Homespun Herbal Gifts for the Holiday Season
Story, Recipes, and Photos By Anna Marie Beauchemin
Clinical Herbalist, East Bay Herbals
Herbal medicine is an age-old tradition steeped in the belief that the plants and foods around us hold medicinal value. It embodies the concept that the natural world is integral to our wellness, and that plant medicine can be used to foster healing. Many of the plants in our medicine chests are also foods found in our kitchens that can be easily incorporated into our lifestyles.
As a professional herbalist and former biologist, when I think of holiday gifts, my mind goes to the garden and the kitchen. I love to find ways to weave herbal magic into handcrafted treasures featuring plants that are beneficial for health.
The DIY gifts here feature medicinal plants in ways that emphasize their importance not only in family wellness, but also in the health of the ecological world. The ideas highlighted here are easy and affordable ways to begin incorporating the concepts of herbalism into your home.
Anna Marie Beauchemin is a trained clinical herbalist, biologist, and the founder of East Bay Herbals, a community apothecary in Martinez, California. She offers herbal consultations and community workshops, and also works as an independent writer and consultant. For more information, visit eastbayherbals.com.
Herbal Finishing Salt
This recipe boasts a variety of herbs traditionally known to be helpful with digestion, which are also savory on the palate. Thyme, tarragon, and marjoram offer an herbs de Provence flavor, while calendula and rosemary add their medicinal properties. The beautiful and fragrant blend makes a superb finishing salt that can be used in marinades, rubs, and dressings or sprinkled on top of a dish.
¼ cup grey sea salt
1 teaspoon calendula petals
1 teaspoon dried rosemary leaves
1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
½ teaspoon dried tarragon leaves
½ teaspoon dried marjoram leaves
½ teaspoon dried summer savory leaves
⅛ teaspoon sea kelp powder
Add salt to a small bowl. Measure herbs into an herb mill or coffee grinder (a mortar and pestle works too) and pulse quickly to break apart. (I like to keep the herbs a little more intact, as it adds an attractive look when sprinkled on top of a dish, but if you prefer a finer powder, simply pulse 5–10 seconds longer.) Add the ground-up herbs to the salt, mix together, and your herbed salt is now ready to be placed into attractive jars, labeled with ideas for use, and given away as medicinal and culinary holiday gifts. Note: Online retailer mountainroseherbs.com offers a good selection of jars.
Herbal Fire Cider for Winter Immunity
This spicy medicinal blend makes a wonderful winter gift. Concocted with fresh garden herbs and savory root vegetables, herbal fire cider is a traditional tonic for the cold and flu season. Packed full of medicinal plants that help bolster the body’s natural immunity, this spicy apple cider–based elixir can support health all winter long. Originally invented by Rosemary Gladstar, it is a staple in many herbalists’ medicine chests. It can be taken straight as a shot or used in inventive ways in the kitchen. Try using it in a marinade or blend some with olive oil for a spunky salad dressing.
One 32 ounce bottle apple cider vinegar (high quality)
1–2 yellow onions
7–10 cloves garlic (or more if desired)
1–2 dried peppers (cayenne is common, hence the name “fire”)
1 knob fresh horseradish root (about 2–3 inches long)
1 knob fresh ginger root (about 2–3 inches long)
One 2–3–inch piece burdock root (optional)
3–4 sprigs fresh thyme (optional)
2–3 sprigs fresh rosemary (optional)
Chop all the ingredients, add to a 64-ounce mason jar, and pour apple cider vinegar on top, making sure that the ingredients are submerged under the liquid. Close tightly with a lid and put in a dark place for one month, checking on the fire cider regularly and shaking to help with the extraction process. After one month, strain out the veggies and herbs and pour into 8-ounce swing-top or decorative bottles. Adorn the bottles with labels that include serving suggestions. This gift is best stored in the refrigerator and used within six months.
Pollinator + Medicinal Herb Garden Seed Packets
Flowering plants—many of which are pollinated by bees and other insects—are a vital part of our ecosystems. They offer forage for wildlife, food for people, and medicine for their surrounding communities. This seed mixture includes plants that are both medicinal in nature and also beneficial to pollinators.
This gift is perfect for a gardener, plant lover, herbalist, or bee enthusiast who wants to grow plants that also offer reciprocity to the natural world. For more information on the medicinal propewrties of the plants listed here, visit eastbayherbals.com. To learn more about pollinator-friendly plants, check out UC Berkeley researcher Dr. Gordon Frankie’s book California Bees and Blooms, which offers an extensive planting list.
1 part lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) seeds
1 part California poppy (Eschscholzia californica) seeds
1 part borage (Borago officinalis) seeds
1 part tulsi (Ocimum tenuiflorum or O. sanctum) seeds
1 part basil (Ocimum basilicum) seeds
Blend seeds together and divide the mixture into small paper envelopes. (See below for our idea on how to make your own decorative seed envelopes.) Seeds should be sown over worked soil or in planters in the spring. Make sure to keep the seeds well watered until the sprouts come up and continue to keep moist until the plants have become established. Most of the seeds listed here can be purchased at your local nursery or can be ordered online in bulk. Choose organic seeds when possible, and use organic gardening practices for the health of the pollinators and the medicinal herbs.
Downloadable Designs for Hang Tags and Origami Seed Packet
To add pizzazz to your homespun gifts, our designers have created printable artwork for hang tags and a nifty origami seed packet. The designs and instructions are on a pdf you can download from this link. Just print out the pdf, add color to the pages as you like, and follow the instructions for assembly.