own to Earth: Holiday Greens

Jim Long creates his own herbal mixture to add an earthy fragrance to the home.

| December/January 1994

A long-standing tradition of mine is the making of holiday greens. It is my way of bringing the smells of the woods and garden into the house. I’m not sure which I enjoy most, the process of making this mix or the mixture itself. Both add a feeling of the holidays to my home.

One could call this mixture potpourri, but I resist that name because the word has come to denote a mass of colored wood shavings and ground corncobs (“cellulose granules”) soaked with petroleum-based artificial fragrance oils and decorated with gaudy flowers that have no fragrance of their own. Those concoctions give me headaches if I even get near them, and in no way do they resemble real potpourri, which relies on the natural fragrance of flowers, woods, berries, and leaves.

I begin my holiday greens mixture in the fall by collecting a large handful of lemon verbena stalks and stems, which I cut into tiny pieces. I dry them thoroughly, bag them, and put them away until I’m ready for them. On leisurely afternoon walks along the lake and in the north woods beyond the house, I carry my garden pruning shears and collect the rest of the materials for my holiday greens.

A narrow lane connects the lawn to the woods. Persimmon trees laden with sweet, ripe fruit line the way. The fruit remains on these trees long after others have dropped their loads. These persimmons dehydrate in the crisp winter sunshine until they resemble dates. I gather the dried persimmons, chewy and sweet, to eat as I head into the woods.

Sassafras trees are abundant at the edges of the timber, and I cut several limbs to bring back. I use young, tender sassafras leaves collected in the spring as the seasoning filé gumbo, but it is the spicy wood that I gather now. Back at the house, I cut everything from toothpick-sized growing tips to pencil-sized limbs into half-inch pieces. The sarsaparilla smell fills the cool air around me as I put the pieces into the two ten-gallon stoneware jars in which I will blend the greens.

Some days as I walk, I gather an armload of native cedar (Juniperus virginiana), choosing branches that are heavy with gray-blue berries. I cut off large, aromatic branches with pruners, then snip up the finer branches and tips with scissors, using every piece of the limbs I have gathered. Next, I look for pine, slightly sticky with winter sap. I cut up both the branches and the long needles, reducing them to half-inch snippets, to add to the jars.

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