Fig Leaf Gimlet

Even a “failed” fig tree can shine in this garden-fresh drink

An amber cocktail on top of fig leaves

Photo: Ngoc Minh Ngo

My eyes light up whenever I see a fig tree. But I am not looking at the fruits. Feral trees in California or planted trees in the East never or hardly ever produce fruit. But these “failed” fig trees have giant lobed leaves. Watch out to avoid the milky sap when cut (some people may be allergic, but also because it’s just generally kind of yucky and sticks on things). The leaves have a coconut-vanilla-green smell that is so enticing you want to bottle it up. I wait until after the height of the fruit season and before the leaves fall off for the winter (the tree is not evergreen), then I gather the leaves and make them into syrup or freeze them. The leaves keep well, but the syrup tastes better with recently ground leaves, so I make a batch of syrup within a week of grinding them.

A gimlet is a cocktail that usually uses lime juice with simple syrup. Here, instead of simple syrup we use fig leaf syrup, which adds a freshness and smoothness to the cocktail. How do you describe the taste of fig leaf? A little coconutty, vanilla-y, and herbal. —Tama Matsuoka Wong, Into the Weeds: How to Garden Like a Forager

Read our Q&A with Wong about her new book here.


  • Fig Leaf Gimlet (Yield: 1 cocktail)

  • For the fig leaf syrup (yields approximately 5 cups)

    • 15–20 fresh or frozen fig leaves

    • 5 cups sugar

    • 4 ¼ cups water

  • For the cocktail

    • 2 oz. gin

    • ¾ oz. fig leaf syrup

    • ¾ oz. freshly squeezed lime juice


  1. Make the syrup: Roughly tear the fig leaves up into 4-inch pieces or smaller for easier grinding. Add the sugar. Grind the leaves together with the sugar first in batches in a food processor on high. (Pastry chef Rebecca Ellis taught me this, and bartenders have been asking us for this secret for years. So here it is.) The mixture should look like a green sugary mix. Do not boil the sugar and water and then throw a fig leaf in.

  2. In a large pot, combine the mixture with the water and heat until the sugar is dissolved, stirring so that it does not stick to the bottom. Turn off the heat and let infuse for a minimum of 4 hours, or overnight.

  3. Strain, bring the strained green liquid just to a boil, transfer to mason jars, and seal.

  4. Make the cocktail: Fill a cocktail shaker with ice. Add the gin, syrup, and lime juice. Shake vigorously until the mixture is very cold. Strain over ice and serve right away.

Reprinted with permission from Into the Weeds: How to Garden Like a Forager by Tama Matsuoka Wong copyright © 2024. Photographs by Ngoc Minh Ngo copyright © 2024. Published by Hardie Grant North America.

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