Zone Envy, Part II: Cocktail Plants for the SoCal Life

March 7, 2013 | By | Comments (6)

This is Part Deux of last week’s ode to plants to grow with cocktail hour in mind. Amy Stewart, author of the Drunken Botanist, lives in Northern California but dreams of raising these cocktail-worthy beauties in SoCal.

1. Pomegranate


Photo by SusieFoodie

In my dream SoCal garden, of course, I’ll require a pomegranate tree to make my own grenadine. Whatever you do, don’t buy that cheap synthetic red stuff that passes for grenadine in liquor stores. The homemade version, made with fresh-squeezed fruit, is vastly better and will enliven any gin or vodka drink. I fill Mason jars with it every winter and keep it in the freezer—but imagine how much more I could do with my own tree!

Homemade Grenadine

2 cups freshly-squeezed pomegranate juice
2 cups sugar (less to taste)
1 oz vodka (as a preservative)
In a saucepan, bring half a cup of water to a boil, then add the sugar. (If you think you’d like your grenadine to be a little less sweet, hold back some sugar until after you’ve added the pomegranate juice.) Stir until dissolved. Add the pomegranate juice and stir well. Give it a taste and add more sugar (or more juice) if needed. Once it’s right, add an ounce of vodka and pour into a mason jar. Store in the refrigerator or freezer.

2. Prickly pear cactus

prickly pear

Photo by lynx81

And if I had room (wait, this is a fantasy garden, so of course I have room!) I’d need an optunia, or prickly pear cactus. Prickly pear syrup makes for the most beautiful sangria or margaritas I’ve ever seen. Just peel and chop the fruit, then heat with equal parts sugar and water, allow to cool, then strain and refrigerate. It turns any cocktail the most shocking pink you’ve ever seen. You can also buy the syrup here.
3. Cardamom

Photo by Scyrene

Photo by Scyrene

But what I want most of all from my warm, frost-free, fantasy SoCal garden is the ability to grow spices. Cardamom, a member of the ginger family, thrives in shady, moist tropical areas and produces small green fruit with that warm, sweet, spicy flavor that I associate not just with Indian food, but with sweet, spicy cocktails as well!

Make a simple syrup with equal parts sugar and water, heated until the sugar melts, then add a few cardamom pods and let them soak for an hour or two. Try that in your mojito, and you’ll never look back! For you lucky gardeners: Tropical nurseries sell the plants and seeds.


  1. Bob Lee

    Optunia is not a thing. Opuntia!

    July 3, 2013 at 11:47 pm

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    June 3, 2013 at 9:07 pm

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    May 31, 2013 at 4:05 pm
  4. Andrew C

    I grew up in the South Bay & really miss fresh pomegranates – just not the same from the store!

    March 12, 2013 at 1:08 pm
  5. Maria

    I’m in the South Bay (SF Bay Area) and one of our neighbors gave out pomegranates on Halloween off her tree – they were fabulous. Her house was our favorite!

    March 8, 2013 at 7:02 pm
  6. Jason Sutor

    Pomegranate and Prickly Pear grow fine in most of Northern California. Cardamom of course is pickier, but its a small ginger and can easily be covered on a frosty night, or if potted, brought indoors.

    March 7, 2013 at 9:00 am

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