A wedding tradition steeped in symbolic meaning, fresh herbs are a beautiful addition to any wedding.
Fresh herbs have been essential to the language of love for centuries, used profusely in adorning bridal couples as well as bridal chambers. Ancient Athenians wove mint and marigolds, which they believed to be aphrodisiacs, into bridal garlands and wreaths. Roman brides carried wheat for fertility, rosemary for the groom’s virility, and myrtle for long life. European brides in the Middle Ages carried pungent herbs such as garlic and chives to prevent jealous spirits from disrupting the couple’s happiness. And Victorian brides carefully chose a combination of herbs that expressed their sentiments and hopes, perhaps roses for love, lavender for devotion, pansies for happy thoughts, and marjoram for blushes and joy.
Herbs are especially appropriate for weddings because they bring centuries of tradition, loving sentiments for the bridal couple, and wonderful—some say therapeutic—fragrances. If prepared properly, they hold up well, and they are versatile enough to add a special touch to everything from the guest book to the dessert plates. Herbs can be understated or elegant, equally suited for the most modest of ceremonies or the most extravagant reception.
Probably no other wedding decorations are as important as the flowers carried by the wedding party. They are the center of attention through much of the day and will be preserved in photographs for many years to come. For this reason, many brides call in a professional. As herbs have become more popular, many florists use them regularly. Some are even willing to use herbs from your garden if they have been conditioned first. If a conventional florist can’t help you, check with a local herb farm or herb bed-and-breakfast; many employ florists to work with their herbs.
You can, of course, create your own bridal bouquet and wedding party flowers. If you are not experienced, be prepared to practice, practice, practice before the big day to gain skill and confidence. Line up a few friends or family members to gather and prepare the herbs the day before the ceremony, and give yourself plenty of time to complete the arrangements.
Let the bride’s bouquet set the tone for the other wedding flowers, and choose herbs associated with the sentiments that you’d like to convey. Elizabethan brides carried lots of rosemary to ensure faithfulness and keep spouses from “forgetting” they were married. Gilded sprigs were handed out to guests to prevent friendships from being forgotten. Brides in the Middle Ages carried sweet-smelling herbs in hope that their marriage would be sweet.
Today, an herbal bouquet typically contains rosemary for remembrance, roses for love, and myrtle for married bliss. Ivy is also appropriate because the plant is difficult to disturb once rooted, just as a happy marriage should be.
The bride’s bouquet may be as simple as a tussie-mussie tied with wide ribbon or as elaborate as a nosegay of cascading herbs and flowers arranged in a florist’s bouquet holder. Love knots (simple overhand knots) tied into ribbon streamers keep the love from running out of the marriage and hold in all of the guests’ wishes for the couple—or so it is said. Some people like to tie a sprig of rosemary or another wedding herb into several of the love knots.
The bride can also “wear” herb sprigs in her hair or pin them to her veil or hat. A small herbal corsage can even be pinned onto the bustle of her dress as long as it doesn’t interfere with sitting.
The groom’s boutonniere should be simple so that he doesn’t attract attention away from that of the bride, perhaps a single white rose for unity and love, rosemary for remembrance, and an ivy leaf for fidelity; it should also complement the bride’s bouquet. The ring bearer’s boutonniere might contain thyme for courage (his as well as the groom’s), rosemary, and a single rose. The ring pillow can be decorated with a small herbal corsage tied on with ribbon.
A flower girl, enchanting at any wedding, is irresistible when dressed in a dainty herbal crown. (Children’s flowers should be kept simple so that they can swing them around without any disasters.) Decorate her basket with two small but sturdy posies (small bouquets of white roses and mint, for example) attached to each handle with floral wire and ribbons. Fill it with dried rose petals and lavender, which the flower girl can strew before the bride as she walks down the aisle. If strewing is not allowed, ask whether sprigs of rosemary tied with ribbon may be dropped in the bride’s path with the understanding that guests will retrieve them as mementos when they leave following the ceremony. Another alternative is to create a small flower arrangement in the flower girl’s basket.
Including herbs at the reception lets you continue the mood set in the ceremony and gives guests the opportunity to appreciate the fragrances and beauty of wedding herbs at close range. For a small, intimate reception, ask the caterer or a few friends to place herb leaves on the table around the dinner plates an hour or so before the party begins. Choose herbs that hold up well without water or that lie flat without looking wilted, such as bay, hyssop, lamb’s-ears, lavender, sage, or rosemary. For a larger affair, you may want to decorate only the table of the bridal party.
Tuck a tiny bouquet of fresh or dried herbs inside the napkin at each place setting or leave a sachet of wedding potpourri at each place with a card explaining the herbal meanings of the ingredients. Other possibilities include small potted herbs with attached poems or rhymes about their symbolism or small envelopes of herb seeds printed with the bridal couple’s name, the date, and growing instructions.
Herbs may be used in centerpieces and other decorations instead of, or along with florist’s flowers. An arrangement of edible herbs on the buffet table can add flavor to the meal and should be labeled so the guests know they may pull it apart. A colorful herbal wreath around the punch bowl is another way of brightening up the table.
The stark white backdrop of the wedding cake is a perfect showcase for edible flowers and foliage. Small-leaved herbs and miniature rosebuds and carnations, sage tips, chamomile, thyme, hyssop, or borage flowers work best. If the day is not hot, short stems poked right into the frosting should hold up for several hours. Otherwise, arrange a small bouquet of herbs in a florist’s vial and push it directly into the cake. Disguise the opening of the vial with a few herb leaves. A small herb corsage may also be attached to the cake knife with ribbon or to the side of one or more tables.
To help guests better appreciate a bride and groom’s herbal choices, include information about their symbolic meaning and traditions in the wedding program or on a small note card at each guest table.
Theresa Loe is the author of Herbal Weddings: Past and Present.
Gips, Kathleen. Flora’s Dictionary. Chagrin Falls, Ohio: TM, 1995.
Laufer, Geraldine Adamich. Tussie-Mussies: The Victorian Art of Expressing Yourself in the Language of Flowers. New York: Workman, 1993.
Reppert, Bertha. Herbs for Weddings and Other Celebrations. Pownal, Vermont: Storey Communications, 1993.
Williams, Betsy. Planning a Fresh Herbal Wedding. Andover, Massachusetts: Betsy Williams, 1983.
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