Holiday Herb Words Unscrambled

By Pat Greathead

Did you get all of the herbs correct in the Holiday Herbs Word Scramble posted on Christmas Day? Below are the answers to the scramble along with some of the symbolism associated with each of these herbs.

Holiday word scramble prize

The winner of the Word Scramble Contest is Belinda Renno of Fort Wayne, Indiana. Belinda posted her correct answers on December 25th at 7:44AM. Congratulations to Belinda! She will receive a nice assortment of gift items from The Herb Society of America’s Thyme and Again Gift Shoppe. Belinda says she enjoys gardening and reading the HSA blog.

Now….here are the answers to the Holiday Herb Word Scramble and their associated meanings.

  1. neip – pine – pity
  2. sabli – basil – love, good wishes
  3. decra – cedar – strength
  4. eru – rue – disdain, grace, clear vision
  5. wye – yew – sorrow
  6. esor – rose – love
  7. yiv – ivy – fidelity, marriage, I have one true heart
  8. gaes – sage – esteem, wisdom, immortality
  9. intm – mint – virtue, warmth of feeling
  10. aby – bay – success, glory
  11. lolyh – holly – foresight
  12. mtyhe – thyme – courage, activity
  13. yaeplsr – parsley – friendship, gratitude
  14. eacitts – statice – never ceasing remembrance
  15. yamtscor – costmary – fidelity
  16. dalgmiro – marigold – grief, contempt, jealousy, disdain
  17. lemtry – myrtle – love, peace and prosperity
  18. sepycrs – cypress – death, mourning
  19. ooxbodw – boxwood – stoicism
  20. tteeilosm – mistletoe – I surmount difficulties
  21. smorreay – rosemary – remembrance, love
  22. mowwdroo – wormwood – safe travels, absence
  23. aalldnceu – calendula – health
  24. jamorram – marjoram – happiness, blushes, joy
  25. tlaanions – santolina – great virtue, avoids evil

The herb meanings come from two classic books, which are available online.

Mayo, Sarah C Edgarton. The flower vase; containing the language of flowers, and their poetic sentiment. 1850. Available at https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=njp.32101068142429&view=1up&seq=159

Greenaway, Kate. Language of Flowers. 1846-1901. Available at http://www.gutenberg.org/files/31591/31591-h/31591-h.htm

Happy New Year to all of our blog readers.


Pat Greathead is a very active Life Member of The Herb Society of America and the Wisconsin Unit.  She gardens in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin.

Holiday Herbs Word Scramble

By Pat Greatheadholiday herbs

Now here is something for you to do when you have a free minute or two over the holidays. You can unscramble these herb words for a chance to a win a prize!

Holiday word scramble prizeThe first person to email me (patherbs@frontier.com) with the correct answers receives a very nice gift from The Herb Society of America’s Thyme and Again Gift Shoppe. 

Contest ends at midnight on December 31. Answers will be posted on this blog on January 1.

(If you have completed this scramble before, please do not enter this contest!)

 

  1. neip
  2. sabli
  3. decra
  4. eru
  5. wye
  6. esor
  7. yiv
  8. gaes
  9. intm
  10. aby
  11. lolyh
  12. mtyhe
  13. yaeplsr
  14. eacitts
  15. yamtscor
  16. dalgmiro
  17. lemtry
  18. sepycrs
  19. ooxbodw
  20. tteeilosm
  21. smorreay
  22. mowwdroo
  23. aalldnceu
  24. jamorram
  25. tlaanions

With sincere wishes that your holidays are truly merry and magical.

Hugs, Pat


Pat Greathead is a very active Life Member of The Herb Society of America and the Wisconsin Unit.  She gardens in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin.

The History of the Christmas Tree

By Susan Leigh AnthonyChristmas tree

For the past six years I have worked at a wonderful, high-end garden center.  Among the many seasonal items we sell throughout the holidays are Christmas trees and a wonderful array of cut evergreens. Surrounded by this abundance of holiday décor, I began to wonder about where the idea of bringing the greens inside the home during the winter season originated. Although I had some sense that there was a connection to pagan solstice celebrations, I really didn’t know a whole lot more. I definitely felt compelled to learn more and ended up finding that the notion of decorating with greens reaches back much further than I had realized and there are countless facts and legends associated with the traditional use of evergreens.

The Christmas trees we put up and greens we use to festoon our homes each year evolved from very ancient traditions. The ancient Hebrews, Egyptians, and Chinese used evergreens to symbolize eternal life. In particular, the Egyptians used evergreens as part of their celebration of their god, Ra.

In my research, I have learned that Jews must never incorporate any symbols of Christianity in their celebrations. However, I also read the following which forms a connection, though quite distant, between the ancient Hebrews and what we now know as the Christmas tree.  The following is just one of several stories I read about Nimrod and Semiramus. “Two key figures in the origin of Christmas are Nimrod, a great grandson of Noah, and his mother and wife, Semiramis, also known as Ishtar and Isis. Nimrod, known in Egypt as Osiris, was the founder of the first world empire at Babel, later known as Babylon (Genesis 10:8-12; 11:1-9). From ancient sources such as the Epic of Gilgamesh and records unearthed by archeologists from long-ruined Mesopotamian and Egyptian cities, we can reconstruct subsequent events.

After Nimrod’s death (c. 2167 BCE), Semiramis promoted the belief that he was a god. She claimed that she saw a full-grown evergreen tree spring out of the roots of a dead tree stump, symbolizing the springing forth of new life for Nimrod. On the anniversary of his birth, she said, Nimrod would visit the evergreen tree and leave gifts under it. His birthday fell on the winter solstice at the end of December” (Bibletools, 2019).

Saturnalia, the ancient Roman winter festival, honoring Saturn, the god of agriculture, is where we first hear of decorating the tree with pieces of metal.

“During the Middle Ages, the Paradise Tree, which symbolized man’s fall and salvation, became popular in churches and upper-class homes. Fir trees were hung with apples symbolizing man’s fall, small white wafers representing Holy Eucharist, and sweets symbolizing the sweetness of redemption” (Holiday Legends, 2003).

ball blur christmas christmas balls

Photo by Bruno Joseph on Pexels.com

It is said that in the 16th century, Martin Luther was the first to add candles to Christmas trees after seeing the stars shining through the evergreen trees. He is also credited with bringing the Christmas tree indoors.

The following is a delightful tale from northern Europe. “When Christianity was spreading though Europe, three angels, Faith, Hope, and Charity, were sent to Earth to put lights on the first Christmas tree. Their mission was difficult because they had to find a tree as high as hope, as great as love, and as sweet as charity. The tree also had to contain the sign of the cross. The angels’ search came to an end when they found the fir tree of the frozen north. (If you break off a fir needle and look at the stub on the branch you will see the cross.) They lit the fir with stars to make the world’s first Christmas tree” (Holiday Legends, 2003).

Clearly, whatever the origin of the Christmas tree and greens, they have always been viewed as a symbol of hope and rebirth.

And here’s an odd fact behind the relatively new trend of hanging a Christmas tree upside down, which turns out to be a not-so-new idea after all. “Many early Christmas trees, usually firs, seem to have been hung upside down from the ceiling using chains that were hung from chandeliers/lighting hooks. This tradition goes back to the Middle Ages when Europeans did it to represent the Trinity. But now, Christmas trees are set up with the tip pointing to heaven, as some think an upside-down Christmas tree is disrespectful or sacrilegious” (The Spruce, 2019).Christmas Homer

In England, Christmas trees became popular after the London Illustrated News published a wood engraving of the royal Christmas tree on December 23, 1848.  The issue contained an engraving by Winslow Homer of Queen Victoria, Prince Albert, five of their children, and a governess gathered around a decorated evergreen tree on a table full of unwrapped presents. The tree was lit with candles and was topped with an angel. The next year, royal or not, people in England began putting up Christmas trees. Other magazines started writing about the royal Christmas trees each year adding to the popularity of the tradition.

Christmas HaleIn 1850, the Christmas tree phenomenon spread to the United States when Sarah Josepha Hale, who also wrote “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” published a similar engraving in her monthly magazine, Godey’s Lady’s Book. Hale “Americanized” the engraving – removing Victoria’s tiara, Albert’s royal sash and moustache, and the boxes of German biscuits from beneath the Christmas tree.

“The Godey’s engraving was one of the first widely circulated illustrations of a decorated Christmas tree in the United States, and it was soon followed by similar depictions in Harper’s and other major American publications. As a result, Christmas trees came into vogue in America as they had in England.” (Leoma Lovegrove, 2017)

And there you have it, some stories and legends to add to your own personal stories about the Christmas tree tradition.

More information can be found on these websites:

“Bible Verses about Semiramis.” Bibletools. Available at https://www.bibletools.org/index.cfm/fuseaction/Topical.show/RTD/cgg/ID/770/Semiramis.htm

“The Christmas tree: From pagan origins and Christian symbolism to secular status.” ABC. Available at https://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-12-19/the-history-of-the-christmas-tree/8106078

“The Christsmas tree came to America in 1850.” Leoma Lovegrove. Available at https://www.thespruce.com/upside-down-christmas-trees-1976407

“Holiday Legends.” University of Illinois Extension. Available at https://web.extension.illinois.edu/hortihints/0312c.html

Hollaway, April. “Christmas tree has its roots in ancient tradition.” Available at https://www.ancient-origins.net/news-general/christmas-tree-has-its-roots-ancient-customs-001163


Susan Leigh Anthony is a longtime member of the New England Unit of HSA.She runs a garden design business named Doveflower Cottage and is a perennial buyer and expert at Kennedy’s Country Gardens in Scituate, MA.

Holly, Ivy, Mistletoe, and Other Christmas Greens

By Susan AnthonyChristmas greens

 Holly, ivy, and mistletoe are common additions to our Christmas decor.  Read on to learn more about the very interesting meanings some of these traditional greens have.

The Romans first, and later the Christians, began to deck their halls with boughs of holly as it was believed to have protective powers.  Dr. Leonard Perry explains the traditional use of greens at Christmas time in his article “Holiday Greens and Their Traditions.” He said, “Holly was often hung on doors to chase away evil spirits, or else to catch them with their prickly leaves.  The Romans also considered holly sacred, a good omen, representing immortality, and sheltering elves and faeries. This latter belief may have come even earlier from the Teutonic tribes to the north.  Romans gave holly as gifts during the festival of Saturnalia– a week-long party based partly on earlier Greek and Egyptian solstice festivals.

The early Christians in Rome decorated their homes with holly as well, and it gradually became a Christmas symbol as Christianity became the main religion.  To the Christians, the holly with its prickly leaves represented the crown of thorns on Jesus, and their red berries the blood he shed.” (Perry, 2019)

Christmas wreathCommenting on ivy, Perry said, “The song “The Holly and the Ivy” has its roots in an English tradition from the Middle Ages.  The soft ivy was twined around the more prickly holly in arrangements.  Not only was this for aesthetic purposes, but also the holly symbolized males and the ivy females, and their combination represented a good-natured rivalry between the two.

The use of ivy as a decoration once again dates back to Roman times, when it became associated with Bacchus–the god of good times and revelry.  It symbolized prosperity and charity, and so for early Christians, it was used during Christmas– a time to celebrate good times and to provide for the less fortunate.  If ivy was growing on the outside of houses, it was thought to prevent misfortune.  If it died, though, this was a sign of approaching financial problems.”

Perry goes on to explain that “Mistletoe occupies a fascinating place in the folklore of many early cultures, especially those of northern Europe, Scandinavia, and the British Isles. A botanical curiosity, mistletoe is the only complete plant that is a true parasite, often killing the hardwood tree it infests.  For this reason, it was credited with magical properties by ancient societies and held sacred.”

The Druids associated mistletoe with luck and good fortune and used it in their winter solstice celebrations and ceremonies. One ceremony involved Druid priests climbing into trees, cutting the mistletoe and letting it fall to the people below. If the mistletoe hit the ground, it would bring bad luck. It was believed that catching it would ensure fertility for the animals. One can only imagine the scene below as robe-clad people scurried around to catch the falling mistletoe.

“In ancient Scandinavia, mistletoe was believed to symbolize peace.  If enemies happened to meet under trees with mistletoe, they would disarm and call a truce for the day.  With our images of rough Norse soldiers, this paints an interesting and seemingly unlikely picture!” (Perry, 2019)

Perry states that “Mistletoe also grows in the warmer climates, and was used as medicine by the Native Americans.  Also known as “allheal,” it was used to treat dog bites, toothache and measles.” He goes on to explain where the custom of kissing under mistletoe comes from. “Many believe it is an English custom, which dictates that after each kiss, one of its white berries must be plucked from the bunch and discarded.  When the berries are all gone, the kissing must stop.”  Mistletoe bunches with the most berries must have been eagerly sought after by young men and women.

The custom of kissing under mistletoe dates back much further though, once again to Scandinavian mythology, Dr. Perry claims. “An arrow made of mistletoe killed Balder, the son of Frigga who was the Norse goddess of love.  Her tears, falling on the mistletoe, turned into white berries.  In her sorrow she decreed that mistletoe would never again be used for death, but rather for love. Whomever should stand beneath it should receive a kiss.”

Regarding the use of evergreen branches, Perry says that “It was perhaps during the Victorian era in America that the fir and pine we commonly use today became popular.  These, together with hemlock, yew, bay, and the more historic greens, were made into lavish arrangements.  Another tradition of the 19th century was to use these to form wreaths, stars, and crosses to decorate graves at Christmas.  These greens were later brought home to enjoy through the rest of the winter, just as we do now during the holidays.”

“Rosemary is another plant with extensive holiday traditions, symbolism, and legends. Associated with remembrance, friendship, and fidelity, rosemary was used extensively during the Medieval Period. An altar decorated with rosemary ensured special blessings and protection to the worshipers. Floors of churches and homes were strewn with the herb. The traditional boar’s head for the Christmas feast was decorated with rosemary.” (“Holiday Legends,” 2003)  And there is also the legend that when Jesus, Mary, and Joseph were fleeing Egypt, Mary placed her blue cloak on a rosemary bush and the flowers turned from white to blue.

I hope these stories will add to your enjoyment of the Christmas holidays.Christmas fruit

More information about legends surrounding the use of Christmas greens can be found online on these Internet sites:

Briggs, Johnathan. “Mistletoe Legends.” Available at http://mistletoe.org.uk/homewp/index.php/traditions/

“Holiday Legends.” 2003. University of Illinois Extension. Available at https://web.extension.illinois.edu/hortihints/0312c.html

Perry, Leonard. 2019. “Holiday Greens and Their Traditions.” University of Vermont Extension Department of Plant and Soil Science. Available at https://pss.uvm.edu/ppp/articles/greens.html


 

Susan Leigh Anthony is a longtime member of the New England Unit of HSA.She runs a garden design business named Doveflower Cottage and is a perennial buyer and expert at Kennedy’s Country Gardens in Scituate, MA.

 

Hearty and Herby Corn Chowder

By Gladys McKinneycorn chowder

During the fall when I have run myself down with all the pumpkin recipes, I look forward to this comfort food chowder. So often we forget the beauty of all the harvest vegetables when pumpkin time comes around, so I thought it fair to mention some other vegetables left behind in the rush-in of fall and all the autumn colors.

Parsley is the main herb in this chowder recipe. It is an herb that is packed with vitamin C, a vitamin that is important for our immune system and overall health.  So, at a time of year when the sun starts to set early and rise late, it is one of the handy herbs to help boost our immune system when we need it most.

This chowder is a long-time friend of late evenings with a good book. Enjoy!

Herbed Corn Chowdercorn chowder herbs

  • 1/4 cup of butter
  • 1/2 cup of onions
  • 1/4 cup of shallots
  • 1/4 cup of flour
  • 1 quart of half and half cream
  • 3 cans of creamed corn
  • 1 can of sweet corn
  • 2 cups of cheddar cheese
  • ¼ cup parsley
  • 1 teaspoon of thyme
  • Smoked pepper, salt, paprika, hot pepper flakes to taste

Put butter, onions and shallots into a skillet (I use a cast iron pan). Cook this until the onions just start to caramelize and then add the flour. Fork-stir this until no lumps are in the pan and it is smooth. In a separate pan on the stove or in a bowl in the microwave, warm up the half and half and add this to the onion mixture and stir well until smooth. Add the cans of corn, stirring constantly; add the cheese next. As the mixture heats, add your parsley, thyme, smoked pepper, and salt to taste.

When done, put into soup bowls and top with a few hot pepper flakes and sprinkle with paprika. I serve this with a nice crusty bread or corn bread.


Gladys McKinney is treasurer of The Herb Society of America.  She lives in Villas, New Jersey. Gladys says that she enjoys this chowder at the shoreline of Cape May in the fall with her children.

Sage: The Herb of Thanksgiving

By Susan Belsinger

“Sage soothes both youth and age and brings the cook pleasing praise.”                                    Carolyn Dille & Susan Belsinger, Herbs in the Kitchen

The majority of recipes that we find for stuffing (cooked inside the turkey or other fowl) or dressing (generally cooked separately in a baking dish in the oven), use fresh or dried sage leaves for flavoring, whether the ingredients include sausage, oysters, mushrooms, nuts, dried fruit, traditional white breadcrumbs or cornbread. Besides its traditional uses with poultry, game, and liver, and in sausages, sage can add a rich and graceful note to vegetables, breads, and sweets.

Sage’s culinary use with rich dishes probably came from its reputation as a digestive. It was very highly held as a medicinal plant by the Greeks and Romans. Its principal use was as a calmative for the stomach and nerves. Regular use of sage tea was said to confer an even disposition to excitable natures and a healthy old age to everyone. Swiss peasants and American Indians used sage as a dentifrice, first chewing a few leaves, then brushing the gums with a twig.

Sage is much respected culinarily in England and Italy, where most country gardens have a sage bush, often fifteen years or older. The flavor from good sage stock does not deteriorate with age, however sage varies in flavor as much as some of the more delicate herbs, depending on the soil and weather conditions. Dalmatian sage from Yugoslavia is esteemed because the camphor odor is less pronounced than in sage grown in different climates. This aroma is also milder in the fresh leaf. The flavor of fresh sage has decidedly lemon rind tones over resin. The lemon flavor recedes and the camphor, and a pleasant muskiness similar to silage, comes forward when sage is dried.

Common sage (Salvia officinalis) seems to keep its aroma and flavor through cooking and drying. Dwarf sage ‘Nana’, white-flowered sage ‘Alba’, and purple-leaved sage ‘Purpurescens’ and the wide-leaved, German ‘Berggarten’ are all handsome varieties of common sage, with good flavor and aroma. The latter cultivar is very strong in flavor, so a smaller amount should be used in place of common sage.

Sage–it’s not just for turkey!

Tis the season for sage—so harvest and dry it—or bring it into the kitchen and get creative with your salvias! Here are just a few ways to use this cold-weather herb in warming winter dishes:

Turkey stuffing—I particularly like it baked in my cornbread, which I bake ahead and then crumble and let it dry out a bit.

Winter squash baked with sage, garlic, and drizzled with olive oil.

Oven-roasted root vegetables (potatoes, sweet potatoes, rutabaga, parsnips, turnips, leeks, and onions) diced and baked in a hot oven with sage leaves and olive oil, perhaps sprinkled with some ancho chile powder or smoked paprika.

Pinto, black, red and white beans are much improved by the flavor of sage and it works well with green chiles.

Pasta e fagioli wouldn’t be the most delectable pasta and bean soup without sage.

Hearty stews, cassoulet and chili benefit from sage seasoning, not to mention its antioxidant properties.

Both risotto and pasta are wonderful when combined with winter squash, sage leaves, and toasted nuts.scones pumpkin cranberries

Try fresh sage leaves in your biscuits or pumpkin scones.

Combine sliced sweet potatoes, apple slices, and onions (or not) in the crockpot with sage leaves and drizzle with a little maple syrup and add a few knobs of butter. Serve when meltingly tender garnished with toasted pecans.

My favorite seasonal fruits—apples and pears—are delightful with sage from sage apple cake, pear, and cranberry crumble to applesauce.

Sage honey is great for sore throats and coughs—taken by the spoonful or added to a cup of hot tea—I have some infusing now in local honey.

Cultivating Sage

Sage graces the garden with its soft grey-green foliage providing a pleasing contrast to the bright hues of most other culinary herbs. It will grow to a bush about four feet in diameter, keeping a well-rounded shape with little pruning in mild climates. All of the sages should have a well-drained or gravelly soil and some added calcium where it is lacking in the soil. Sage needs full sun and will survive through cold winters if well mulched. It should be pruned in the early spring to encourage new growth.

A good practice to follow is mulching sage with an inch or two of sand. That, and the careful sanitation of removing weeds and dead leaves will usually suffice to spare the plants from the soil-borne wilt diseases to which they are susceptible.

Harvesting and Drying Sagesage drying

Like most herbs, sage should be dried in a warm dry place away from sun. Once the leaves are completely dried they should be stored whole in airtight containers. Sage should be crumbled, never ground, as needed for cooking; grinding completely destroys the delicate lemony perfume and leaves the harsher resinous flavors.


Susan is a culinary herbalist, food writer, educator, and photograph whose work has been published in numerous publications. She has authored a number of award-winning books. Her latest book, The Culinary Herbal: Growing & Preserving 97 Flavorful Herbs was co-authored with the late Dr. Arthur Tucker.

Susan is passionate about herbs and her work, sharing the joy of gardening and cooking through teaching & writing, and inspiring others to get in touch with their senses of smell & taste.

Get Your Pumpkin On

By Jen Munson, Education Chair, The Herb Society of America

stingy-jackU.S. growers produce approximately 1.5 billion pounds of pumpkins each year with the majority of them being used for carving. My hometown of Portsmouth, NH, does its best to adopt its fair share of this valuable member of the Cucurbitaceae family. You know for certainty that Halloween is just around the corner when jack-o’-lanterns appear on doorsteps and creatures topped with carved pumpkin heads adorn lamp posts.

Today’s pumpkin carving craze may have had its start in Irish folklore. Legend described a trickster name Stingy Jack who tormented everyone including the Devil. When it was Stingy Jack’s time to cross the pearly gates of heaven God wouldn’t accept him because of his antics. The Devil wouldn’t welcome him and instead gave him an ember with an eternal flame from hell. Stingy Jack placed the ember in a carved turnip to light his way through eternal darkness. The Irish referred to this ghostly figure as “jack-of-the-lantern” and later just “jack-o’-lantern.”

The Irish and Scottish carved their own versions of Jack’s Lantern using turnips and gourds filling them with burning coal. They were placed in windows and by doors to scare away Jack and other unsavory spirits. These early renditions were a fright. Likely they were more frightful simply because of the nature of carving turnips. If you’ve ever taken a bladturnip-lanterne to a turnip you can appreciate that they require a lot of muscle.  My own sad attempt at a turnip lantern is more comical than anything.

Early colonists arriving in America discovered pumpkins from the Indians who relied  on them as a winter food source and as a treatment of intestinal worms and urinary ailments. The legend of Stingy Jack and carved lanterns traveled to America with the Irish who were fleeing the potato famine. Pumpkins were quickly adopted for their large size but more likely their ease of carving.

Current day jack- o’-lanterns are a standard Halloween decoration. Celebrated traditions have evolved to include family outings to select the perfect pumpkin for carving and contests for artistic design. One of the many delights of the season is driving through town and seeing my neighbors’ creativity.


How will you celebrate pumpkin season?


Herb Society of America Medical Disclaimer … It is the policy of The Herb Society of America not to advise or recommend herbs for medicinal or health use. This information is intended for educational purposes only and should not be considered as a recommendation or an endorsement of any medical or health treatment.