Last Minute Gift Ideas: Herbal Scented Sugars

For the sweet tooth on your list, create a mini selection of herb-infused sugars.

Wrap up in a gift box and include a recipe book or cards sharing how to use them!

Use peppermint or spearmint leaves, rose-scented geranium (Pelargonium),  lavender buds,  rose petals, lemon verbena leaves, vanilla beans or ginger. All the following recipes become more flavorful as the fragrance infuses into the sugar. Use decorative glass jars that seal tight.

Herb leaf or flower petal sugar

Alternate a layer of sugar and the chosen herb until the jar is full. Allow to sit a few days before use to allow the flavor to infuse through the sugar.

Vanilla Sugar

3 cups sugar and 2 vanilla beans

Directions: Place sugar in a bowl. Using a sharp knife, cut vanilla beans in half,  lengthwise. Scrape seeds from the pod into the sugar. Mix vanilla seeds and sugar to evenly distribute the seeds throughout the sugar. Strain sugar mixture through a fine mesh or cheesecloth into an airtight container. Halve vanilla pods crosswise, and submerge them in sugar.

 Lemon Sugar

3 or 4 small lemons and 2 cups sugar

Directions: Use the zest (the skin) from the lemons. Scrape as much of the white, bitter pith off as possible. Add zest to a food processor and grind with 1 cup of sugar until thoroughly mixed.

Transfer the mix to a medium bowl. Add remaining cup sugar, and toss until evenly mixed. Allow to dry before placing in a glass jar, by spreading the sugar mix on a cookie sheet at room temperature for about an hour or until dry.

Ginger Sugar

In a food processor, whirl together one cup of sugar with a few chunks of candied/crystallized ginger.

Ideas for use:

-Rim the glass of a cocktail with lemon-infused sugar by running a fresh-cut lemon slice around the rim and dipping it in the sugar mix.

-Rose geranium sugar and other herbal sugars are perfect to sweeten tea or to sprinkle on the top of shortbread or scones.

-Use peppermint infused sugar in coffee, tea or hot toddy’s

-Sprinkle vanilla and ginger infused sugar on warm gingersnaps,  fresh from the oven (see my favorite gingersnap recipe)

Last minute gift Idea: Wrap up Tea Time

Wrap up Tea Time

Purchase pre-packaged or make your own blends if you have dried herbs harvested from the summer garden.

Create a unique card to hold tea bags. Try this easy one sheet (scrapbook paper 12 x 12) folded accordion card,

how-to’s are here:

Gift Package with a tea cup, shortbread cookies, a jar of honey, and a personal sentiment,  plus inspirations that slow the pace and relax with a cup of tea,  like a good book.





Create unique blends to give

Herbal Tea Recipe Blends:
Experiment with flavors you like, try not to add more than three ingredients at a time.
Sweet, Minty and Soothing
1 cup dried lavender buds
1 cup dried spearmint
½ cup dried German chamomile blossoms
A Tangy Touch Of Citrus
1 cup dried pineapple sage
1 cup rosehips, lightly crushed
½ cup dried lemon balm 
A Floral Blend
½ cup rose petals
½ cup lavender buds
1 cup lemon verbena

Herbs Mixed With Indian or China Teas:

Create flavorful blends from purchased bulk teas. Mix a single herb with bulk tea such as Darjeeling, green or Earl Gray to create unique blends.  The homegrown herb will enhance the tea with flavor and fragrance. Begin by mixing the tea 4 parts to 1 part of dried herb.

Combinations to try:

English lavender buds with Earl Gray

Spearmint with green tea

Bee balm with Darjeeling

Package hand-blended loose teas in small glassine bags.Seal and label with the flavor and instructions on how to brew.To use: 1 teaspoon of loose herbs per cup of hot water.

Copy this tea label or make your own. This beautiful frame was found at

Last minute gift idea: Christmas Quinoa

The last stretch before Christmas–do we mob the mall for those last minute things or pay overnight shipping  OR do we get creative.                                                   I love homemade gifts.

As we head into the final days before Christmas, I will be posting projects that can be made in about an hour (once you gather all the materials!)  Give joy in a thoughtful way!

One of my favorite food discoveries this past year was Quinoa. I season it with fresh herbs (love what cilantro or basil do to quinoa’s nutty flavor!) , drizzled with garlic infused olive oil, fresh grape tomatoes and sliced black olives. I make a big batch, toss in the herbs, refrigerate it and have it as a quick lunch or dinner. Quinoa (pronounced KEEN-WAH) is a plant (Chenopodium quinoa) native to the Andes Mountains. It is popular for its high protein and nutrient value.  To learn all you really want to know about this plant go to

Cook quinoa like you cook rice.

Basic Quinoa Recipe

2 cups water          1 cup quinoa

Place quinoa and water in a 1-½ quart saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, cover and cook until all the water is absorbed (about 15 minutes). You will know that the quinoa is done when all the grains have turned  transparent, and the  germ has separated. Quinoa is really easy to do in a rice cooker. Follow directions for the rice cooker using the same information as rice.  Makes 3 cups.

Bottom jar: quinoa, middle jar:pecans and a layer of dried cherries, top jar: brown sugar cinnamon topping

Inspired by the book Mary Jane’s Outpost by Mary Jane Butters.(ISBN 978-0-307-34580-6), I found the idea for topping quinoa just like a morning bowl of oatmeal. Tried it, love it, thinking this could be packaged up for gifting.

Christmas Quinoa                                Give a gift basket with a mini rice cooker and this quinoa collage of jars with the directions for a college student to take home  or stack the tower of jars with the directions in a gift bag for a favorite foodie.

Package in small wide mouth canning jars or other decorative jars that stack well:

1st jar- 1 cup Quinoa

2nd jar- a layer of pecans and a layer of dried cherries (or try dried cranberries or blueberries)

3rd jar: 1/2 cup brown sugar and 2 teaspoons cinnamon powder (mix well)

Give the cooking and serving directions: Cook the quinoa according to the basic directions.

While steaming hot serve,  topped with pecans and dried fruits then sprinkle with the brown/cinnamon sugar mix (to taste) .

Bringing in the Greens

Fresh cut greens brought in the home this time of year is a tradition dating back hundreds of years. It identifies with our need to bring the garden indoors when we are spending less time outside.  Traditional winter festivals included “hanging of the greens” or “bringing in the greens” when fresh-cut greenery and branches were brought in to celebrate the harvest and the winter solstice.  Not only for decoration, the plants were also used extensively for their heady, healing aromas. The heavy resinous oils in the needles and branches would freshen and purify enclosed living spaces. In ancient Egypt, aromatic spices and plant resins were items of great value for indoor fragrance and the extensive use of scent by Cleopatra is legendary. Ancient Romans made perfuming a ritual for everything from clothing to the sails of their ships,  leaving much legend and lore through history,  as to their uses.

Create your own seasonal traditions by bringing the bounty of evergreens and other natural materials inside. Take a walk through the winter garden and look for interesting seed heads, foliage and branches jeweled with berries. Search for materials with unblemished leaves, sturdy stems and heads that do not shatter when harvested.  Move beyond the traditional greenery of indoor decor and look for materials that incorporate a whole range of natural textures. This different way of looking through the garden can inspire and capture fragrance and colors for wreaths, garlands and arrangements, perfect for adorning the entry hall, fireplace mantles and the dining room. Enhance garden crafting with out of the garden details such as dried fruits, fragrant cinnamon sticks, pinecones and spices.  Follow these tips and ideas to bring it all together.

  • Take a bucket with clean water to immediately place, fresh cuttings in

    salal, pieris, variegated holly, hop vine, douglas fir
  • Use sharp,  clean pruners or scissors to take clippings
  • Remove the lower leaves off stems, so they do not sit underwater
  • Woody stems should be crushed on the ends, so they can take up water easier.
  • Place buckets of greenery in a cool place such as the garage and allow them to sit overnight to absorb the maximum amount of water.
  • When arranging  fresh stems and branches in a vase, re-cut the end of the stem to allow better water uptake. Flowers and greens that can absorb water and stay plumped up will have a longer vase life. Replace water every few day for cleanliness and keep water at the level it needs to be and top off as necessary.
  • Most woody, evergreen branches like cedar and salal will last through a holiday season without water.

Pruning Tips

Don’t cut shrubs or trees in a way that may alter their natural growing habit. For example,  avoid short cuts at the top of woody ornamental plants.  Find selective long branches that allow cuts closer to the base or around the outer edges of the plants. Look for branches that need to be pruned off.  Learn what plants bloom on new growth (like Beautyberry); they can usually be cut heavier. As a rule of thumb, never cut more than one-third of leafy evergreen plants. Conifers and needled branches are cut very selectively.  Avoid cutting where it will permanently re-shape the tree or shrub (unless you are making a topiary!).  Look for undamaged branches that have fallen in the wind or cut small branches where you will naturally want to thin or limb up.

fresh, hand-wrapped salal wreath

 Plants for winter cutting

 For a golden touch:

 Aucuba “Mr. Goldstrike”, Euonymus ‘Silver Queen’, variegated holly, Elaeagnus


Daphne, Viburnum x bodnantense, rosemary

Colorful stems:

Red and yellow twig dogwood, Coral Bark Maple


Camellia, Douglas fir, cedar, evergreen huckleberry, ferns, Pieris, rosemary, salal, Mahonia, boxwood


Barberry, beautyberry, holly, rose hips, snowberry, cranberry Viburnum, Skimmia

Interesting architectural branches:

Witch hazel, contorted filbert, curly willow

Seed and dried floral heads:

Alliums, ornamental grasses like Miscanthus, millet and pennisetum, Echinacea, Rudbeckia

Decorating Thoughts:

Dried Hydrangea, fresh-cut rosemary, salal, cedar,

Think lush and full, don’t skimp. Look for textures that contrast and set off each other. If you don’t make your own, use pre-made wreath bases and garland to add fresh berry branches and interesting stems. Alternate color and texture to complete the look.


Use caution on wood or fabric surfaces. Fresh branches, berries and moisture can stain. Make fresh decor for parties and special events. For arrangements used for longer periods of time, keep greenery fresh by avoiding drying heat sources. Remove fading materials and replace as needed to avoid shedding and fire hazard.


Decorate outdoor window boxes and containers, no need for them to remain bare over the winter. Begin by planting spring-flowering bulbs deep in containers. Top the container as if arranging a vase of cut flowers. Arrange fresh-cut holly branches, contorted filbert stems and fir branches in the top-level of soil of the container. Add weatherproof glass bulbs and pine cones for a decorative touch. As the soil warms in the spring, remove the branches as the bulbs emerge for fresh pops of spring.

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