• Nine 3-inch-long clusters sage stems
• 1 roll florists’ wire, 22- or 24-gauge
• 1 wire coat hanger
• 1 firm, preferably green, unblemished, symmetrical apple, 2 1/2 to 3 inches in diameter
• Fifty to sixty 3- to 3 1/2 -inch rosemary stems (if you don’t have this much rosemary, substitute any combination of santolina, thyme, pine, and/or fir)
• 3 rubber bands
• Ten to twelve 4-inch lemon geranium stems
• Fifty to sixty 2 1/2 -inch boxwood stems
• 6 anise hyssop stems
• 12 French lavender stems
• 3 small jingle bells
• A big cluster of oregano thyme (or other upright thyme) about 6 to 8 inches long
• 2 yards 7/8 -inch ribbon (I used Offray Wire-Edge Polyester Ombre #6347)
1. Remove any brown, discolored or bug-eaten leaves from the herbs. Cut the stems at an angle to the correct lengths (don’t bother to measure—just eyeball it), then strip the foliage off the bottom 1 1/4 inches of stems. Keep the stems in a pile near you for quick pick-up. Make a sage bundle by removing the large outer leaves and clustering about three groups of the smaller center leaves together. Place a 5-inch piece of the florists’ wire perpendicular to the stems, close to the leaves, and wrap it a few times in both directions tightly enough to hold the stems but not so tightly that it cuts through them. Twist the two wire ends together, and trim the stems about 1/4 inch past the wire binding. Make eight more sage bundles.
2. Lay a wire coat hanger in front of you. With wire cutters, cut a piece that includes the entire straight bottom piece and about 1 1/2 inches of one angled corner, which will hook into the apple. With pliers, close up the angled end a bit. Remove the apple stem. Insert the straight end of the hanger halfway into the stem end of the apple, keeping it as straight as possible. Remove the wire, then insert it into the blossom end halfway through the apple. Remove the wire, and insert it again into the stem end, pushing it all the way through so that it emerges from the blossom end – this may take more than one try. Push it in until the hook begins to embed in the apple, insert a small piece of woody stem or toothpick under the loop of wire so that the wire doesn’t go completely through the apple, then push the wire in until the toothpick or stem rests against the apple.
3. The coat hanger will become the hanging rod. The largest and best-looking sage bunch will hang at the bottom of the kissing ball, where the hanging rod is embedded. Attach it with wire to the hanging rod. The sage stems will show, but they will be covered by further additions of plant material. To leave your hands free to add to the kissing ball, poke the straight end of the hanging rod into the bottom of an upended cardboard box. You’ll be working on the kissing ball with its bottom up, so to check its progress as you work, remove it from the box occasionally, hold it up in the air, and look at it from underneath.
4. With the long, blunt needle held vertically, pierce the apple near the stem end. Insert a rosemary twig in the hole you just made. Continue inserting twigs in a circle around the stem end, close enough together so that they hide the apple. The rosemary branches should be the same length. If any are too long, remove them from the apple, trim the stem end, and replace; if too short, replace with longer ones. It will take about 15 stem ends to do the first 2 rows. Add another 3 or 4 rows of rosemary around the axis of the apple at right angles to the apple. Stagger the rows; this alternating pattern (familiar to pomander makers) provides the best coverage and prevents splitting the apple skin and letting the stems fall out. It’s easy to lose track of the holes, so make only one hole at a time, insert a stem and continue. Place the rosemary branches so they all curve toward the center of the kissing ball.
5. The 8 remaining sage bundles are added next. Rather than inserting them directly into the apple like the rosemary stems, these longer stems and thicker stem ends are placed lengthwise onto the apple’s surface, spacing evenly and adjusting their height to correspond to the height of the last row of rosemary. Push the wire around each bundle into the apple. Remove the apple from its cardboard stand and slide a rubber band onto the hanging rod and into place over the sage stems to keep them from slipping out of position – subsequent rows of foliage will hide the stems. Return the apple to its stand.
6. Cut twelve 5-inch lengths of florists’ wire. Wrap each lemon geranium stem a few times with a piece of the wire, then twist the ends together and trim the wire end to 1 1/4 inches long. Space the lemon geranium stems around the apple; the stems will extend to the apple’s equator. Insert the wires into the apple to anchor the stems, and use a rubber band to secure them as you did with the sage. Use your fingers to adjust the positioning of the rosemary, sage and lemon geranium evenly and fluff them out. Spritz with water if they are drying out. Insert extra rosemary sprigs between pairs of lemon geraniums.
7. Insert a boxwood sprig on each side of the rosemary sprigs that are closest to the center of the apple, then continue adding rows of boxwood until the apple is covered to its equator, spacing the stems to cover the lemon geranium and the rubber band. Check the view by turning the ball right side up. The apple should not be visible, and the shape should be round. To insert the lavender and anise hyssop flowers, bind small clusters with a 5-inch piece of wire right below the flower head so that there is a 1 1/2 -inch wire tail. Trim the stems, leaving 1/4 inch of stem past the wire binding. Reserve a few single stems of lavender or anise hyssop and wrap the length of each stem with wire. Among the herb foliage, insert the clusters and single stems into the apple, poking the wire into the apple. Wire the bells together and insert them at the bottom of the kissing ball.
8. Make a bouquet of the oregano thyme stems and strip the leaves off the lower inch. With the pruning shears, trim them evenly. Bind them together with a rubber band. Remove the kissing ball from the box stand, and slide the middle of the oregano thyme cluster over the protruding end of the rod so that the foliage covers the remaining top portion of the apple. (The oregano thyme stem ends will be up, covering some of the wire hanger.) Arrange the foliage evenly around the apple. With the wire cutters, cut the hanging wire about 1 1/2 to 2 inches above the thyme stems. With pliers, curve it into a hanging hook. As the finishing touch, add a pretty ribbon and streamers around the hanger and thyme stems, covering the rubber band.
Hang it up, then call your significant other over to admire your creation – You’ve earned a kiss.
Louise Gruenberg lives in Oak Park, Illinois, where she gardens, makes herbal things, and teaches classes and workshops on using herbs.
Click here for the original article, Mistletoe: Make an Herbal Holiday Kissing Ball.
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