Written by Chris McLaughlin
Do you have fresh dried herbs from your garden this year? Does your Square Foot Garden still have perennial herbs? We have a trio of clever, easy gift recipes plus ideas for seven MORE presents from the garden to share.
From the barbeque to the bathtub, aromatic gifts made with your SFG herbs will be appreciated by friends and family this holiday. They’re also a great source of pride for you as a gardener.
Some herbs – like rosemary, chives, lavender and sage – are perennial, often growing back in your SFG each season where there isn’t a hard freeze – so don’t be afraid to harvest them. Never planted an herb garden? Check out Chapter 3 of All New Square Foot Gardening, 3rd edition, for a handy planting guide to start your first culinary herb harvest.
The When, What and How of Drying Herbs
Best Harvest Time: Early morning hours are ideal – right after the morning dew has dried but before the warm day sets in.
What to Harvest: When you’re picking herb leaves, remember that flowers and seeds can be dried, too. Collect blossoms just as they start flowering, but before they have fully opened.
How to Dry: Cut a handful of long stalks and secure the bottom with a rubber band. While you could use string, herbs shrink as they dry – but rubber bands shrink along with the stalks. Hang the bundles upside down in a cool, well-ventilated area for a few weeks. Label your herbs now, not later! Once dry they may look very different than fresh cut. When completely dry, break the leaves from the stems, put leaves in airtight containers and store in a cool, dark place.
Gift 1: Rosemary, Parsley & Chive Herb Butter
Herb or ‘compound’ butter in a cute, lidded container makes a unique and delicious gift. It’s freezer-friendly, too. Cilantro, chives, rosemary, thyme, tarragon, parsley, chervil and chive blossoms make great herb butters. Use unsalted butter to control the sodium – but the flavor may have you skipping the salt altogether! Our favorite is:
- 8 tablespoons of unsalted butter (room temperature)
- 1 tablespoon of dried parsley
- 1 tablespoon freshly chopped chives
- ½ tablespoon dried rosemary
- Lemon juice from 1 lemon
- Salt (Optional)
Add all ingredients in a bowl, mix well with a spatula and salt to taste. Voila: artisan herb butter that will keep in the fridge for up to two months, stored in a lidded container. Or roll the butter into a log and wrap in wax/parchment paper to store in the freezer for up to six months. Let it defrost for 24 hours before using.
If you’re gifting your herb butter – keep it in the fridge or freezer until it’s given as a gift.
Gift 2: Flavorful Herb Salt From the Garden
Herbs that are excellent for salts include basil, celery, cilantro /coriander, dill, fenugreek, lavender, marjoram, parsley, tarragon and thyme. Here’s a delicious alternative to plain salt that only requires a mortar and pestle or a food processor:
- 1 cup sea salt
- 1/4 cup dried parsley
- 2 tablespoons dried basil
- 1 tablespoon dried oregano
- 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
Remove stems. Blend all ingredients and crush a bit with a mortar and pestle. If using a food processor, pulse at short intervals so you can create the desired look of the salt. You don’t want it pulverized, just blended so you see flecks of herbs. Pour into a pretty glass jar or bottle if gifting and seal with a tight-fitting lid. Store in a cool, dark place.
Gift 3: DIY Herbal Tub Teas
Herbs have been used for centuries for health and beauty regimens. You can make luxurious gifts from your SFG-grown herbs that soothe skin, relax muscles and delight the recipient. We like this refreshing, aromatic blend:
- 1 cup dried chamomile
- 1/2 cup calendula petals
- 1/2 cup of dried lemon balm
- 1/3 cup of lavender
- 2 cups of Epsom salts
- 1/2 cup oats
- Small organza or muslin bags
Mix all ingredients in a bowl. Fill bags halfway; knot the tops closed. Remind the recipient to store the tub tea bags in an airtight jar until they are used. To enjoy, simply hang a bag over hot running water or toss them into the tub as it fills.
Other wonderful herbs for aromatic tub teas include dried ginger, yarrow, rosemary, sage and mint. You can try dried rose petals, dried orange, powdered milk, jasmine, pink Himalayan salt, Dead Sea salt and/or essential oils, too.
Seven More Herbal Gift Ideas
Here’s seven more tasty and sophisticated gifts to make for the holiday:
- Herb-infused vinegars
- Herb-infused oils make a perfect pairing with vinegars
- Herbal sugars make distinctive culinary gifts
- Lavender wands are lovely for dresser drawers
- Homemade soaps featuring your dried herbs
- Sugar scrubs as a beauty aid – don’t forget the flowers!
- Herb wreaths are welcome year-round and can hang on a pantry door
As you’re wrapping and decorating your herbal gifts, be sure to label them with an ingredient list plus how to use and store their present. Remember, gifts from your herb garden are one way of keeping your gardener’s spirit happy – not to mention your lucky recipients – no matter the season!