I love barley. Especially when it comes in the form of barley water. Weather here in Nottingham has been pretty muggy the past couple of days, and I felt a sore throat coming on. I was downing glasses of water constantly, but every morning I still woke up with cracked lips and a parched throat. Something had to be done.
Luckily, my friend Cheryl had a packet of barley (from Sainsbury) in her pantry. I floated the idea of barley water and she was pretty keen. So yesterday we filled a pot with water put it to boil. The first batch we did was quite good, not too sweet - we added a little rock sugar - and we'd boiled it for an hour and a bit so it had that great barley taste. The two of us finished up the pot by this morning. (Actually, I drank most of it - probably three-quarters of the pot.)
Today's weather was just as bad, and I was craving for barley again. I love chewing on the barley beans! (They're just like chewing on the tapioca pearls in bubble tea, but a lot healthier!) So we got out the pot and beans again. This time we put a lot more beans in, and only a little more water than before. The last time we left it to boil for too long and the beans burst and there was very little water because it had all been absorbed.
We probably had it on for about 45 minutes this time (compared to 1 hour 15 minutes last time), and it was just right. The beans were nice and chewy, and not hard in the middle. I think the cooking time may depend on the beans, so you might need to do a little trial-and-error if you decide to make some of your own.
It's been about 2 hours since the barley water was ready, and almost the whole pot is gone. Cheryl probably only had a couple of mugs, and her boyfriend Jonathan had one too, the rest was enthusiastically downed by yours truly. I swear - chewing those beans are addictive!
Here's how you can make barley water for yourself:
 Put in enough barley to cover the base of the pot. You can always put more, but remember that you need to have enough water for it to be barley water. Of course, having more will mean more beans to eat, and a thicker concentration of barley flavour.
 Bring the water to a boil. Once it starts boiling, it is important to turn it down to a simmer. If not, everything is going to bubble over and you're going to end up with a huge mess. Don't leave the stove unattended for too long - you must check it from time to time! The instructions on the barley packet suggested bringing the water to a boil (with the beans inside) and then draining the hot water, rinsing with cold water, and adding more cold water before bringing to a boil again. (We did that the first time but the second time we didn't and it didn't seem to make a difference, so it's up to you if you want to do that.)
 Add the rock sugar near the end, it should dissolve fairly quickly and you can just add it to taste. Of course, if this is meant to be a healthy drink you shouldn't be adding copious amounts of sugar anyway.
Barley water can be drunk hot off the stove, warm or kept in the fridge and drunk cold. It is usually drunk by the Chinese for its cooling effect, and the beans are usually thrown out. However, as far as I know they do no harm if consumed. (If they do, I'm screwed.) Barley water is great for reducing 'heatiness', and my mom used to boil us barley water when she thought we seemed feverish.
Hmm. All this talk of barley is making me thirsty - I'm off to get myself a cup now!
Herbal properties of barley
An illustrated herbal dictionary