Basil and lemon syrup made with whole lemons

Summer has arrived and summer drinks are in order! These days I’m alternating between large jugs of fresh, unsweetened iced green tea and glasses of a sweeter alternative: sparkly lemonade made with homemade basil and lemon syrup.

Making your own lemonade syrup is much easier than you may think. Its base is a simple sugar syrup, which is then infused with flavours to your liking. For a very quick and easy lemon syrup your can use freshly pressed lemon juice and be done in five minutes. For this basil and lemon syrup I use sliced whole lemons instead. First I let them simmer away in the sugar syrup for 30-45 minutes to release their flavour. After that, I add a large bunch of fresh basil and let it steep in the lemon syrup while it cools down. It is a test of patience, but more than worth it! The large portion of lemon rind gives the infused syrup an irresistable zesty edge. The basil in its turn adds a herby touch of interest and turns your humble glass of lemonade into a sophisticated, grown-up refreshment.

The recipe below actually yields two treats in one go: a bottle of freshly infused syrup and a batch of candied lemon slices. The 30-45 minutes of cooking time is aimed at adding as much zesty flavour to the syrup as possible, but it’s also the time it takes for the lemon slices to turn soft and translucent. If you carefully lift them out of the syrup before adding the basil and leave them to dry, you can use them as a zesty treat, or as a beautiful cake decoration, like this:

While basil and lemon are a match made in heaven, the method of infusing the lemon syrup while it cools down makes it very easy to vary your add-ins according to your taste and fancy. Instead of with basil, you could also flavour the lemon syrup with thyme, rosemary, mint or lemon balm. For a floral touch, you could add elderflower, lavender blooms or jasmin flowers. The edible leaves of garden geraniums give the syrup a subtle orange flavour, while purple basil adds a beautiful pink colour.

Enjoy your personal creation diluted with chilled plain or sparkly water, or combine it with gin or prosecco for a zesty summer cocktail.

Happy summer days!

Basil and lemon syrup – makes appr. 350 ml / 1½ cups


  • 500 ml / 2 cups water
  • 400 g / 2 cups sugar
  • 4 lemons, scrubbed and thinly sliced, seeds removed
  • large bunch of basil


The preparation below is aimed at yielding both the infused syrup and pretty, intact candied lemon slices. If you’re not interested in keeping the lemon slices after cooking, you can ignore all references to careful handling and chop the lemons up any way you like (keeping in mind that smaller bits will release more flavour).


Put the water and sugar in a broad and shallow pan. Bring to a boil and stir until all sugar has dissolved. Turn down the heat and keep the syrup on a low simmer. Gently place the lemon slices in the syrup. Cover the pan and let the slices simmer over a very low heat until the rinds turn translucent. Depending on their thickness, this will take approximately 30-45 minutes.

Roughly chop the basil, stalks and all, and muddle the leaves a bit to release their oil.

When the lemon slices are cooked, turn off the heat and add the basil. Leave to infuse for 1-2 hours while the syrup cools down. If you want to keep the lemon slices to decorate a cake or to serve as a sweet treat, carefully lift them out of the syrup first and leave them to dry on a wire rack.

Strain the syrup and transfer it to an airtight container. For a clear syrup, simply let it drip. If you don’t mind the syrup turning cloudy, squeeze the remaining solids to get as much liquid and flavour out of them as possible.

The syrup will keep in the fridge for up to 5 days. Use it to make lemonade with chilled plain or sparkly water, or enjoy it in a summer cocktail combined with gin or prosecco. It’s also delicious drizzled over cake or ice cream.