In times of stress and struggle, people have always turned to the comfort of herbs.
Lavender is probably first among the most-loved herbal comforts, for its scent is both soothing and refreshing (and, scientists tell us, the chemicals in lavender actually calm the brain).
Chamomile tea is an age-old favorite to calm jangled nerves, while peppermint and ginger soothe a nervous stomach.
The essential oil of basil, inhaled, refreshes and relieves mental fatigue, while a bath oil scented with clary sage warms and relaxes both body and spirit.
A potpourri with the rich floral scent of jasmine raises the spirits, and roses–that most beloved of flowers–have strong antidepressant qualities.
Among the spices, cinnamon and nutmeg warm the heart and remind us of Grandmother’s kitchen. In many ways and in many different cultures, herbs have always helped us to recover our spirits and regain our balance.
Decorations / Activities
Tussie mussies: Arrange several vases in the middle of the table, filled with flowers and herbs that symbolize compassion, strength, and comfort in the Victorian language of flowers. Each guest receives a card that lists these symbolic qualities; beebalm compassion, basil love, borage courage, chives “Why do you weep?”, daisy” I share your feelings.”, dill soothing thoughts, fennel strength, fern sincerity, dianthus (pinks) bonds of affection, goldenrod encouragement, honeysuckle generous affection, pansy hearts’ ease, horehound health, lady’s mantle comfort, lavender devotion, lemon balm sympathy, marigold grief, marjoram happiness, mints wisdom, parsley celebration, rose love, rosemary remembrance, yarrow strength. Provide a box of supplies: floral tape, paper doilies with an X cut into the center, rubber bands, ribbon and gold thread, scissors, small white cards, a hole punch, colored pens. Each guest makes a tussie mussie by choosing flower and herbs from the vases arranging them in small, simple bouquets, and fastening with a rubber band. (An example: a tiny rosebud, encircled with ferns and sprigs of basil, dill, mint, yarrow, parsley, and marjoram.) Then push the stems through a paper doily and wraps them in floral tape and ribbon and adding a bow. The meanings of the flowers are written in colored ink on a small white card, a hole punched in the corner, and the card is tied with gold thread (gold is the color of love) to the bouquet. The guests exchange these, so that each takes home the loving thoughts of another.
Lavender hearts: Working with lavender is comforting, and its soothing scent lingers almost forever. For this activity, invite friends into the herb garden. Each friend cuts six spikes of fresh, pliant lavender and makes two braids of three spikes each. Holding the braids at the stem end, form two loops, with the flower heads downward. Fasten this with string or wire tie (the kind that comes from a bread wrapper) and adds a pretty bow.
Dilled Salmon Cream Cheese Sandwiches
Individual quiches, baked in foil tartlet pans and decorated with flower garnishes: chive blossoms, daisy, honeysuckle, lavender, rosemary, mint, goldenrod
Herbed Cheese in a Pot, with crackers
Martha Edmond’s Comfort Cookies, from China’s latest mystery, Bloodroot
Assortment of your favorite teas
Dilled Salmon Cream Cheese Sandwiches: 8 ounces light cream cheese, 1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill weed, 1 tablespoon chopped chives, 1 tablespoon minced parsley, 10 slices white bread, 3 ounces thinly sliced smoked salmon. In a small bowl, stir together the cream cheese, dill weed, parsley, and chives. Using a serrated knife, trim the crusts from the slices of bread. Using a rolling pin, roll to flatten each slice slightly. Spread about 1 1/2tablespoons of the cream cheese mixture over the entire surface of each slice of bread. Top with the salmon. Cut into squares, diamonds, or rectangles. Repeat with the remaining slices of bread. Arrange sandwiches on a serving plate, cover the top with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to serve. (Makes 40)
Herbed Cheese in a Pot: 4 oz. cream cheese, 4 oz grated Cheddar, 2 cloves garlic, crushed, 1 teaspoon dried basil, 1 teaspoon dried summer savory, 1 teaspoon dried thymes, mall crock or pot, 8 oz. size. Combine cheese, garlic, and herbs and mix well. Spoon mixture into crock and press down firmly with the back of a spoon. Refrigerate for at least a day to blend flavors. Serve with crackers and a small knife. Makes 1 cup.
Martha Edmond’s Comfort Cookies: 1 cup sugar, 1/2 cup margarine, 1 egg, beaten, 1 cup grated zucchini, 2 cups flour, 1/2 tsp cinnamon, 1/2 tsp cloves, 1/2 tsp salt, 1 tsp baking powder, 2 tblsp finely chopped fresh basil, 1 cup chopped nuts. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cream sugar and margarine, add egg and beat. Add grated zucchini alternately with dry ingredients, mixed together. Stir in basil and nuts. Drop by small spoonfuls onto greased cookie sheets and bake 12-15 minutes. Makes three dozen.
Lavender Madeleines: 3/4 cup granulated sugar, 3 tbls dried or 5 tbls fresh lavender flowers, 3/4 cup unsalted butter, melted, cooled, 2 large eggs, room temperature, 1/2 tsp vanilla, 1 cup unsifted flour, confectioners sugar, madeleine cookie mold. In food processor, process granulated sugar and flowers until flowers are finely ground. Heat oven to 400 degrees. In a large bowl beat eggs with lavender sugar mixture and vanilla until light and fluffy (about 4 minutes). Gradually beat in melted butter. With wire whisk, fold in flour. Spray madeleine mold with cooking spray. Soon a scant one tablespoon batter into each madeleine mold. Bake 8-10 minutes or until golden brown. Immediately remove from pan. Cool on wire rack. Store in airtight container. Dust with confectioners sugar just before serving. (If you like, substitute rose water for the vanilla, for a wonderful rose fragrance.)
Rosemary-for-Remembrance Cookies: 1/2 cup butter or margarine, 1/2 cup oil, 1/2 cup sugar, 1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar, 1 egg, 1/2 tsp vanilla, 1/2 tsp baking soda, 1/2 tsp cream of tartar, 2 cups flour, 1 tblsp chopped fresh rosemary or 1 tsp dried. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Combine all ingredients except rosemary and mix thoroughly. (If dough seems too sticky, add more flour, a tablespoon at a time). Add rosemary and mix in gently. Form into small balls and place on ungreased cookie sheet. Flatten with the bottom of a glass dipped in sugar. Bake for 6 minutes. Turn pan and bake 2-4 minutes longer, until cookies are just golden brown and firm. Makes 3-4 dozen.
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