Saturday, December 4, 2010
DECEMBER, CHRISTMAS AND WINTER HOLIDAY HERBS
Over the years, I have done some research on December, Christmas and Winter Holiday Herbs, and here is just a little information that I found about some of these holiday herbs.
December Holiday Herbs and Their Symbolism
· Basil Ocimum basilicum - Love and good wishes, herbs of kings
· Bay Laurel Laurus nobilis - Glory, reward of merit
· Boxwood Buxus sempervirens - Constancy, stoicism, constant love
· Cedar Cedrus, fir Abies, juniper Juniperus, spruce Picea abies - Living presence of the Holy Spirit, prayers ascending
· Costmary Tanacetum balsamita - Bible Herb, Herbes Sainte-Marie, fidelity
· Cypress Cupressus sempervirens - Longevity, eternal life, mourning
· Everlastings Helichrysum (Celosia, Globe, Statice, Amaranth, Strawflower) - Life everlasting
· Holly Ilex - Reminder of the crown of thorns
· Ivy Hedera - Reminds us by its habit of clinging to a strong wall of our Human frailties in need of divine support
· Marigold Tagetes - Mary's plant, friendship flower
· Marjoram Origanum marjorana and Oregano Origanum vulgare - Joy, happiness, kindness
· Mint Mentha - Lady's mint, eternal refreshment, wisdom, virtue
· Mistletoe Viscum - Eternal life springs forth in the midst of seeming death
· Myrtle Myrtus communis - Love, dedicated to Mary, symbol of virginity
· Parsley Petroselinum crispum - Mary's little finger, festivity, feast
· Pennyroyal Mentha pulegium - Manger herb, flee away
· Pine Pinus - Longevity, eternal and vigorous life, friendship
· Pot Marigold Calendula Officinalis - Mary's Gold
· Rose Rosa - Purity, God's love expressed
· Rosemary Rosmarinus officinalis - Mary's tree, remembrance, love, friendship, loyalty
· Rue Ruta graveolens - Herb of grace, virtue, banishes evil
· Sage Salvia officinalis - Immortality, health, happiness
· Santolina Santolina chamaecyparissus - Great virtue, avoids evil
· Statice Limonium sinuatum and Globe Amaranth gomphrena - Life everlasting
· Thyme Thymus - Bravery, a manger herb
· Winter Savory Satureja montana - Interest, spiciness, manger herb
· Wormwood Artemisia absinthium - Life everlasting, absence
· Yew Taxus -Penitence, sorrow, sadness
COSTMARY Tanacetum balsamita--Costmary leaves were used to add spice to holiday ale, or wassail, in old Europe. Ivy and bay laurel were long used, along with other greens, to help celebrate the winter solstice in early Europe, with ivy symbolizing friendship and bay laurel as a reminder that the long winter would soon melt into spring.
ENGLISH PENNYROYAL Mentha pulegium--This perennial herb was said to have been placed in the manger on the night of the Christ child's birth and burst into bloom the moment the child was born. English pennyroyal adds a fragrant aroma to wreaths but can be toxic if ingested, so keep it out of reach of pets and children. It is often used in potpourri and cosmetics and is native to southern Europe and western Asia.
NOTE: Safety/Precautions for Pennyroyal which is a well-known abortificant
Pennyroyal has been used traditionally to induce abortions. Pennyroyal is dangerous and has led to serious adverse effects and death. Therefore, pennyroyal should not be used for this or any purpose.
This is a medicinal herb and should not be taken internally for any reason.
LAVENDER Lavandula--The Virgin Mary is said to have dried her newborn's swaddling clothes by spreading them on a bed of wild lavender. This herb, also of the mint family, grows as a small evergreen shrub. It has grey-green leaves, light purple flowers, and a sweet floral scent. When dried it can be used whole for wreaths and centerpieces or crushed to use in sachets for closets or drawers or to scent a bath.
ROSEMARY Rosmarinus officinalis--One of the most beautiful and fragrant of the seasoned herbs, rosemary, according to folklore, will bring happiness for the coming year to anyone who smells it on Christmas Eve.
Until the 20th century, rosemary was a very popular Christmas evergreen, right up there with holly and mistletoe. A gilded rosemary sprig was a treasured gift. Why it fell out of use is a mystery, but it is starting to make a comeback with the use of rosemary in holiday wreaths and rosemary topiaries as small Christmas trees. Perhaps the use of rosemary, which symbolizes remembrance, can help us to remember the meanings of our winter holidays.
Just a note on those cute little rosemary Christmas trees: They don’t like being pruned up as a Christmas tree, and they don’t like living in the house, so right after Christmas plant them outside and let them grow back to their nature shape, and you will be rewarded with a great culinary herb.
During the flight into Egypt, Mary spread her child's garments on a rosemary plant to dry. The flowers, originally white, turned blue and acquired the sweet scent they have today.
Another legend claims that at midnight on January 5, the "old Christmas Eve," rosemary plants will simultaneously burst into flower in celebration of Christmas. Rosemary plants add attractiveness and fragrance to holiday wreaths and are especially suitable for tussie mussies, which are small bouquets made with dried flowers, doilies, and ribbons for use at individual place settings on the holiday dinner table.
WILD THYME Thymus serpyllum--This pungent herb, a member of the mint family, was collected from the fields outside of Bethlehem to make a soft bed for Mary during the birth of her child. It is thought to have antiseptic properties and was burned as incense later in history by the Greeks. Today thyme is a popular culinary seasoning but can be used in dried flower arrangements, bouquets, and potpourri during the holiday season.
FRANKINCENSE Boswellia sacra and MYRRH Commiphora myrrha--Christianity teaches that frankincense and myrrh were given by the Three Kings along with gold, as gifts to baby Jesus. They were once considered to be rare treasures. Legend has it that both frankincense and myrrh were worth their weight in gold. Also yarrow Achillea, sometimes called the “carpenter’s weed” because of its healing powers, is significant in the holiday tradition because of its association with Joseph the Carpenter. Today there is a blend of frankincense, myrrh and gold yarrow which is named “Potpourri of Three Kings”.
All three of these herbs have been used as medicinal herbs for centuries. Both frankincense Boswellia sacra and myrrh Commiphora myrrha are drought-resident shrubs which grow in the wild in the Middle East and the resins are harvested throughout the year, but the resins collected during the hottest and driest part of the season are considered the best. If you want to try to grow them, they will need well-drained to dry soil and full sun with temperatures being a minimum 50º to 60º. (The above two photos are myrrh trees.)
I FOUND THE FOLLOWING TO BE VERY INTERESTING. It was sent to me by Michael Bettler, LUCIA'S GARDEN, 2216 Portsmouth, Houston, Texas 77098.
THE TRADITIONAL HERBS OF WINTER
The motto of the floral industry is "Say It With Flowers", and out of that expression comes a chronicle of human history's experience with agriculture, horticulture, and floriculture. There are trees that mark our seasons by their green leaves, "evergreens", trees that mark our seasons by their changes of color, such as maples, sycamores, elms, tallows and so many other native and nonnative trees. There are nut trees like the native pecans, fruit trees, berry bushes that give us seasonal fruit. Junipers, ferns and ivy vines serve as natural garlands of color and seasonal food for wild birds and back yard critters alike.
We sing about the traditional Christmas tree, and create garlands of evergreen boughs to decorate our homes, to remind us that even in the dark of midwinter, life continues. If we have a fire place and hearth in our home, a Yule Log serves the tradition of keeping a fire lit during "the longest night" to symbolize a promise that the sun will come tomorrow. Bonfires do the same in fields, kept burning all night to welcome the new day's morning sun. Pomegranates carry on the Greek myth of Persephone and the Persian and Indian seasonal promises of Spring.
From the kitchen, spices such as cinnamon, cloves and allspice scent the house. Mixtures of apples, dried grapes, plums, apricots and citrus peel form the base of a hot wassail to warm us. Bay laurel wreaths hang on the door to remind us of the glory of the season, and bay leaves punctuate the sauces of roast beef and wild game. Sage is mixed with rice dishes and squash. Beans love a bit of thyme and oregano. The food of winter is the joy and celebration of the fall harvest.
There are also the spiritual traditions of winter herbs that are often forgotten but so easily accessible to us. Their symbols are as important and represent another aspect of winter we tend to overlook in all the color and lights, the hustle and gift wrapping of the season. These are the seasonal symbols that can be added to a winter feast bouquet, tucked into napkin rings, added to sprays on side tables and tucked into the ribbons tied on presents as extra gifts from the garden. Rosemary represents remembrance for special friends. Lavender is a fragrant scent of the sweetness of life. Horehound is a wish for health. Marjoram is for the joy of the festivities, as is its cousin Oregano. Mint is a reminder of home. Sage speaks of virtue and long life. Thyme is for courage to face the darkness of the long winter nights. All of these can be made into bouquets or tussie-mussies to be given to friends, hung on the door handles of neighbors' front doors, or the bedroom door handles of visiting house guests.
And there is the story of the three Magi, the three Wise Men and their gifts of "Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh". There is much discussion on whether the "gold" was the metal "gold" or if it was another incense, as are Frankincense (Boswellia sacra) and Myrrh (Commiphora erythraea). Frankincense as an incense was used to purify temples more than 2,000 years ago.
It is still used for that purpose today in much of the world. Myrrh as an incense was used to purify the air in clinics, lodges and inns. Today Myrrh is found in mouth wash and tooth paste.
(The above two photos are a frankincense tree and frankincense resin.)
The "gold", if it was not the metal is thought to be "Aloeswood." (This is not Aloe Vera, a soft-tissue succulent.) *Aloeswood (Aquilaria spc.) is a hard wood that is the most expensive wood in the world. It is still used today as an incense, and a piece of it can cost upwards of hundreds of dollars an ounce, hence its value as "gold". These symbols of the Gifts of the Magi are Gold for Christ the King, Frankincense for Christ the Priest, and Myrrh for Christ the Healer.
If you are not Christian in your beliefs, the word "incense" denotes a material used to produce a fragrant odor, a perfume from spices and tree gums or resins. Incense is universal, and even regional incense varieties exist, such as "Copal" from Central and South America, members of the pine family along with pinon (Pinus cembroides).
Find the "Herbs of Winter" from your family's traditions and continue these in your home during the long nights. Bring loved ones and friends together and renew your belief in the coming of the sun, and keep the cold winter away.
*While doing research on Aloeswood, I found where it was noted that it has also been used in nearly every religious tradition. It was aloeswood and myrrh that was burned at Jesus burial ceremony.
ROSEMARY SHORTBREAD COOKIES
8 Tablespoons Butter (1 stick of butter)
½ Tablespoons fresh Rosemary, finely chopped (1 ½ teaspoons)
¼ Cup superfine sugar
1 ¼ Cups all-purpose flour
Sugar (can use red and green colored sugar)
Cream butter and sugar until smooth. Work in the flour and rosemary to make soft dough; shape into a ball. Roll out on a floured surface until ¼ inch thick, cut into rounds with a 2” fluted cutter, or cut into any shape that you like. Bake on a greased baking sheet in a 325° oven for 15 to 20 minutes or until the shortbread changes color. Cool on a wire rack and sprinkle with sugar. Makes about 12 cookies.
Recipe from A Collection of Recipes complied by the Aransas/San Patricio County Master Gardener Association April 1999
Compiled and submitted by:
Linda Turner Collins