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.

 

The Legend Behind Vanilla

By Maryann Readalvanilla

Vanilla is The Herb Society of America’s Herb of the Month for December. We can easily conjure up the sweet, calming, and sensual smell of vanilla that we use to flavor some of our favorite desserts. But did you know that there is a legend that explains the origins of the vanilla vine?

Around the year 1000AD, the Totonac people living in the southeastern part of Mexico near Veracruz considered vanilla to be a sacred herb and used it for ritual offerings and as a perfume and medicine. In fact, their city, Paplanta, became known as the city that perfumed the world because of the abundance of vanilla plants growing there.

The Totonacs believed that a beautiful princess named Morning Star once lived in their ancient kingdom in a time before the world knew of the vanilla plant. She was so beautiful that her parents dedicated her to the temple in order to protect her. Every day Morning Star went out to gather flowers for the temple. One day a young prince, Young Deer, spotted her and immediately fell passionately in love with her. As days went by, Young Deer could no longer be content with just watching Morning Star gather flowers. He decided to capture her and run away with her.  Morning Star was startled at first but in the end she fell under Young Deer’s spell and agreed to run away with him.  Not long into the star-crossed lovers’ escape, the temple priests caught up with them and beheaded both of them.

Soon a strong vine with beautiful, delicate green-white orchid flowers grew up on the spot where the young couple was beheaded. The strong vine with sensual leaves and delicate flowers reminded the people of the two lovers. The flowers turned into fragrant brown pods which had a finer scent than any incense being offered to their gods.

It was then that the priests and the Totonac people came to believe that the blood of the lovers was transformed into the vine and flowers of the vanilla plant and declared it to be a sacred gift to their gods. Some believed that the young prince was transformed into the melipona bee, which is the only bee that is able to pollinate the vanilla flowers.

The Aztecs later conquered the Totonacs and they also fell in love with the vanilla plant and forced the Totonacs to give them the pods as taxes. The Aztecs added the pods to their chocolate drink and considered them to be an aphrodisiac. A suitable addition to the legend of vanilla, I believe.

For more information about vanilla and to find out to make your own vanilla extract, go to The Herb Society of America Herb of the Month webpage.


Maryann is the secretary of The Herb Society of America. She gardens in the Piney Woods of East Texas and is a member of the Texas Thyme Unit in Huntsville, TX.

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.

Every Community Needs a Seed Library

by Bevin Cohen

seed catalog

Community seed sharing programs bring people together. So many times, as I’ve stood in front of a crowd at a seed library opening or other similar event, I’ve looked out among the faces and been amazed at the sheer diversity of people in the room: people of all ages, ethnicities, and gender. Seeds are truly a part of everyone’s story; without seeds we simply cannot survive. And with each passing year it seems that more and more people are realizing this and returning to the Earth, to the seeds that feed us all.

When people talk of saving seeds, inevitably they mention the importance of preserving genetic diversity. While genetic and historic preservation, adaptability, and self-reliance are all important aspects of the seed saving movement, it’s community building that is the foundation on which the entire movement stands.

As the movement toward increased food security and localized diet continues to grow, local control of our seed supply is a topic of significant relevance. One of the fastest growing facets of this movement is the seed library, a place where community members have access to a selection of seeds that they can “check-out” just like you would books from your public library. In fact, a number of these programs are actually housed within a local library. I always like to joke that if you want to see a librarian get excited just give them a new reason to use those old card catalogs! There is certainly something beautiful about those old drawers filled with packets of seeds eagerly awaiting a gardener to take them home and give them a grow!

To continue with the library book analogy, after a gardener checks out their seeds and takes them home, when the fall harvest is complete, participants are encouraged to bring their seeds back to the library to restock the supply. If properly executed, the seed library can become a closed circuit sustainable program offering its community a wide selection of regionally adapted, local seed. But it’s this part of the program that has proven to be the most challenging.  The general consensus among the directors of these programs is that getting community members to return seed at the end of the season is the most difficult challenge they face every year.

In my eyes one of the most beneficial aspects of a seed library is its ability to strengthen a community. When like-minded people gather together for a common cause, the friendships and relationships that develop have a value that’s far too great to measure. If a seed library’s sole accomplishment was to get people talking to their neighbors again, sharing seeds and recipes or even just their surplus zucchini, I would consider that a win. But what a seed library offers is also so much more.

Seed libraries are on the forefront of the local food movement, empowering communities with the tools and skills they need to regain the independence we must have in order to live happy and healthy lives. Every neighborhood deserves access to locally grown and adapted seed; every neighborhood should be home to a community seed library program.

 –an excerpt from the book ‘From Our Seeds & Their Keepers; a collection of stories”


Here is how you can start a seed saving library in your community.

Step 1: Consider contacting your local library and if they don’t already have a seed library in place, maybe it’s time for you to plant that seed.

Step 2: Many hands make light work. Connect with like-minded community members to form your seed library working group. Consider Master Gardeners, community gardens, your local herb society and other similar organizations.

Step 3: Time to gather your seeds! Many seed companies are willing to donate to community gardening programs. Reach out to them and make contact. The best time to solicit seed donations is in the winter when companies are hoping to clear out the previous year’s stock.

Step 4: Decide how your community seed library will organize and distribute your seeds. Will participants need to sign up and become members of your seed library? Or will your library be more of a “hands-off” give and take freestyle program? You’ll need to assess your community’s needs as well as your seed library’s resources to determine what the best fit is for your program.

Step 5: Budget for success! While you may be able to acquire your initial seed stock for free, there will be other small expenses you may incur during the setup phase, such as envelopes, labels etc. Plan accordingly!

Step 6: Have fun! Sharing seeds and stories is a fun and healthy way to support your community. Local seeds grow local food and healthy communities are happy communities! Together we can make the world a better place, one seed at a time.


Learn more about seed libraries and Bevin’s work at www.smallhousefarm.com

Bevin has published two books on the subject of seed saving:

From Our Seeds & Their Keeper; a collection of Stories, Small House Press, 2018

Saving Our Seeds: the Practice & Philosophy, Small House, Press 2019

Both titles are available via Amazon or directly from the author at www.smallhousefarm.com