Servings: 4 to 6
I’m taking a break from alcohol this year, so I’ve been creating lots of fun nonalcoholic drinks with tea when I feel like celebrating. While there are different varieties of chamomile, Matricaria discoidea—known by its common name pineapple weed—is what you’ll find in pavement cracks, abandoned parking lots, and wild lawns. Photographs will help you identify wild chamomile, but to be sure, smell it; the flowers should exude a slight pineapple aroma when crushed. You can use lemon basil, mint, or whatever fresh herb of that ilk in place of lemon balm.
In a medium saucepan, combine the chamomile flowers or tea bags with 2 quarts of water over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer over medium-low heat. Continue to simmer until the liquid is reduced by half, about 45 minutes to 1 hour. Remove from the heat and set aside.
In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar, lemon balm leaves, and 1 cup water over medium heat. Cook stirring occasionally until the sugar is dissolved, about 3 minutes. Set aside to cool. Strain through a fine-mesh strainer, reserving the lemon balm leaves.
Stir the lemon juice and strained simple syrup to taste into the chamomile tea. Add the reserved lemon balm leaves. Cover and refrigerate until cold.
Strain and discard the lemon balm leaves from the tea before serving. Fill tall glasses 2/3 full with the prepared tea and top off with the sparkling water. Add more simple syrup to taste, if desired. Add ice and garnish with a sprig of lemon balm, if using.
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