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Using Herbs at Christmas

Festive arrangements with dried and preserved materials always look especially lovely at Christmas and other holiday times. We all make more effort for special occasions and want our houses to look particularly warm and welcoming. As there are many presents given and parties to go to during this festive season, this is a good opportunity to give something just a little out of the ordinary.

Dried herbs blend in very well with more traditional Christmas decorations such as pine cones, nuts and cinnamon sticks. Gilded poppy heads mixed with bunches of roses, purple marjoram, gilded cones and dark burgundy tartan ribbons look amazing. In many cases, reasonably-sized clusters of an herb look much more powerful than individual sprays, which give a much weaker effect.

Ivory or natural beeswax candles blend in with most color schemes and give an elegant, traditional feel to an arrangement. Welcoming flowers and scents are a sure way to make guests feel at home and comfortable. One note of caution, however: by their very nature, dried materials are a fire hazard and, if you are arranging them with candles that will be lit, they must not be left unattended. Make sure the candles are well above the arrangement and blow them out and replace them once they burn down too near the foliage. Dried flower arrangements must also not be placed too near open fires where sparks can set light to them. Apart from this problem with fire, the only other hazard seems to be cats, who love dried flowers and foliage at the best of times. Include plenty of dried herbs, especially catmint, in an arrangement and you can probably guarantee a good cabaret while the cat races around ripping the arrangement to pieces!

Herbs on the Christmas Tree

There are several spots on the Christmas tree where you could tuck an herbal arrangement or tiny wreaths of herbal flowers and foliage to add to the natural pine scent of the tree. Decorated pine cones with clusters of herbs and ribbons to hang on the tree, and miniature baskets of dried herbs tied with a festive gold cord add an unusual touch and fragrance. As there are so many family gatherings at this time of year, why not make some decorations for the tree as a family present?

Miniature Sacks

A miniature sack of herbs can be made from a piece of hessian or burlap 6×2 inches. Fold it in half along the longer edge and stitch together to two side seams. Turn it right sides out, fill with strong-smelling dried herbs and tie with an elastic band. Then decorate the sack with a red or green ribbon, miniature pine cones and some holly.

Stockings Filled with Herbs

Small socks or stockings can be cut from any cotton material with a festive color scheme or pattern. Cut out two identical pieces and sew round the edges, leaving the top open. If you sew with a contrasting thread, say holly green on red material, it doesn't matter if the stitches show as they can be part of the design. Alternatively, you can place the two pieces of material with right sides together and sew with a matching cotton, then very carefully turn the stocking inside out. This is more difficult but looks neater. Then fill the stocking with scented dried herbs and stitch across the top. The stocking can then be decorated with festive bits and pieces, such as gold-sprayed miniature cones and holly berries.

Little Balls of Herbs

Small polystyrene spheres, 1 inch in diameter, can be made into herbal Christmas tree decorations. Cover them in a solution of latex adhesive, watered down slightly so it is easier to apply. Dip these balls in dried lavender or stick herbal flower heads, such as oregano or marjoram, all over the balls and trim with tiny ribbons. A set of balls in shades of misty lavender and greeny-gray, trimmed with narrow pale pink ribbons, looks very dainty and unusual.

Christmas Swags and Garlands

A swag of dried herbs and flowers hung across a mantelpiece or round a doorway is a lovely way of welcoming your guests. If you have the time and patience, you could make one for a friend and give it as a wonderful pre-Christmas surprise. Placing unusual herbal foliage or flowers in a festive garland provides extra points of interest. Cones and berries are a must for a traditional look, whether left in their natural shades or gilded. Small kumquats could be included because they are daintier than oranges. Tartan ribbons and bunches of lavender, bay, holly, rosemary and sage are complemented by sprays of brilliant red roses, cream peonies and pink carnations. Dried flowers can look just as lovely as fresh arrangements and last far longer.

However, another warning note must be sounded regarding mantelpiece arrangements. Do take care to fix the swag very firmly across the mantelpiece, as open fires and dried flowers do not mix and it only takes seconds for an arrangement to fall into the dying embers of a fire and go up in smoke.

Making a Swag or Garland

Although somewhat time-consuming, swags or garlands are not too difficult to make. Measure the length of decoration required and cut a piece of rope or colored cord to that measurement, plus 4 inches for loops at each end. Choose your combination of ingredients (you will need more than you think), including some ribbons, something bulky like pine cones and a selection of foliage such as spruce or holly to form the basis of the swag.

Wire all the ingredients into small bunches approximately 3 inches long using fine floristry wire. Make plenty of bunches of each type of ingredient. Pine cones are wired by inserting the end of a medium strength wire into the scales and then wrapping it around the cone, leaving a stem to wire on to the garland.

Taking the piece of cord, bend 2 inches over at each end and wire on to the main cord to make a strong loop. Start with a feathery piece of foliage and, using a fine to medium strength piece of wire, attach it to the cord. trim off the excess wire once the bunch is attached. Continue along the cord wiring with a new piece of wire for each bunch and trimming any unnecessary wire each time. When you reach the middle of the length of cord, turn the bunches so that they face the opposite direction. You may have to wire extra very short bunches into the middle to pad it out a little, or alternatively you can get out that glue gun again!

Source by Carol J Miller