Herbs have been incorporated into the winter holidays for as long as humans have been celebrating holidays. The winter solstice was much celebrated as it represented a halfway point. The cold season half over, the sun would stay longer every day building toward the blessed heat and abundance of summer.
Holly, Ivy, and Pine
Holly and ivy were important herbs to the druids, as they symbolized life and rebirth. Both stay green throughout the harsh winter cold. Holly even produces its beautiful red fruits during the cold season. Evergreens are another evergreen, with the needles of pine trees burnt in place of sage for purification of an area. The needles can also be used as a tea; packed full of flavor as well as vitamins C and A. The taste is light with only a hint of pine, very palate pleasing with the addition of some local honey.
Lavender, associated with the birth of Christ, the Virgin Mary hung the swaddling blankets out to dry over lavender and rosemary bushes. Lavender is great for filling sachets or setting out as potpourri to sweeten the air in a guest room before family and friends arrive for the holidays. Lavender essential oil in diffusers can be used as well, however, care must be taken around those that may be sensitive to essential oils.
Thyme can be a lovely addition to the potpourri and also has historic connections to the Virgin Mary; thyme was part of the rushes for the bed the Virgin Mary lay on as she gave birth. Thyme as part of the rushes for a birthing bed, as it is antiseptic. Thyme for culinary purposes; it is tasty when added to turkey, stuffing, or baked mac and cheese. Baked mac and cheese is a holiday favorite here. My grandmother has been making this tasty dish since before I was born. It is so simple to make and such a great comfort food. The recipe used in my house will follow at the end of the post.
Frankincense and Myrrh
Frankincense and myrrh, what beautiful scents. Long associated with the three wise men and Christmas, but its use goes back much farther in time. Set on coals to burn the fragrant smoke purifies an area. It is often used now in mouthwashes and toothpastes but it was popular for its use in embalming when that was the favored way of burial.
Allspice, Cinnamon, Nutmeg, and Cloves
The scent of allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves baking in something yummy have also become synonymous with winter holidays. What says winter holidays more than the heavenly scent of pies loaded up with these spices baking in the oven? All of these spices perform double duty. Allspice is good for the digestion while cloves are relaxing and analgesic. Cinnamon aids the digestion as well by helping to keep the digestive fires burning and nutmeg as well is good for the digestion along with its carminative effect. A tasty chai can be created with these four herbs. A half teaspoon of each (ground) infused in water, add a little honey and you have some awesome in your cup. If you want to make it a latte; just make the tea stronger and heat some milk. Mix the two and visit heaven.
Baked mac and cheese
1 box of elbow macaroni 2 lbs cheese (cheddar, mozzarella, whatever
1 teaspoon dried thyme or 1 sprig type preferred)
1 clove fresh garlic (chopped) Butter or oil for the pan
Grate all the cheese or, buy some already grated (whichever flies your broomstick) Set your noodles to boil. While the noodles cook, butter/oil a 9 x 13 baking dish and add your thyme and garlic to the grated cheese. Once the noodles are done thoroughly drain them. Spread a thin layer of noodles in the buttered baking dish, follow with a thin layer of the cheese/ herb mixture. Continue layering until near the top of the dish, making sure to end with a thicker layer of the cheese/ herb mix.