Mint adds a freshness to drinks that’s hard to duplicate with other herbs, but if you don't have access to mint or don't want to use it, you can let a few other flavoring agents stand in. These herbal substitutes provide interesting and sometimes unexpected flavors, but don’t expect them to duplicate the cooling pungency of mint leaves.
Give Basil a Chance
Basil is a member of the mint family and can stand in for mint leaves in drinks such as mojitos, lemonade and iced tea. To make a mojito, muddle several fresh basil leaves with superfine sugar or your favorite sweetener. Add one part lime juice for every two parts rum and top with a generous splash of club soda. Sweet, anise-flavored Thai basil is particularly well-suited for this drink.
Less Is More
Although tarragon can’t replace mint in a classic julep, you can add the fresh leaves to iced tea or lemonade for a licorice-y bite. Tarragon possesses an intensity that could overpower a drink if you’re not careful, though. Add just a few leaves per pitcher, and recognize that for some, its flavor is off-putting. If you don't like tarragon, try dill instead. Add a fresh sprig of the grassy-flavored herb to a citrus or classic Paloma to give it an unexpected twist. Dill has fennel, celery and anise undertones and goes very well with citrus and cucumber. Experiment and take your boozy lemonade to the next level by adding two or three thin slices of cucumber and a fresh sprig of dill.
Pretty in Purple
You may be most familiar with the scent of lavender in soaps and sachets, but its mild, herbal essence can also add flavor to drinks. Use a sprig in lemonade or iced tea instead of a mint leaf. Too much lavender can make a drink bitter, though, so use restraint. Try a honey and lavender sparkling chardonnay cocktail: muddle honey, lavender and gin. Strain. Divide the mixture into two glasses, add crushed ice and fill with sparkling chardonnay.
Challenge Your Palette
Shiso, an Asian culinary herb also called perilla, provides a flavor that hints of mint mixed with basil. If you can find it, make a twist on the classic by muddling fresh shiso leaves with a Thai red chili. Mix this combination with cucumber slices, simple syrup, lime juice and rum. Substitute the simple syrup with agave nectar or a zero-calorie sweet syrup made with 2 cups of water and 1/4 cup Stevia. Thyme, another member of the mint family, offers an herby alternative to mint in lemonade or iced tea. Fresh lemon verbena infuses cocktails, teas and spritzers with a citrusy perfume and a taste distinctive enough that you won’t miss the mint.
More Than Garnish
The slightly peppery parsley is perfect for juleps. Mix parsley leaves, lime juice and simple syrup, and then add ice, gin and club soda. Create spicy martinis by adding fresh parsley leaves, fresh lemon juice and jalapeno syrup to vodka. Make refreshing parsley lemonade for brunch. Liquefy a bunch of parsley and add to taste to your classic lemonade recipe. Use your favorite sweetener or agave nectar instead of white sugar and add vodka if you want turn your brunch into a summery affair.