Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Holiday Herbs for Fragrance & Decor

"[smells] bear unfaltering, in the tiny and almost impalpable

drop of their essence, the vast structure of recollection."
Marcel Proust, Remembrance of Things Past.

Olfactory-triggered nostalgia fills the air at Christmas time. In particular, the aroma of coriander, nutmeg, allspice, cloves and cinnamon open the floodgates to memories of Christmases past.

Decorations like pomanders add beauty to your home during the festive season. Making them is a fun project for the whole family. Children get enthusiastically involved in the hands-on creative activity.
Make a Holiday Pomander

To make a holiday pomander you will need the following:
· 4-6 firm, thin-skinned oranges (lemons and/or limes will also work)
· ½ cup (125ml) of ground cinnamon
· ¼ cup (60ml) of ground cloves
· Approximately 100 grams of whole cloves
· 1 Tbsp. (15ml) of ground allspice
· 1 Tbsp. (15ml) of ground nutmeg
· 1 Tbsp. (15ml) of orrisroot.
The cloves should completely cover the oranges if you're planning to display the pomanders in a bowl. If you want to hang them from the Christmas tree or mantelpiece, leave a half-inch vertical groove around the fruit to accommodate the ribbon. The cloves can be directly inserted into the oranges, but to avoid bruising the
fruit, first piece the skin with a skewer.

The cloves should be close, but not crowded or touching. The fruit will shrink to about 75 per cent of its original size during the curing process. Also, the skin may split if the cloves are too close. Don't leave a half-studded orange to finish the next day as rot may start to set in.

Mix the curing spices, the cinnamon, cloves, allspice, nutmeg and orrisroot in a small bowl. Orrisroot is the ground, dried root of the orris iris. It's commonly used to "fix" or set the fragrance of the other ingredients in pot-pourris and perfumery and has a barely perceptible fragrance of violets. It's readily available in any craft or floral supply store.

Place half the mixture in a large bowl and lay the studded pomanders on top. Pour the rest of the spice mix over the pomanders so that they are completely covered. Add more spice mixture if necessary. Place the pomanders in a dry, dark closet and turn them daily. Depending on the fruit and its size, the curing process will take three to four weeks. When the pomanders are firm, they are cured.

The pomanders are fragrant, spirit-lifting and beautiful, they will also repel moths when hung in your closet or placed in drawers. They will last forever. When their scent wanes, just add a little essential oil of your choice.
Fun and Fragrant Garlands

Garlands are another simple holiday decoration for fragrance and fun. Take pieces of kitchen twine and suspend bunches of fresh, dried herbs and slices of dried fruit such as apples, oranges and lemons. Dried fruit slices can be purchased from your local craft store, but if you prefer to do it yourself, use a dehydrator or slice the fruit thinly, then place them on a rack in a 95 degree C (200F) oven for about six hours.

For the first two or three hours it's best to prop open the oven door just a crack with a wooden spoon to allow the moisture to escape. When drying apples, first dissolve one teaspoon of salt in a quarter cup of lemon juice. Dip the apple slices in this solution and they will retain their natural color after drying.

Suggested herbs for your garland or swag would be sage, thyme, marjoram, oregano, rosemary, bay leaves and cinnamon sticks, but you can use whatever is available. Add small bunches of holly and mistletoe for extra decoration.
Herbal Table Napkins

Herbal table napkin holders make a fragrant and appealing table decoration. Fasten a small herbal bouquet of parsley, rosemary, sage or thyme with an elastic band and tie the bouquet directly to the napkin ring with a ribbon in a bow. The choice of herbs will be determined by what's still thriving in your garden or what's available in the stores. The herbs must be fresh. Dried herbs will just make a mess on your table.

Make this Christmas especially festive and fragrant while involving your children or grandchildren in these creative projects.

Bruce Burnett is a chartered herbalist who has also won four Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) Gold awards for travel journalism. Read more of Bruce Burnett's writing on his websites:

1. [http://www.globalramble.com/]

2. http://www.bruceburnett.ca/

3. http://www.herbalcuisine.com/

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