*Photo Credit: Alisa Anton
The natural aromas of citrus, spice, and evergreen evoke feelings of peace and stir childhood memories of joyful anticipation and holiday magic.
The aromatic plants that we associate with the holiday season do more than just smell amazing; they also purify the air and disinfect the environment. This is a huge bonus because people get sick more often in the winter. Synthetic aromas don’t offer this benefit at all.
Because scents evoke strong feelings, they can be used to intentionally create a peaceful and joyous atmosphere.
To make it even more fun, there is a lot of folklore associated with these fragrant plants that you can incorporate when you use them in your home or workplace.
Our ancestors had to rely on plants and herbs for medicine and healing. Burning, boiling, and crushing fragrant plants was believed to purify the home of evil influences that caused sickness. Now we understand that it’s the powerful volatile oils in evergreen trees (pine, spruce, juniper, etc.) that make excellent germ killers (like Pine-Sol).
Evergreen branches were strewn on the floor and hung throughout the home, filling the rooms with fragrant healing properties. These same aromas have a profound effect on emotional health; similar to taking a walk through a forest, the evergreen aromas instill feelings of calm and peace. Frankincense and myrrh are also well known for their healing properties.
Spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, and bay leaves were used during Medieval times to increase wealth and prosperity. Back in those days, spices were rare and often as costly as gold, and only the wealthiest had regular access to them. Folks who were able to purchase cinnamon and other spices not only used them for cooking; they also created sachets and amulets that were believed to attract money and good fortune.
Peppermint, orange, chocolate, vanilla and cinnamon are traditional ingredients in holiday desserts, and all of them are natural mood-boosters as well. Peppermint is refreshing, energizing, and uplifts the spirits. Chocolate and vanilla are comforting and create a feeling of emotional well-being. The sweet scent of fresh oranges is happy and bright. During the Depression, parents purchased oranges, which were rather rare and hard to obtain, and put them in their children’s Christmas stockings for a sticky sweet (and rare) treat.
Besides cooking, there are several ways to create holiday magic with heavenly smelling botanicals.
Create your own natural incense
Your Christmas tree is a great source of natural incense material that can be used alone, or blended with other ingredients, such as frankincense, myrrh, rosemary leaves, and crushed dried spices. You can use both the leaves and woody twigs from your Christmas tree.
Gather fallen branches and twigs, and snip into small pieces. (You can also simply remove the leaves from the stems if you prefer a more “green” fragrance.) Spread them out to dry on paper towels, or just place them loosely in a paper bag. If you’re mixing in other ingredients, do that at this point.
The easiest way to use this natural incense is to place a small amount in a sturdy fire-proof dish or container and light it. You can also sprinkle your incense on charcoal discs (incense charcoal, not the kind used for a grill).
Another way to create natural incense is to make a smudge stick with the branches of your tree.
You will need:
- straight evergreen branches 6” to 10” long
- 5 feet of red cotton thread
- Optional: whole white sage leaves, rosemary sprigs, dried rose petals, and pieces of frankincense and myrrh to tuck inside your smudgestick
Cut your branches to a uniform length. Put several branches together, and, starting at the bottom, wind the string around the bundle. Make sure to leave a tail at the base of about 3 inches for tying a knot after wrapping your stick. Wind the string up the branches, and then back down again. Finish wrapping by winding the string several times around the bottom, and tie a knot with the end of the string, leaving 2 to 3 inches of loose string to make a loop for hanging. Let your smudgestick dry, then burn it the same way you would use a sage stick.
If you wanted to add other botanicals to your creation, lay your branches together before wrapping them, and place your other ingredients among the branches. Wrap your stick as described above.
Another optional decorative addition to your smudgestick is to tie tiny bells at the end of the string.
Make a pomander
Traditional holiday pomanders are made from oranges, lemons, or apples, studded with cloves, and hung with decorative ribbon. Although we tend to think of them now as a fragrant holiday decoration, pomanders were used as far back as the Middle Ages for protection from illness, and also as a religious symbol and keepsake. Pomanders are simple to make. Click here for a how-to!
Sachets can be both decorative and fragrant, but with a bit of knowledge of folklore, they can be made into thoughtful magical gifts for loved ones. You can blend herbs and spices that are associated with health, wealth, and happiness (see above) and give them to the people in your life who might need a little boost of positive energy.
To make a holiday sachet, you will need:
- 3 to 4 inch squares of bright red or holiday patterned cloth
- Fragrant botanicals: evergreen clippings, rosemary leaves, cinnamon, cloves, dried orange peel, frankincense, myrrh, bay leaves, juniper berries
- Optional: whole cinnamon sticks, tiny bells, and crystal beads to decorate the sachet with
Choose the herbs for your sachet, and crush them either in a mortar and pestle, or with a rolling pin between a few layers of paper towels. This is the fun part! While you’re crushing the botanicals, their scents are released, which is the original form of aromatherapy! This is also the time for you to focus your thoughts on your intention for the sachet. Think about increasing love, wealth, and healing while you smell the fragrances.
You don’t need to powder your ingredients, just break them down to small pieces and relatively uniform size.
When you’re done, place a small mound of botanicals in the center of the cloth square. Gather up the four corners, and tie up the bundle with a ribbon. You can use additional ribbon to attach a cinnamon stick, little bells, and crystal beads to make them sweetly decorative as well as sweet-smelling. You can tie the sachet to your holiday tree, or wrap to give as a fragrant healing gift.
May your holiday season be healthy, happy, and wonderfully fragrant!