By Jolene Renfro
A few years ago, Mother Earth News published some interesting statics: It takes an average of four months for U.S. credit card users to pay off their holiday bills. Sixty-nine percent of Americans say they would like to slow down and live a more relaxed life. Eighty-two percent of Americans polled said they would rather receive a memento of times shared rather than a store-bought gift. And finally, ten billion extra pounds of trash are produced between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day in the United States each year.
With this data in mind, here are some fabulous ideas for garden-based gift-giving and home decorating to launch you into a holiday that is less about shopping and more about sharing a gift from your hands and heart.
*Helpful hint – remember that all herbs that will be consumed must be pesticide-free.
Herbed Vinegar or Olive Oil
This herbed vinegar or oil can be used in salads and cooking. Clean a decorative bottle that has a cork or some sort of top. Or, for a rustic flair, use an old-fashioned canning jar. Fill the container with your choice of herbs from your garden (rosemary, Mexican mint marigold, peppers, garlic, parsley, sage, thyme, bay leaves, chives). Cover herbs with vinegar (rice vinegar is recommended) or oil (peanut, grapeseed, or olive) and let sit for 2-3 weeks before using. Do not heat the vinegar or oil before pouring it on the herbs, as it changes the chemistry of the liquid. Decant liquid before using to remove the small particles that may settle out.
To make a simple herbed syrup, boil 2 cups of water and stir in 2 cups of granulated white sugar until dissolved. Add spearmint to make a syrup good for mojitos, or rosemary, which is a surprisingly good addition to lemonade, or fresh ginger to drizzle over cake or fruit salad. Allow to sit until completely cooled, then cover. Strain and place in gift jars with labels and instructions on how to use them. This syrup can be refrigerated for up to a month.
Rose petals, lemon verbena, and mint make great additions to the tea purchased at
the grocery store. However, some herbs stand alone as teas themselves. Pick and dry the leaves, then place them in a tea infuser and cover them in hot water for a few minutes. Smell the aroma and sip the flavorful drink that comes from the garden. Good herbs for making tea are bee balm, yarrow, mint, chicory, or the hibiscus variety Sabdariffa calyces (use the flower bud, not the leaf). Place tea in a basket with a pretty tea cup and possibly a garden book for a great gift.
Herb Gift Basket
Plant your favorite herbs in a hand-painted terra cotta pot. Rosemary, thyme, and lemon balm are great commendations. Place the pot in a pretty basket with plant markers, gloves, etc., to make a gift that will be enjoyed by the recipient year-round.
For an unusual treat to give to a friend at Christmas, try Lavender Cookies. This recipe comes from Cindy Hoyt, who owned Pineywoods Herb Farm in Kennard. Where can I get lavender buds, you might ask. If you don’t have any on hand, they can be ordered online from a number of sellers. Just remember to order now to get them in time for your Christmas baking!
Ingredients are: 1 cup sugar, 1 cup butter, 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, ½ tsp. baking soda, ¼ tsp. salt, 2 tbsp. ground lavender buds, ½ cup chopped pecans (toasted), and 2 cups cornflakes
Cream sugar and butter. Mix dry ingredients and chopped pecans and add to creamed mixture, stirring well until combined. Fold in cornflakes (dough will be stiff). Put tablespoon-size balls of dough on a baking sheet about 2 inches apart and bake at 350 degrees for 11-13 minutes. Be careful not to overbake the cookies – you don’t want them to brown. Cool on a wire rack before storing. These cookies pair well with a glass of cranberry juice or ginger ale with a sprig of rosemary at the top – very festive-looking!
Have a Christmas full of the warmth of giving something you created, and look forward to a New Year without remorse when the bills come in. Then curl up with a garden catalog, a cup of herb tea, and dream of gardens yet to be.