Mexican Mint

Find Mexico's Damiana plant in your cocktail

If lime is tequila's best girl, then damiana just might be the spirit's long-standing mistress.

Like tequila, this flowering shrub calls Mexico home, but that's just the beginning of their compatibility. Intensely aromatic, damiana has the cutting freshness of mint laced with flavors at once sweet and earthy. As such, liqueurs flavored with the plant are staple ingredients in margaritas south of the border.

And now Americans are beginning to catch on: LeNell Smothers, a former New Yorker who ran an eponymous bottle shop in Brooklyn until it shuttered, was using the stuff long before she moved to Mexico in 2009.

At Austin's hip, Mexico City-inspired restaurant La Condesa, the damiana liqueur Guaycura meets pineapple juice and blanco tequila in the restaurant's house margarita. Mixologist Nate Wales is also partial to its flavor in conjunction with another Mexican herb, epazote; the combination inspired the Old Tom Trago (see the recipe).

It'd be unfortunate to pigeonhole the plant, however, and thankfully barkeeps like Chris Keil from Tacoma, Washington's 1022 South have broken the agave-only spell: Rather than rely on a liqueur, Keil uses the plant itself in a heady rum-based drink called the Kava Colada, where the damiana plays off the sweet notes of grilled pineapple.

After years of Stateside neglect, we're happy to say that damiana may finally be firmly planted on our soil.

Editor's note: 1022 South has closed.