertheless, they are very easy to grow in your garden. They grow about 2′-3′ tall and spread through rhizomes to form a colony of plants near the mother plant. Here’s a photo of it peaking underneath the Elderberry bush.

Most importantly, Mountain Mint emits a “mint” odor when the leaves are crushed. Can it take the place of spearmint in the traditional Mint Julep? My preliminary research and experimentation has revealed that the answer is “yes” – it definitely can.

Not only are native plants better for the environment but they help with your cocktails too!

Here’s the recipe!

Virginia Mountain Mint Julep

  • 4 sprigs of mountain mint (what is a sprig? A sprig is a 2″-4″ piece of an herb)
  • 1 Tbs simple syrup
  • 2 oz bourbon
  • Seltzer water
  • Crushed ice


Place the mountain mint leaves in the bottom of a cocktail glass. Pour simple syrup (or sugar or honey) on top of the leaves. Muddle these together until the leaves start to break down. Add a splash of seltzer. Fill the glass ¾ full with crushed ice (if you’re like me and you don’t have a refrigerator that makes crushed ice, I wrapped ice cubes in a clean dish towel and banged them with a hammer). Add the bourbon. Top with another splash of seltzer and stir. Add another mountain mint leaf for garnish and enjoy!

If you have suggestions of other native plants that can be used for cocktail ingredients, please let me know!