The crowded malls, gift-wrapping, travel organizing — the frenzy of the holidays can turn anyone into a scrooge. And while expensive presents might be the first things you see at the mall, sometimes the best gifts are homemade, especially when they are created with love and healing herbs.
This year, simplify your gift list with these do-it-yourself herbal goodies.
FOR THE GOURMET
Gifts that make meal preparation easier will be gifts that keep on giving. These spice and herbal treats add a gourmet touch!
This jelly is delightful over vegetables, roasted potatoes or meats.
1 cup fresh rosemary, chopped
2 cups water
4 cups sugar
1/4 cup cider vinegar
3 ounces liquid pectin
1/2 cup fresh rosemary, chopped
To make herbal infusion, place 1 cup chopped rosemary in a nonmetallic bowl. Bring water to a boil and pour over rosemary. Cover and steep until cool. Strain, pressing liquid out of rosemary. In a nonaluminum saucepan, combine 2 cups infusion with sugar and vinegar. Bring to a boil over high heat and add pectin as soon as sugar has completely dissolved. Return to a rolling boil, stirring constantly, for one minute. Remove from heat and skim off any foam. Stir 1/2 cup chopped rosemary into jelly and pour into sterilized half-pint jars. Cap with a two-piece canning lid and process in a hot-water bath for 5 minutes. Makes 4 to 5 half-pint jars.
HERBES DE PROVENCE
This classic French blend is good with lamb, chicken, vegetables or any tomato-based dish.
4 tablespoons dried thyme
2 tablespoons dried marjoram
1 tablespoon dried rosemary
1 tablespoon dried savory
2 teaspoons dried lavender flowers
1 teaspoon dried fennel seeds
Mix all herbs together and store in airtight glass spice jars.
Herbal vinegars lend a luscious lift to mayonnaise, sauces or salads. You can use a single herb or a combination of herbs for a signature vinegar.
1 cup fresh herbs, such as tarragon, chives, basil, rosemary, thyme, dill, garlic or lavender
1 quart cider, white wine or red wine vinegar
Bruise herbs slightly and place in a glass or ceramic bowl; set aside. Bring vinegar to a boil in a saucepan. Pour over herbs. Cover and steep overnight. Strain mixture and discard herbs. Pour into sterilized bottles with fresh herb sprigs and cap or cork tightly. Makes four 8-ounce bottles.
FOR THE TEA LOVER
Whether the recipient loves hosting tea parties or prefers solitary comfort, these classic tea-time goodies are sure to be a hit.
Make sure you include the fresh peppermint — it’s the key to this shortbread’s great flavor. The finished shortbread keeps up to a week.
3/4 cup (11/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
9 tablespoons sugar
11/2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 teaspoon peppermint extract
2 cups flour
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh peppermint leaves
1/8 teaspoon salt
Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
In large bowl, cream butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Beat in egg and extracts. Add flour while beating on low speed. Stir in peppermint leaves and salt. Divide dough into three portions. Place on plastic wrap and roll into cylinders, 11/4 inches in diameter. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill for 1 hour or until firm. (This dough can be made ahead and frozen unbaked for one month. Thaw slightly in refrigerator before baking.)
Unwrap dough and slice into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Place slices close together on baking sheets. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, until bottom edges are just barely brown. Remove to rack to cool. Makes 5 dozen cookies.
LEMON BALM TEA BREAD
This lemony bread adds a bright note to a winter day.
3/4 cup milk
1 tablespoon finely chopped lemon balm
1 tablespoon finely chopped lemon thyme
2 cups flour
11/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
Juice of 2 lemons
Lightly oil a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Heat milk with chopped herbs over low heat. Remove from heat and cool.
Meanwhile, mix flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl. In another bowl, cream butter and gradually beat in sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, one at a time. Beat in lemon zest. Add flour mixture and herbed milk to butter mixture alternately and mix until just blended.
Pour batter into the loaf pan and bake for 50 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from pan to a wire rack set over a sheet of waxed paper.
To prepare lemon glaze, combine lemon juice and enough confectioner’s sugar to form a pourable paste in a small bowl.
Pour lemon glaze over bread while still hot. Cool completely.
ENGLISH ROSE TEA
Visions of an English countryside will come to mind while drinking this very delicate tea.
1/2 cup dried red rose petals
2 tablespoons dried lemon balm
1 tablespoon dried rosemary
Mix well and store in an airtight container. Attach the following instructions on a gift tag:
For 1 cup of tea, use 1 teaspoon of herbs in a cup of boiling water. Steep for 10 minutes, strain and sweeten if desired.
Aches, pains, sprains and bruises are all part of the package for weekend warriors. Bundle these herbal remedies with a reusable ice pack, a natural sunscreen and some lip balm for the active folks on your list.
This healing massage oil is great for muscle aches and stiff joints.
2-inch piece fresh ginger
1/2 cup almond oil
Grate ginger and combine with oil in a small, nonmetallic saucepan. Cover and simmer over low heat for 1 hour. Remove from heat and steep for another hour. Strain oil to remove bits of ginger. Using a nonmetallic funnel, pour liniment into a four-ounce glass bottle with a tight-fitting screw top. Attach the following instructions on a gift tag:
To use, gently massage the oil into affected area twice a day until symptoms have disappeared.
FOR THE ATHLETE
CITRUS-SALT FOOT SCRUB
Athletes are incredibly hard on their feet. This easy-to-make formula leaves even the roughest feet smooth and energized.
2 pounds Dead Sea salts
1 pound Epsom salts
1/4 cup borax
1/2 cup jojoba oil
1/3 cup vitamin E
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 pound grated unscented soap, natural or organic
1 tablespoon glycerin
1 tablespoon lime essential oil
1 teaspoon ground lime peel
1 teaspoon orange peel, ground
2 teaspoons vitamin C powder
Combine ingredients in a small glass bowl, mixing well. Pack into glass jars with a tight-fitting lid. Attach the following instructions on a gift tag:
Scoop out a handful of the scrub and gently massage into feet, concentrating on particularly rough spots, such as the heels. Rinse feet well and pat dry.
SPORTS BATH TEA
This tea helps to soak away aches and pains while filling the bath with a relaxing fragrance.
1 cup dried chamomile
12 dried bay leaves, crushed
1/4 cup dried rose petals
1/4 cup dried sage
1/4 cup dried rosemary
1/4 cup dried eucalyptus
Premade muslin bags or large sealable tea bags
Stir herbs together in a large bowl, mixing well. Fill each bag with the blend. If using muslin bags, tightly tie the top with a piece of long ribbon to close. Attach the following instructions on a gift tag:
Place the tea bag in fairly warm bathwater and swish through the water to release the essential oils. Relax and enjoy!
FOR THE SPA ENTHUSIAST
There’s no need to pay steep prices to give that special someone a true spa experience. Add a loofah or sea sponge and a scented candle to complete this pampering gift.
VICTORIAN FACIAL SCRUB
This vintage scrub is just as effective today for softening the complexion as it was in the 1890s.
1 cup dried rose petals
1 cup dried lavender
1 cup oatmeal
1/2 cup chopped almonds
6 drops chamomile essential oil
Grind herbs, oatmeal and almonds in a blender or food processor until very fine. Stir in essential oil and pack in decorative four-ounce glass jars with tight-fitting lids. Attach the following instructions on a gift tag:
Rub a handful of the scrub gently into damp skin using small, circular motions. Allow it to dry on the skin for a minute or so, then rinse well.
HERBAL WATERS BATH OIL
This sensuous oil turns any bath into a pampering spa treatment full of moisturizing plant oils and skin-friendly herbal essential oils.
1 cup almond oil
2 cups avocado oil
2 green tea bags
10 drops lavender essential oil
8 drops chamomile essential oil
4 drops ylang-ylang essential oil
2 drops rose geranium essential oil
Warm almond and avocado oils in a small saucepan. Remove from heat, add tea bags and let steep until cool. Remove herbs and combine tea-infused oil with remaining ingredients in a 12-ounce glass bottle with a lid or a stopper. Close tightly and shake well to mix the oils. Store mixture in a cool, dark place for 24 hours to allow the oils to blend. Attach the following instructions on a gift tag:
To use, add 2 ounces to your bath water.
WARMING SPICE BATH POWDER
This spice-scented powder is wonder-fully warming after a hot bath on a cold winter night.
1 cup cornstarch, arrowroot or rice powder
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground cloves
2 teaspoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons ground nutmeg
3 drops cinnamon essential oil
Combine dry ingredients in a glass bowl and stir well to mix. Add essential oil, stirring again to disperse the oil throughout the mixture. Carefully pour powder into a glass container with a shaker lid and cap tightly.
FOR THE PAMPERED PET
Don’t forget your furry friends during the holidays. These make wonderful stocking stuffers.
1 cup whole-wheat flour
1/4 cup soy flour
1 teaspoon catnip
2 tablespoons wheat germ
1/3 cup powdered milk
1 tablespoon molasses
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/3 cup milk
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine dry ingredients together, then add molasses, egg, oil and milk. Mix well until dough sticks together. Roll dough out on a floured board to 1/4-inch thickness. Cut into small pieces and place on a greased cookie sheet. Bake for 20 minutes. Cool and store in tightly sealed container.
MINTY DOG BISCUITS
2 cups whole-wheat flour
1/2 cup wheat germ
1/4 cup yellow cornmeal
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 tablespoons honey
3/4 cup water
2 teaspoons peppermint extract
1/4 cup cornmeal, divided
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place first 4 ingredients in medium mixing bowl. Blend with a whisk. Add oil, honey, water and peppermint extract. Mix well. Knead for at least 1 minute. Sprinkle 1/8 cup cornmeal listed over a sheet of wax paper. Place dough on wax paper. Sprinkle remaining 1/8 cup cornmeal on top of dough. Roll out to 1/4-inch thickness. Cut with desired cookie cutter or with a sharp knife and place on greased cookie sheets. Bake for 40 minutes. Cool and store in tightly sealed container. Makes 22 to 25 treats.
FOR THE SNACKER
Great for college students or anyone who likes to nosh, these snacks aren’t your typical junk food. Give them together or use them separately as unique hostess gifts.
HERB DIP MIX
Pack up this yummy dip mix with a bag or two of natural potato or vegetable chips in a colorful basket. This dip mix also can be used as a seasoning in recipes.
1/4 cup dried parsley flakes
1/4 cup dried thyme leaves
2 tablespoons dried tarragon leaves
2 tablespoons dried onion flakes
3 teaspoons garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper.
Combine all ingredients and mix well. Store in a jar with a tight-fitting lid. Attach the following instructions on a gift tag:
Combine 1 tablespoon of the mix with 3/4 cup sour cream, 1/4 cup mayonnaise and 1 teaspoon lemon juice. Blend well. Cover and refrigerate at least 4 hours. Serve with assorted fresh vegetables. Makes 1 cup.
HERBAL POPCORN SEASONING
This is a healthy alternative to the traditional salt-coated snack. Combine with a bag of organic popcorn and a DVD in a festive bowl adorned with ribbons.
1/4 cup dried basil
1/4 cup dried marjoram
1/4 cup dried thyme
1/2 cup nutritional yeast powder
1 cup cheddar cheese powder
1/4 cup garlic powder
1/8 cup kelp powder
In a grinder, grind basil, marjoram and thyme and mix well with the rest of the ingredients. Store in an airtight glass container away from heat and light. Attach the following instructions on a gift tag:
Sprinkle on lightly buttered popcorn.
These savory nuts are delicious on their own or sprinkled over a green salad.
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound walnut halves
11/2 tablespoons dried rosemary, crushed
1 teaspoon paprika
2 teaspoons salt
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Place butter and oil in a large pan and melt in the oven. Add nuts to pan and stir to coat evenly with butter-oil mixture. Sprinkle nuts with rosemary, paprika and salt and toss to coat. Spread nuts into a single layer and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, shaking and stirring often. Drain on paper towels and cool completely before packing into bags or tins. Makes one pound of roasted nuts.
Kim Erickson is the author of Drop-Dead Gorgeous: Protecting Yourself from the Hidden Dangers of Cosmetics (Contemporary Books, 2002) and a frequent contributor to Herbs for Health.