How to Make Nettle and Sorghum Cocktail Syrup for a Southern Spell

It's always more fun to DIY. Every week, we'll spare you a trip to the grocery store and show you how to make small batches of great foods at home.

Today: Make a jar of Beth Kirby of Local Milk's nettle and sorghum simple syrup and carry it with you into the dog days of summer.

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To sit a spell or to cast a spell -- this southern spring tonic is good for both. The cherry blossoms unfurl and then, in a shiver faster than a duck on a june bug, they’re gone. One night, summer sighs down over the south and everything moves even that much slower. This concoction, however, captures the rejuvenation of spring in a sorghum and nettle simple syrup you can carry with you into the dog days. 

More: Don't be scared! Here's everything you need to know about eating stinging nettles.

This is more than a cocktail: this is mother medicine, pure mountain magic. A mix of spicy ginger beer, good bourbon, a squeeze of lemon, the healing sorghum nettle syrup, and a hint of mint makes for a mindful, blood-building drink. 

Oft regarded as weeds, stinging nettles are actually one of the most potent herbal medicines, and they make for a highly prized tonic. They are rich in iron, potassium, calcium, and a veritable slew of other vitamins and minerals, and they do everything from purifying the blood to cleansing the digestive system. In folklore, nettles are said to dispel darkness and fear and to strengthen the will. So whether you aim to drive off toxins or negative energy, this is the potion for you. If nothing else, I reckon you’ll feel better after taking a moment to do nothing but be, sit a spell, and sip.

The Southern Spell

For the syrup

Makes about 1 cup

1 cup water
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup sorghum syrup
2 cups stinging nettles
Juice of half a lemon

For the cocktail

1 1/2 ounces good bourbon, like Bulleit
1 1/2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 1/2 tablespoons nettle sorghum syrup
Good ginger beer
A handful of mint leaves
3 tablespoons sugar
Cooked nettle leaves, for garnish

To make the simple syrup, combine the water, sugar, and sorghum syrup in a saucepan. Heat over medium-high, stirring frequently, until all the sugar is dissolved. When the mixture comes to a boil, remove from the heat and dump in the nettle leaves (be careful to not touch them -- they will sting you when they're uncooked).

Let the mixture steep for at least half an hour. Sometimes I refrigerate mine and let it steep over night for maximum nettle flavor and health benefits. When the syrup’s finished steeping, strain it into a clean bottle, add the juice of half a lemon, and store in the fridge. Use the syrup within a couple of months. 

When you're ready for a cocktail, combine the sugar and mint using a mortar and pestle or a food processor. Dip a high ball glass or a mason jar in lemon juice, then dip it into the mint sugar. Fill the glass with ice. 

In a cocktail shaker, combine the bourbon, lemon juice, and simple syrup with ice. Shake throughly and pour over ice.

Top with a nice, spicy ginger beer and garnish with a (cooked) nettle leaf.

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Photos by Beth Kirby

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • thekitchenalchemist
  • Kate | Veggie Desserts
    Kate | Veggie Desserts
  • Lauren Kelley
    Lauren Kelley
A Southern writer with a cast iron skillet & a camera. Freelance food writer & photographer. Blogs at


thekitchenalchemist April 30, 2014
Super tasty! Funnily enough I made a pineapple cocktail syrup and posted it this week, here it is if you fancy a look…
H x
Lauren K. April 30, 2014
I'll be making that this weekend -- yum.
Kate |. April 30, 2014
Oh, this sounds utterly divine.
I've started to use nettles for this first time this year. So healthy, so free! I made Stinging Nettle and Lemon Cake with Lemon Icing (it's on, and now I'm obsessed. Nettle soup is amazing, as is nettle pesto. But a cocktail? I'm so there. Beth is a legend. I can just smell that mint sugar...