Mother Earth Living

A Garden of Giving

Break free from the shop-and-spend tradition this holiday season with hand-made, heartfelt gifts.
BY BARBARA BERST ADAMS
December/January 2004
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Illustration by Michael Otteman
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In a world that often feels too rushed, too impersonal and too slick, beautiful hand-crafted gifts offer personality and usefulness to everyone on your holiday gift list. That they can also put your herb garden’s bounty within reach is an added benefit. If you’re hungry for inspiration and short on time, we have some ideas for you. Read on.

Since food and body care products always need replenishing, they often top gift lists. If you make your own gift, you’ll eliminate the likelihood that the recipient already has three just like it. It’s especially hard to go wrong with food items: If cousin Jane isn’t a salsa lover —despite the brilliant addition of your lemon basil — she can share it generously at her next office party or when company comes.

Body care gifts such as herbal bath oils and facial steam kits are particularly popular with teen and adult women. Even if the recipient has a favorite commercial brand, she’ll find your sweet-smelling, luxurious herbal offerings a sensual treat.

CUSTOMIZE THE PRESENTATION

Most people on your list will enjoy thoughtfully packaged specialty food items or collections. Here are some single gift and packaging ideas to consider:

For those who don’t cook from scratch. Some of your busy loved ones will appreciate having the cooking, preserving and baking done for them. Unique packaging or delivery ideas can make all the difference, such as a gift certificate for a complete home-delivered, herb-flavored chicken dinner (see herbed chicken recipe on Page 41) to be claimed whenever the recipient most needs it. Or consider a basket containing an assortment of your special recipes for salsa, spaghetti sauce, breads, pickles, salad dressings, pie filling, relishes or jams and jellies. Customize each gift. For example, give the family with young children a vat of your delicious basil-drenched spaghetti sauce mix along with a baggie of animal- or alphabet-shaped pasta tied with a ribbon. The health-conscious couple on your list might be more honored with organic spelt pasta accompanying the same pasta sauce. That friend with food allergies might feel quite loved with a gift of egg-free, wheat-free sweet breads flavored with lemon verbena.

For friends who cook. Consider a collection of unusual herbal ingredients including flavored sugars, butters and salts (see Rosemary Salt recipe on Page 40), muslin bags of dried soup and stew mixes, and flavored vinegars they can use in their favorite recipes. A pretty bottle of homemade herbal vinegar (see recipes on Page 40) makes a thoughtful gift for neighbors during the holidays, or a “thank you” to business associates or the hostess of a dinner party. If you intend to make herbal vinegars, remember to stock up on attractive decorative bottles throughout the year.

Body care. Hand-crafted body-care products can be customized and packaged in many ways, such as a sampler of small containers of herbal bubble bath, bath salts, facial steam bags, soap bars, body scrubs or after-shower splashes arranged in a basket. For another sampler gift, fill a large, decorative jar with basic recipe bath salts (see recipe on Page 40) and surround the jar with muslin bath bags filled with different dried herbal bath mixtures. The bags float in the hot water or hang from the faucet as hot water flows out, so scents and therapeutic benefits are added to the salts’ benefits, while the tub remains free of herb residue (see Mint Bath Salts recipe on Page 40).

While nonperishables may be the most practical body-care products, a hard-to-find luxury is “live” spa mixtures such as facial masks containing just-picked clary sage, cucumber, organic peach and honey yogurt. Offer a sister or friend a gift certificate of freshly prepared facial and bath ingredients on her chosen day, along with the offer to take her children for an afternoon while she indulges.

If you make your own gift, you’ll eliminate the likelihood that the recipient already has three just like it.

CHILD-FRIENDLY GIFTS

Food gifts can’t always replace the latest brand name toy their friends received at Christmas; however, many children find food a great gift if it’s given just to them. For example, an entire gallon jar of pickles labeled “Jason’s Pickles,” will win his 10-year-old heart. Lavender or chocolate mint-scented bath salts labeled especially for Cindy will let her know how special she is. For older children, and those without younger siblings, put kid-safe, waterproof trinkets inside handmade soap or bottles of bath salts. (Caution: Never put items in soap or salts if it could be a choking hazard for small children.)

For slightly older youngsters, consider a package containing ingredients for a homemade spaghetti or pizza party for six, or herbal lemon-flavored cookie dough in a jar for kids learning to bake all by themselves. Another possibility is the herbal ingredients for foods found in beloved children’s literature, along with the book itself. Examples include Peter Rabbit’s chamomile tea, or the recipes found in the books of Laura Ingalls Wilder or Tasha Tudor.

As a young teenager, my daughter enjoyed receiving a small porcelain electric potpourri steamer with bags of dried herbs to choose from for scenting her bedroom. Making your own potpourri is quite simple (see recipes on Page 39) and offers teens striving for independence a scent all their own. Potpourri is also a great gift teens can make.

THE PACKAGE IS PART OF THE GIFT

You can package your gift with herbal flair as well. Make the process fun for kids or make it a solo adult project, with your favorite holiday music playing at the perfect decibel level and your favorite beverage by your side. With a hot-glue gun, fasten dried herb sprigs to the lids of jars that contain preserves or body products, or simply tuck a sprig of lavender into the finished bow. Whether your favorite herbs make a simple or complex statement, we hope you enjoy giving away the garden.

Barbara Berst Adams is the author of Micro Eco-Farming: Pros- pering from Backyard to Small Acreage in Partnership with the Earth (New World Publishing), www.nwpub.net.

Please let us know about your favorite herb-related gift by logging onto our online forum at www.herb companion.com or writing “In Basket,” c/o The Herb Companion, 1503 SW 42nd. St., Topeka, KS 66609. We welcome your comments on the successes — or dismal failures — of these projects, new ideas or photos of your favorite herbal creations.

Recipes

VINEGARS

These are great gifts to give the non-cook – and you don’t have to be much of a cook to make them in the first place. Print simple recipes on small cards and tie them to the bottle so the recipient knows what to do with the vinegars. And even if they don’t use the vinegar, the bottle will look great on their kitchen counter.

NOTE: The U.S. Department of Agriculture warns not to pack the jar too full of herbs because the vinegar-to-vegetation ratio will dilute the vinegar, reducing its acidity and creating an environment for bacteria.

HERBAL GARDEN CELEBRATION VINEGAR

1 quart white wine vinegar or champagne vinegar
4 sprigs fresh rosemary
4 sprigs fresh thyme
2 large cloves of garlic, peeled and halved

Combine ingredients in a jar or bottle with a tight-fitting lid. Use a chopstick to push herbs down into bottles. Add parsley to boost flavor, nutritional content and beauty. Refrigerate vinegars for best shelf life and food safety.

SPICY RED WINE HERBAL VINEGAR

1 quart red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons whole black peppercorns
2 cloves garlic, halved and lightly crushed
4 sprigs fresh oregano

Combine ingredients in a jar or bottle with a tight-fitting lid. Use a chopstick to push herbs down into bottles. Add parsley to boost flavor, nutritional content and beauty. Refrigerate vinegars for best shelf life and food safety.

ROSEMARY SALT

This flavored salt can be kept for months in an airtight jar and has a fantastic, intense flavor that’s great with any dish that harmonizes with rosemary.

3 sprigs fresh rosemary
Zest of 1 lemon
3 ounces sea or kosher salt

Remove the leaves from rosemary and put in the mortar with lemon zest and salt. Using the pestle, crush rosemary leaves to make a paste, adding more salt if it is too wet. Push through a sieve, and sprinkle on any finished dish to serve.

QUICKIE BATH SALTS

One part Epsom, sea or kosher salt to one part baking soda and add a few drops of your favorite essential oil.

MINT BATH SALTS

Makes about twelve 12-ounce gift jars

12 (12-ounce) tall jelly-canning jars with lid and rings
2 (4-pound) cartons Epsom Salts (approximately 16 cups)
4 pounds sea salt or kosher salt (approximately 6 cups)
1/2 teaspoon glycerin, divided
12 to 15 drops peppermint essential oil
12 to 15 drops green food color
70 mint leaves (any type of mint works), washed and thoroughly dried, but still pliable and fresh

Wash, rinse and dry canning jars. Empty one carton Epsom salts into large mixing bowl (I use my mixer). Add 3 cups sea salt and stir well. Stir in 1/4 teaspoon glycerin and 6 to 8 drops essential oil. Mix well.

In second large mixing bowl, empty one carton Epsom salts, and add 3 cups sea salt. Stir well. Add 1/4 teaspoon glycerin, 6 to 8 drops essential oil and food color.

Stir until completely blended. Color should be even.

Layer the white salt with the fresh mint leaves (poking out at sides so visible in jar), then layer green salt over. Top with fresh mint leaves for a sensational aroma.

LAURA’S HERB-ROASTED CHICKEN

These herb-roasted chicken breasts are delicious comfort food served with whipped red potatoes and herb-poached leeks.

4 chicken breasts with bone and skin
4 tablespoons salted butter (room temperature)
4 heaping tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon
4 heaping tablespoons chopped fresh chives
2 heaping tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
Kosher salt
Black pepper, freshly ground

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Trim chicken breasts of fat and trim all but one middle flap of the breast skin. Rinse chicken breasts and pat completely dry.

Combine softened butter, chopped tarragon, chopped chives and chopped parsley; add a small pinch of kosher salt. Mix well.

Using your hands, rub butter-herb mixture all over chicken and especially under the skin flap on top of breast and on the bottom of the breastbone. Repeat with all 4 breasts.

Place chicken breasts, skin side up in a shallow roasting pan. Make sure that chicken breasts are at least 5 inches away from each other so that they roast rather than steam. Sprinkle with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Place in preheated oven and roast until the juices run clear, approximately 35 to 40 minutes. Test with a meat thermometer if there is any doubt.

Recipes created by Laura C. Whalen, Thyme to Savor Personal Chef Service.


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