The dark days of winter have always been marked
by celebration. Life seems dormant and we feel the need to bring
light and warmth to this cold period with ceremony and candlelight.
In religions that predate Christianity, festivals of differing
cultures marked the return of the sun, the winter solstice. Our
current rituals grew from a combination of traditions and
superstitions from the Druids, the Romans’ Saturnalia, and the
Norse candlelight ceremonies to today’s solstice traditions of
Christmas and Hanukkah.
The hardy beauty of nature is brought indoors with aromatic pine
boughs and fir trees, scenting the home with the perfume of winter.
As the blazing Yule log burns in the fireplace, we enjoy this time
of inward reflection with dear ones, a good book, and dreams of the
This celebratory time is often disrupted with the stress of what
to buy the special people in our lives. But gift-giving needn’t be
stressful, nor expensive. Use one of the recipes on the following
pages to create the perfect gift, or use your imagination—these
recipes may spark some unique ideas of your own!
The delightful gifts you make will become treasures for your
friends and help to recreate the holidays as a festivity of the
heart. May peace, love, and joy fill your hearts this holiday
Mindy Green is an herbalist, aromatherapist, educator, and
writer. She is also an esthetician, a consultant to the natural
products industry, and director of education at the Herb Research
Foundation in Boulder, Colorado. She is the author of Calendula
(Keats, 1998), Natural Perfumes (Interweave, 1999), and co-author
of Aromatherapy: A Complete Guide to the Healing Art (The Crossing
Gifts that pamper the physical form are always welcome treats.
Handmade gifts reflect both you and the recipient—they are given
not only with that special person in mind but also reflect your
thoughtfulness and willingness to spend time on gift- making. They
are always more appreciated than simply spending money. These gifts
are also made with fresh, safe, and natural ingredients, which is a
HERBAL OAT SCRUB
Makes 1 cup
This gentle herbal exfoliant will keep your skin smooth and soft
all winter long. For use on the face or body.
1/2 cup oatmeal
1/4 cup cornmeal
1/4 cup dried lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) or peppermint
Grind all of the ingredients to a fine powder in a coffee
grinder or blender and store in an airtight container. For a facial
scrub, apply a small amount of the powder to damp skin and gently
scrub, then rinse with warm water. To use as a mask, mix 1
tablespoon of the powder with honey, rose water, yogurt, or mashed
fruit to achieve the desired consistency, apply, and leave on for
10 minutes. Rinse with warm water.
Makes 2 cups
1 cup borax
1/2 cup sea salt
1/2 cup baking soda
1 teaspoon essential oil
Mix all of the ingredients together and store in a glass
container. Add 1/4 to 1/2 cup to bath water to soften and
delicately scent your skin. If stored in a covered glass container,
the bath salts will keep indefinitely.
BODY SILK POWDER
Makes 1 cup
1/2 cup arrowroot
1/2 cup cornstarch
2 tablespoons orris root powder (Iris spp.)
2 tablespoons clay powder
1 teaspoon essential oil
Over a bowl, sift the dry ingredients through a screen to break
up lumps. Add the essential oil and mix well. Store in an airtight
glass container. For baby powder, use only 1/4 teaspoon each of
lavender and neroli essential oils. One teaspoon each of myrrh
(Commiphora spp.) and goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis) powder may
be added for diaper rash.
Makes about 1/4 to1/3 cup
The perfect gift for those dry days of winter. This will ensure
soft, supple lips throughout the frigid season.
1/4 cup almond oil
1/4 ounce (2 tablespoons) grated beeswax
1 capsule (400 IU) vitamin E
2 drops peppermint essential oil
Warm the almond oil in a small pan and add the beeswax. Stir
until melted (don’t overheat). Remove from the heat, prick the
vitamin E capsule, and squeeze the oil into the mixture. Then add
the peppermint oil, stir, and pour the mixture into several
shallow, wide-mouth containers. Allow to cool.
SOOTHING BODY SHAMPOO
Makes about 3/4 cup
1/2 cup liquid soap
1/4 cup rose water or lavender tea (steep 2 tablespoons of dried
lavender flowers in 1/4 cup of boiling water for 10 minutes, then
1 teaspoon lavender essential oil
Mix all of the ingredients well and bottle for use. This also
makes a great bubble bath.
These fragrant sweeteners may be used in beverages, desserts, or
meat dishes. The following is a list of herbs that may be infused
into the honey. Whole herbs are more appealing to the eye—for
instance, use a large piece of fresh orange peel and stud it with
cloves. Use whole cinnamon sticks rather than crushed, and whole
rose buds and stalks of dried lavender instead of petals. To make
these honeys, loosely stuff a jar of any size full of herbs, and
pour in honey to fill the jar and cover the herbs. Let the mixture
“steep” together for several weeks, or warm the herbs and honey
together for faster release of flavors.
Rosemary honey is tasty on chicken; citrus peel and clove honey
is wonderful in tea. Mix and match the herbs for a more unique
flavor combination. Try lavender, fresh citrus peel, cinnamon
sticks, whole cloves, mint, fresh ginger, rosemary, sage, roses,
bay, or star anise. If you have access to fresh herbs, you can use
them, but dried herbs work well.
Makes 1 ounce
2 vanilla beans
1 ounce alcohol (such as vodka, brandy, rum, or cognac)
Slit the vanilla beans lengthwise to expose the inner seeds.
Place the beans in 1 ounce of alcohol in a covered glass jar. Leave
for 2 to 3 weeks. Don’t strain; when the extract is used up, simmer
the beans into milk for pudding.
ROSE HIP SYRUP OR JAM
Makes about 21/2 to 3 cups, depending on desired consistency
The colorful fruit of winter—bright, tart, and full of vitamin
1/2 cup dried rose hips (no seeds or fuzz)
3 cups apple juice
1/2 cup honey
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1/4 cup rose water
Place the rose hips and the apple juice in a nonreactive pan;
cover and refrigerate overnight. Remove from the refrigerator, put
the pan on the stove, and bring it to a boil. Remove from the heat,
puree in a blender, and strain to remove any seeds. Return to the
pot and add the honey and lemon juice. Simmer over low heat to the
desired consistency for syrup or jam. Add the rose water last.
For the home
The burning of fragrant plant material is a ritual as old as
humankind. It was done to bring us closer to a higher power, to
protect us from harm, and as a vehicle to lift our prayers to the
heavens. Whether it was pine pitch, frankincense, juniper, or sage,
all cultures employed this ceremony to mark this special season of
the return to light.
To make, mix equal parts of cinnamon powder, allspice, pine
needles, and frankincense and sprinkle over a charcoal incense
burner or atop a wood stove.
YULETIDE SPIRIT MIST
Makes 3 to 4 ounces
This essential oil blend makes a wonderful room mist; spray it
on the Christmas tree (or in the room as an air freshener) to keep
that fresh, evergreen scent throughout the holiday weeks.
15 drops fir
10 drops orange
4 drops frankincense
3 drops rosemary
2 drops atlas cedar
2 drops vanilla
3 drops bay laurel
1 drop peppermint
1 drop cinnamon
Add all of the oils to a 3- or 4-ounce spray bottle and fill
with water. Shake well before spraying.
Makes 3 to 4 pillows
These small pillows fit easily beneath your feather pillows.
Their fragrance will lull you into dreamland faster than you can
say Santa Claus, facilitating dreams of your heart’s desires.
1 ounce dried hops
2 ounces dried chamomile
1 ounce dried roses
2 ounces dried lavender
5 drops Roman chamomile essential oil
10 drops lavender essential oil
Mix all of the herbs together and sprinkle the oils on them.
Stuff the mixture into an 8-inch square swatch of exotic fabric or
a small cloth bag, and sew or tie closed.
The Yule log is traditionally burned on New Year’s Eve to usher
in good fortune for the coming year. It is created in the spirit of
prayer or ritual for the fulfillment of dreams, hopes, and wishes
for prosperity, happiness, peace, or whatever you want the New Year
to bring. As you create the log, perform each action with intention
for your dreams to come true.
Start by tying a red ribbon around the middle of a large piece
of firewood. There are many items that can be used to decorate the
log such as moss, rosemary sprigs, cinnamon sticks, whole nutmeg,
rose hips, frankincense resin, fir branches, pinecones, or prayers
written down, rolled up, and tied with pieces of string. Attach all
of the ornaments with drippings from a beeswax candle. As you burn
the log, your mind can drift to the blessings placed with great
intention on the log.
This special time of year is resplendent with not only the
fragrances of nature but of the table full of spiced, festive fare.
Winter, more than any other season, is sure to offer the scents of
cinnamon from mulled cider, nutmeg and allspice from still-warm
fruitcakes, and a myriad of other mouth-watering delights from the
These spices are mixed into a festive, warming drink by
combining them with a favorite wine or with apple juice. Pack this
seasonal gift into a special jar with a small wooden scoop or
bundle 2 tablespoons into a 7-inch-square piece of cheesecloth.
Gather the corners and tie with a string and a long piece of
cinnamon stick or a dried strip of orange peel around the top.
2 parts cinnamon sticks, broken
1 part dried orange peel
1/4 part cloves, slightly crushed
1/4 part powdered nutmeg
1/2 part allspice, slightly crushed
1/4 part dried ginger
Cardamom or star anise, slightly crushed, optional
Combine all of the ingredients. Simmer 2 tablespoons of the
spice blend (or one bundled sachet) in 1 quart of wine or apple
juice. The longer it simmers, the stronger it gets. If you’re in a
hurry, use more of the mixture, but don’t let it simmer as long.
Strain and serve.
Makes about 21/4 cups (10 to 12 servings)
The perfect nightcap as you sit in the waning firelight.
2 vanilla beans
1 ounce dried rose petals
1 ounce vitex berries (Vitex agnus-castus)
1/2 ounce damiana
2 cups brandy
1/4 cup rosewater
Slit the vanilla beans lengthwise and cut them into 1-inch
pieces. Combine the beans with the other ingredients in a glass
container and let the mixture soak, covered, for 2 weeks, shaking
daily. Strain, add the rosewater, and bottle. Sip in special
The perfect nutritious condiment—great to eat while you watch
your favorite seasonal movie.
3 parts nutritional yeast flakes
1 part dill weed
Dash each of: cumin, chili powder, paprika, garlic, cayenne, and
Mix all of the ingredients. Drizzle your popcorn with butter or
olive oil and sprinkle on the spice mixture.
Essential oil blends
HERBAL BATH BLENDS
Mix together equal parts of each of the following dried herbs
and add 1 cup of the herb blend to 3 quarts of boiling water. Let
the mixture steep until cool, then strain into a full tub. You can
use the stimulating blend if you are on an endless party list, or
soak away the stresses of the day with the relaxing blend.
Bay (Laurus nobilis)
Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus globulus)
Ginger (Zingiber officinale)
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)
Sage (Salvia officinalis)
Chamomile (Matricaria recutita)
Comfrey (Symphytum officinale)
Hops (Humulus lupulus)
Linden (Tilia ¥europaea)
Rose (Rosa spp.)
SCENTED BODY OIL
Makes 2 ounces
2 ounces almond oil
30 drops essential oil (see list below)
Apply as an after-bath moisturizing oil, or use as a massage
Lemon (Caution: Use a small amount; too much can irritate the
Peppermint (Caution: Use a small amount; too much can irritate the
Especially for him
For the man who has everything.
BAY RUM AFTERSHAVE
Makes 1/2 cup
1 teaspoon whole allspice
1 teaspoon whole cloves
1 teaspoon cinnamon bark
1 teaspoon cardamom pods
1 handful crushed bay leaves
1/2 cup rum
Orange flower water
10 drops sandalwood essential oil
Crush the allspice, cloves, cinnamon, and cardamom with a mortar
and pestle, and mix the herbs with the bay leaves. Place the herbs
in a clean glass jar, and cover them with the rum. Soak the mixture
for 2 weeks, shaking daily. Strain and dilute the liquid with an
equal part of orange flower water (available at Middle-Eastern
markets and some health-food stores) and 10 drops of sandalwood
MALE TONIC ELIXIR
Makes 21/2 cups
2 ginseng roots, either American (Panax quinquefolius) or Asian
1 ounce fo-ti (Polygonum multiflorum)
1/2 ounce dried ginger
1/2 ounce damiana (Turnera diffusa)
1/2 ounce saw palmetto berries (Serenoa repens)
2 slices astragalus root (Astragalus membranaceus)
2 cups brandy
1/2 cup pure cherry fruit concentrate or honey
Crush all of the herbs and cover them with about 2 cups of
brandy (or just enough to cover the herbs). Let sit for 2 weeks,
shaking daily, then strain. Add fruit concentrate or honey, and
bottle. Take 1 tablespoon daily.