The worldwide craft of coiled basketry dates back more than 9,000 years. Since the era of the ancient Anasazi, Native Americans have bound local plant materials with flexible fibers to fashion both utilitarian and decorative baskets. The Seminole of South Florida have long used pine needles in their baskets, binding the extremely long (up to 18 inches) needles of longleaf pine and relatively long (up to 5 inches) needles of slash pine with various swamp grasses, ferns, and other plant fibers. The documented first use of raffia (still used today) as a binding thread for pine needles is a hat made by a Mrs. J. MacAfee of Georgia during the Civil War. And the fine Gullah basketry of Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, coiled by descendants of slaves brought from Senegal and Gambia, contains pine needles as well as sweetgrass.
Working sprigs of strongly aromatic herbs such as rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) and English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) into the coils of dried pine needles can produce a deliciously fragrant basket with a rustic texture. Lavender has been used since ancient times in soaps and cosmetics, in potpourris and as a moth and mosquito repellent. Strewing floors with lavender not only generated an exhilarating scent but was believed to ward off illnesses as severe as the Black Plague.
Rosemary, too, has served as a moth repellent in closets and chests of drawers. It also was buried with corpses as a fumigant as well as a symbol of remembrance. Bridal bouquets today still contain rosemary for happiness. Before the nineteenth century in Europe, small stringed lap instruments were carved from its wood to accompany love madrigals. A nosegay of either rosemary or lavender could be pressed to the nose to mask unpleasant odors.
Many other dried herbs besides lavender and rosemary can be coiled into baskets. Try a combination of dried lemon thyme or lemon-scented geranium and dried spearmint or peppermint, with or without pine needles. Experiment using different herbs with various textures and fragrances; some kinds are just too brittle to work with.
Kathleen Peelen Krebs of Berkeley, California, is a freelance writer who has been making baskets for twelve years.