Get festive with herbs

Herbs are not just great for cooking, says Barbara Segall. Use your herbs creatively this Christmas to add their essence, presence and power to the festivities.

Rosemary and sage with bay and peppers
Rosemary and sage with bay and peppers as a wreath
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Though holly and ivy are the traditional plants for decking the halls and bringing the festive spirit indoors, you can’t keep herbs away from the party. They get in on the act at every level, making the house aromatic and festive. And if there is a frost, how they sparkle in the garden!

Front door wreath

Rosemary and sage with bay and peppers
Rosemary and sage with bay and peppers as a wreath

Decorate your front door with a unique wreath made from herbs and stems from your garden. You can buy willow wreaths, or if you have willow, or even dogwood in your garden, you can make your own woven wreath that makes a wonderful, homegrown base for your creation.

Weave in the long, pliable and leafy stems of evergreen bay and rosemary to start with and then add variegated and green box stems and myrtle for the evergreen parts of a door wreath. For festive colour, I use small orange citrus fruits, such as clementines or kumquats, as well as peppers and chillies, to create colourful accents that a front door wreath needs. Small bunches of golden or grey-green sage can also be useful for softer, fragrant accents.

Mini-wreaths of artemisia or rosemary foliage, with ribbon woven in and out of the plant material make aromatic garlands for chair backs and doors indoors.

Bouquets

herb bundles for gifts
Herb bundles for gifts

The quintessential herb bouquet, made up of sprigs of thyme, parsley and bay, known as bouquet garni, is used for flavouring slow, long-cooked dishes. But what about giving them as little presents? You can make several of these bundles, keep them fresh in a glass of water and wrap them in tissue paper just before you offer them as gifts, or you can bundle them and dry them, to offer them as dried bouquets.

Go larger and make a hand-tied bunch of herbs, using the longest stems of the perennial herbs such as rosemary, thyme and sage, with bay. Or make small bunches of herbs to use as decorations down the centre of your festive table.

Smells and scents

Fragrant pelargonium
Fragrant pelargonium

Buck the trend for seasonal pot-pourri and scented candles and use scented foliage plants to give you an aromatic boost. I ruffle and sniff the wonderful foliage of scented pelargoniums such as the variegated Pelargonium fragrans, called ‘Creamy Nutmeg’ for a fresh, nose-tingling lift at any time of the day. It sort of smells of a piney air freshener. If you have a pine tree in the garden, or have bought some branches for decoration, keep a few stems in water and rub them every now and then, for an aromatic buzz.

Rosemary is a favourite herb at any time of the year, but in winter its spicy aroma is particularly welcome. I use it on an indoor fire as aromatic kindling in much the same way as you can on a summer barbecue.

You can strew twiggy herbs such as rosemary and thyme down the centre of your festive table, under and above linen tablemats. When hot dishes or casseroles are placed on top of them, their aroma is released. Or use long stems of rosemary twisted around linen serviettes in place of serviette rings for a fragrant and pretty effect.

Burn relief

Aloe vera
Aloe vera

If it is too hot in the kitchen, get out as the saying goes. But during the festive season, that is where the action is. Juggling hot liquids, pots and pans you may scald or burn yourself. For minor, home-treatable, injuries, a pot of living Aloe vera is your turn-to, kitchen-aid plant. If you have a minor scald or burn, snip off one of the plant’s fleshy leaves and cut or break it open. Apply the slightly sticky gel that oozes from the cut surfaces to your wound

Aloe vera is a handsome container plant for a light, sunny kitchen windowsill at any time. In winter water it sparingly. It is so easy to propagate from the offshoots it produces at its base, that you can convert its offspring into ‘gift’ plants for friends and family.

Get stuffing

Frosted rosemary
Frosted rosemary

Sage, rosemary, thyme, parsley and bay are the perennial herb stalwarts in winter and they work wonders in so many culinary ways. Herb stuffing for meat, poultry and nut roasts are the first and obvious uses. Making your own stuffing, using fresh leaves, chopped onions and freshly ground breadcrumbs, is a gardener-cook’s delight. Bay adds strong flavour to curried dishes and infused in milk, while bread sauce without parsley seems unthinkable. Use your garden herbs to add the homegrown effect to your festive menus and delight in the flavours they impart.

Barbara Segall

About Barbara Segall

Barbara Segall loves everything herbalicious. She’s a garden writer, an author and an experienced and enlightened herb enthusiast. Barbara is the editor of the Herb Society’s magazine, Herbs and a member of the RHS Herb Advisory Group. Barbara loves growing fruit, vegetables and herbs to cook and eat and share with friends and has recently taken on an allotment.
@GardenBarbara and www.thegardenpost.com
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