Monday, November 5, 2012

Herbs and Spices for November

Recently, as I browsed my small collection of herb books,
I came across an old one called "The Pleasure of Herbs,"
which has long been one of my favorites.
The author is Phyllis V. Shaudys, 
who in the 1980s wrote a newsletter called "Potpourri from Herbal Acres."
Shaudys' book provides a month-by-month guide 
for growing and preserving herbs.

A long time ago, I grew a lot of herbs and dried them for use 
in potpourri, sachets, pomanders, catnip toys, etc. 
Shaudy's book was my go-to resource.
It was fun, but I don't have the outdoor space to grow so many herbs now.
Unfortunately, I no longer have the time either.
But I still love the fragrance and folklore of herbs
and the recipes for decoctions, infusions, and tisanes 
which are purported to have healing properties. 

Shaudys suggests that one can stave off a cold this time of year
by drinking catnip tea with honey and lemon.
 I've never tried catnip tea for a cold, but I have sipped it as a sleep aid. 
To me, catnip's flavor is a cross between peppermint and grass
and it can make one drowsy.
I don't know if that's why cats like it, but they do like it.
When I had a large herb garden, 
my neighbor's cat was always rolling around in the catnip.
(Of course, it could have been worse, 
it could have been my neighbor rolling about in the catnip--
always count one's blessings.)

Another thing she wrote about for fall 
was how to make apple pulp pomanders from
 "the leftovers while you are producing your winter supply of applesauce"
--an  instruction which never fails to make me smile.
No disrespect to Ms. Shaudys, 
but I imagine the number of people 
who  produce their own applesauce each autumn is dwindling rapidly.
photo of apples courtesy of

But I take her point about the delightful scent of apple pomanders.
My mom used to make such pomanders in the fall 
by covering an apple with cloves.
And I made a couple of those once, but only once,
because I disliked my fingers getting sticky and brown 
from apple juice and clove dust.
But I still have one of them and twenty years later, 
its fragrance remains a divine mixture of apples and spice.

For November, Shaudys suggests sage, sage, and more sage
to fragrance Thanksgiving turkeys and stuffing, 
as well as for creating dried wreaths and flower arrangements.
Although this next thing doesn't have sage in it, 
it is a good project for this time of year.

It is for something she calls "Salted Potpourri,"
an 18th-century recipe for a potpourri made of rose petals and cloves.
It takes at least a month to set, 
so there's time to have it ready for the Christmas season, 
and dried rose petals are available at many stores that sells bulk herbs.
Here's the recipe:
Combine 2 cups of dried rose petals with 1/2 cup coarse kosher salt.
Separately, mix 1 tablespoon of ground cloves and 1 tablespoon of mace.
Store the roses and salt for a few days in a closed jar, then stir in the spices. 
Leave for at least 30 days to allow the fragrances to marry.

rose photo courtesy of

So let's see if I have this right:
leave the rose petals and the salt alone for a few days.
Then add the spice and let it alone for another thirty days.
I think that's a recipe I have time for.

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