Saturday 24 May 2014

Herbs for a wedding

If you discuss using herbs at a marriage ceremony, most people’s first thought would be flower arrangements for the ceremony or the breakfast tables. These could be anything from hand tied bouquets to suitably scented plants in pots.

When this was discussed on the Herb Society Forum some years ago, there were several helpful suggestions. Debs Cook thought myrtle and lemon verbena would be good choices for stand- alone pots of herbs together with lemon thyme, lemon balm, calendula and marjoram for on the table. She suggested alternate pots of lavender, lemon balm and lemon verbena since these herbs provide wonderful summer fragrances and are tactile so guests could squeeze or brush the leaves to release aroma. Jasmine, ivy and roses can also be classified as herbs and can add fragrance to the happy event.

Jane Tapping, another Herb Society member, had experience of using herbs in many different settings. She favoured sweet smelling pinks and clove carnations together with variegated marjorams depending on the overall colour scheme. She also used assorted herbs as foliage in the church arrangements (or registry office) as they gave a lovely fresh smell to the building. Small bunches of lavender or other scented herbs could be set on table napkins for guests.

Debs Cook provided an added dimension through the language of flowers. Lavender is a symbol of devotion, Lemon Balm 'brings love' and Lemon Verbena attracts the opposite sex. Calendula symbolises joy, Marjoram joy and happiness whilst Myrtle is a classic symbol of love and an ancient emblem of marriage.

When my daughter was married earlier this month, she did not want flowers but herbs still played an important part in the proceedings. I was asked to provide a jar of “something” for the wedding favours. Lip balm was deemed inappropriate since it wouldn’t appeal to male guests, so I settled for a universal hand salve made from home grown plantain, calendula and violets.

It didn’t seem sensible to make the salve too far in advance. I discovered a jar full of bright orange dried calendula petals in the summerhouse cupboard at the Sanctuary which provided the basis of the calendula oil component. This was a great relief as my calendula harvest wasn’t huge last year and I’ve used a lot of it for teas and workshop oils.

I had to wait for the plantain to grow and dry conditions in which to pick it while I was at the farm. Whilst the narrow-leaf plantain grows in both fields, it seems more abundant in the spring field. Thankfully we had some glorious days whilst we were visiting in April although my back was aching by the time I’d filled my basket with both plantain and dandelion flowers.

The violet leaves came from the patch at the bottom of my garden. Once the plants stop flowering, the leaves grow to three times their early size and are wonderful for making a moisture-rich oil. I used sunflower oil for all three plants since that is what I normally use and I was trying to keep the costs down.

I produced four infused oils over two days once I had everything in my kitchen. I did not intend to use the dandelion for this salve but it would be available as a backup if anything ran out. Then the job started of making enough salve to fill one hundred small 1oz jam jars. I couldn’t find enough recycled jars, so resorted to buying them off Ebay in the end. They came really quickly, were inexpensive and the silver lids were perfect for my daughter’s colour scheme of white, black and red. 

The labels were created from a Vistaprint address label pattern which I may be using again as it made them look very professional. I also bought tiny bags in red and white from an online party company to put the jars in and they really finished them off beautifully!

This is the method I used to make the infused oil

1 basket full of fresh herb material
Enough sunflower oil to cover half the plant matter (about 20-24 fluid ounces or ½ -2/3 litre)
Either a double saucepan/bain marie or a stainless steel pot with a lid small enough to place inside another saucepan or a plastic bowl with closely fitted lid inside a cook pot.
Place half of the herb inside the inner pan and chop coarsely with scissor. Cover with sunflower oil. Replace the lid firmly and place inside the other saucepan which is about half filled with water. Heat the external saucepan so that the water gently boils. Do not let the pan boil dry! Boil for about 2 hours, then remove the inner pan and strain off the oil, squeezing the herb if you can to remove as much oil as possible. Place the rest of the herb inside the inner pan, chop coarsely and pour over the oil from the first infusion. Replace the lid firmly and heat the oil in the outer pan for a further two hours. Strain the oil into a clean glass jar making sure you leave any water globules in the saucepan. Seal with a screw top lid. Label the oil with the name and date that you made it.

I let the oil sit for a day before gathering together all the ingredients and jars I needed to make the salve. I made the salve in four batches of
6 fl oz calendula oil
6 fl oz plantain oil
6 fl oz violet leaf oil
2-3 ozs local beeswax

This was all melted together on a low heat in the bain marie/double saucepan until the oil was clear. Then I poured it into a glass jug and poured into the small jars. The salve started to set within the jug so I had to return it to the pan or try to keep the jug as hot as possible while I was pouring.

To fill 100 jars took several hours. To screw on each lid, add the label so it was perfectly straight then fit them inside the tiny bags and tie the ribbon into bows took even longer. All the effort was worth it as the favours looked very professional and everyone who received one was very pleased. I’ve also had some extremely good feedback about the efficacy of the hand salve!

On the morning of the wedding herbs came to the rescue again. If I had given the matter some prior thought, I would have been prepared but as it was, being presented with a sobbing bride-to-be early in the morning led me to be rummaging around in the larder without my glasses in my dressing gown and slippers.

This is what I dosed her with – which calmed her down and brought a smile back on her face.

1 tsp rose elixir in a shot glass
1 cup of chamomile tea (2 pinches in a cafatiere brewed for ten minutes)
1 dropperful of skullcap tincture under the tongue

I took a small dropper bottle of the skullcap tincture with me to the wedding venue where I proceeded to dose the groom and his mother, both of whom were threatening to climb the walls with stress. They both remarked how effective it was and the groom asked for a second dose just before he gave his speech, which was excellent!

The moral of this story is that if you let them, herbs can be an integral part of every life event. They can delight you with their flowers and scents, provide simple but effective homemade gifts and enable everyone to find a place of calm to help them through the day.

Our daughter’s wedding was amazing, wonderful and a thoroughly enjoyable occasion. We wish them, Kathryn and Nick, every happiness in their life ahead.