Nothing impresses the nongardener quite as much as receiving a gift from someone else's garden. And those who grow herbs have the makings of some really impressive gifts.
"A salt rub is a very easy and fun gift to make," says Heather Askins, sales assistant at Medford's Health Food Mart. "Don't use it on the face, but it is great for exfoliating dead skin, especially on elbows and knees."
Package your homemade gifts thoughtfully. Fancy bottles and jars may often be found at thrift or import stores. Half pint canning jars also work. Health food stores often carry small jars and bottles.
Sealing oils and vinegars with corks and wax is safer than using metal lids. It's more festive, too. Oils should be refrigerated after opening.
Labels are easy to make on a computer or can be purchased at craft stores.
Be sure to sterilize jars, bottles, lids and corks before using. Jars without lids can be sealed with canning wax and covered with colored cling wrap.
It is safest not to use metal bowls or utensils.
Maria Katsantones, outreach assistant at the Ashland Food Co-op, suggests pairing salt rub with homegrown chamomile tea bags for a gift. "We sell empty tea bags, and bags filled with chamomile are very soothing for the eyes," she says. Or make your own tea combinations, using bulk black tea with homegrown herbs such as lavender or dried fruit bits like apples or pears.
We've also included a recipe for flavored honey. Homemade jams and jellies are always a big hit, but also a lot of work. There is a shortcut, however. You can take a commercially-made jam or jelly and spice it up. Flavored oils and vinegars are also easy to make.
Voila! You'll have lovely gifts for everyone. Happy holidays.
Salt Rub Instructions
Take four ounces of coarse salt or kosher salt. Add 1/2 cup dried lemon verbena leaves or mint leaves, crushed in a mortar and pestle. Or you may use chamomile flowers or rose petals torn into pieces. Mix together in a glass or ceramic bowl. Put in a sealed jar and store in the dark for a week or two, stirring every other day. Pour back into bowl through a strainer big enough for the salt to pass through. Add 2 TBS of a very light body or massage oil or light olive oil, mixing in thoroughly. Re-jar and add a label explaining what it is.
Use any mild honey, like clover or blackberry. Pour one pint of honey into a saucepan and heat over a low heat, stirring continuously. Add one ounce of fresh herbs or one teaspoon of dried herbs. You want to just warm this, not cook it. Mint is a good choice, but you could also try rosemary, thyme, lavender or geranium leaves. Pour into sterilized jars and store in the dark for two weeks. Then strain out the herbs and reseal the jars. The honey can then be used to flavor teas, in salad dressings and marinades, or on bread.
Spiced up Jelly
Take one third cup fresh herbs for every pint of jelly. Empty jelly into a saucepan, add your herbs and let simmer for 20 minutes, stirring continuously. Pour jelly into sterilized jars through a strainer. Allow jars to cool. You then have the choice of using this as a refrigerator jam, which means keeping it continuously cold, or processing it in a boiling canning bath. Refrigerator jelly will last three to four weeks, canned jelly about 6 months.
Combinations are up to you. Apple jelly with rosemary makes a good accompaniment for meats. Cherry jelly with peppercorns and mint is another interesting combination. Think of what you can do with lavender, lemon verbena, mint, lemon balm, cilantro or geraniums. Don't forget to label your concoction with ingredients, instructions and a use-by date.
Flavored Oils and Vinegar
Use quality vinegar or a lightly flavored oil. Select about 1/3 cup of herbs or a combination of herbs, wash and put into sterilized bottle. Warm the oil or vinegar — you do not want it hot, just a little warm. Fill the bottle with warm liquid and seal. Put it in a dark place for two to four weeks, shaking every day. Strain out the herbs and rebottle. You can add sprigs or leaves of fresh herbs for visual appeal. (Do not use fresh garlic in these, Katsantones warns, as it can harbor bacteria.)