By Daniel Neman

St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Now is the best time of the year, when fruit and vegetables and herbs are in such abundance.

If you don’t have them in your garden, you can get them at a farmers market, a produce stand or a grocery store.

What to do with such bounty? Salads, desserts and ­entrees are the obvious answers, of course, but why not use fresh produce to punch up your cocktails, too?

Nothing is more refreshing on a hot summer’s day than a drink of cucumber, honeydew, mint and lemon vodka. Or how about a limeade with gin and cilantro?

They’re easy to make and delicious to drink. And they must be good for you (right?) because they mix fresh produce with the alcohol. Gin is a good place to start, because it is so summery and because it goes so well with botanical ingredients.

Gin-and-lemon is a drink you sometimes see referred to in old books and movies, though no one seems to make it anymore.

Still, the idea is as sound as it ever was, particularly if a simple syrup is involved (which would make it a cocktail called a Bee’s Knees).

It’s just a little step from a Bee’s Knees to our summertime sample, a Thyme Lemonade. Martha Stewart, of all people, came up with this one. You simply mix up a batch of thyme-infused simple syrup (it’s just sugar dissolved in water) and stir in fresh lemon juice, water and gin.

It’s a delightful concoction, and just the thing to beat the summer’s heat. The essence of thyme brings an unexpected complexity and depth to the drink that keeps it from being overly frivolous. Thank you, Martha.

In contrast to the other drinks, a Chasing Basil Cocktail is fairly complex in taste. The difference is a single ingredient, elderflower liqueur, such as St. Germain, which had a spasm of popularity a few years ago and can still be found in quite a few liquor cabinets.

It doesn’t take much, just a tablespoon of the liqueur to add a touch of sweet mystery to a drink featuring the now-familiar blend of cucumber, basil, lime and gin. But there is one more ingredient from the garden, too, that makes this drink special: freshly made watermelon juice.

Watermelon juice is easy to make; all you need is the red part of a watermelon and a blender. It is certainly an ingredient that deserves attention when you’re making summertime drinks.

The final drink I made, Minty Cucumber Melon Drink, was different from the

others because it wasn’t as light. It’s more of a smoothie with an alcoholic kick.

All you do is blend together a cucumber and a couple of cups of honeydew. Then you muddle some mint in the bottom of a glass, pour in the juice and add a shot of lemon vodka.

Don’t have lemon vodka? Just add regular vodka and a couple of squeezes of lemon.

It’s summer. You’re relaxing. Don’t worry about it.

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