I have always been a sucker for herbal gifts. My friends know this, so I not only give them, I tend to receive them as well. I line up the beautiful bottles and fancy packages with elegant names on a shelf just to admire hem. Problem is, sometimes these raffia-wrapped and tinsel-tied bottles, tins, and calico bags are almost too dazzling to use. I become tempted to save them for special occasions— like when Mel Gibson shows up for dinner unannounced.
In my long experience of collecting and hoarding herbal gifts, I’ve found that the ones I make myself are every bit as enticing as those from gourmet specialty shops and expensive boutiques. Not only are most of them surprisingly easy to put together, but they’re a creation of my own hand and garden, so they’re unique.
Here’s why your own versions of herbal gifts will be better than anything you can buy:
• Better flavor and aroma. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not love that makes homemade gifts superior; it’s the ingredients. People who make their own are particular about what they use, often combining the finest, healthiest, and most exotic ingredients they can find. Commercial producers, on the other hand, cut corners with less expensive ingredients and smaller proportions of expensive ones. Health is rarely a consideration. In your own recipes, you can use organic herbs and vegetables, natural colors, and ingredients harvested at their peak and carefully preserved for maximum flavor and aroma. Using the best ingredients naturally makes a better product.
• Unlimited combinations. Buying herbal gifts limits you to what is available. When you make your own, you are limited only by your imagination.
You can use more of what you like and less of what you don’t. It’s easy to create signature blends tailored to your tastes. Curry powder is one of the best examples. In the United States, we buy curry powder as if it were a single spice, but it bears little resemblance to the authentic curry recipes passed down for generations in India. Every Indian family has its own secret formula of spices, and the recipes vary significantly. When you’re balancing complex flavors, your own combination will always taste better to you than anything someone else formulated for mass consumption.
• Lower cost. Although high-quality ingredients may be expensive individually, the total cost for homemade gifts is often only a small proportion of the store-bought version. Buying in bulk quantities or high volume significantly reduces the price. Bulk herbs, spices, and nuts are often available in health-food stores where you can purchase only the amount called for. This lets you avoid keeping large quantities of ingredients that continue to lose their aroma or flavor the longer they are stored.
• Fancy packaging. A significant portion of the cost of gift items goes into packaging, but those beautiful wraps really don’t cost much if you do them yourself.
• Garden gratification. Most herb gardeners have more herbs than they can use. By making your own gifts, you can use up your precious harvest. Use the recipes below as a starting point, then revise them according to what spices, flowers, and herbs you have on hand and what you harvest from your garden.
A couple of tips before you start: Be sure your herbal gift includes a label with instructions and ingredients. Each of the recipes below includes a sample label you can use.
Second, realize that you might want to make large quantities of these recipes once you’ve tried them. It’d be a shame to have none to keep for yourself!
Debbie Whittaker, a frequent contributor to The Herb Companion, demonstrates her healthy cooking style as the “Herb Gourmet” in Denver, Colorado.
RESOURCES FOR BOTTLES AND CONTAINERS
Burch Bottle and Packaging Watervliet, New York
Mid-Con Agrimarketing Olathe, Kansas
Rainbow Meadow Poland, Ohio
SKS Bottle And Packaging Mechanicville, New York
Sunburst Bottle Company Sacramento, California
Specialty Bottle Supply Seattle, Washington