Notes from Regional Herb Gardeners

| December/January 2001


Geri Laufer

ATLANTA, Georgia—The end of the old year and the beginning of the new one is a time of merrymaking to counteract the long nights of winter. In the Southeast, the weather is typically sweater weather, crisp and clear, though I remember several Christmases in the high 70s. The ground doesn’t really freeze here, and I confess throwing in some lycoris bulbs—a.k.a. naked ladies—in late January (after they were discounted) with no problems.

Herbs traditionally associated with the holiday season include bedstraw, sweet woodruff, rosemary, and holly. These are picked fresh from the garden and pinned on wreaths or used in kissing balls tied with red velvet ribbons. Our Lady’s-bedstraw (Galium verum) and sweet woodruff (G. odoratum) have aromatic leaves in whorls up the stems. Yellow or white clusters of tiny flowers ornament the plants in spring. Bedstraw was traditionally used to stuff mattresses, while sweet woodruff is used to flavor German May Wine. They are assumed to have been used in the Christ child’s manger and are therefore associated with Christmas. The red berries of holly (Ilex aquifolium) are protection against all evil. If a hardier holly grows in your part of the country, include it instead. Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis), the herb of remembrance, is sometimes in bloom by now, with beautiful blue flowers on the ends of the long, pine-scented branches.

Bedstraw and sweet woodruff are assumed to have been used in the Christ child’s manger.

Another way I like to use the traditional herbs is to steep them in various holiday beverages. Perhaps you will join me in serving this favorite for your merrymaking.

Geri’s Apricot Holiday Swizzle

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