University of Vermont Extension
Department of Plant and Soil Science
HERBS WITH A
Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
University of Vermont
Although any aromatic herb is ideal for holiday
decorations, wreaths, and table centerpieces, four have biblical
Christmas. Many crafts shops and florists carry these dried herb
with the baskets, bowls, and other trimmings needed for decorating.
find live cut sprigs of them at florists and garden stores during
perhaps even plants in pots.
English Pennyroyal, a perennial herb, was said to have been placed
manger on the night of the Christ child's birth and burst into bloom
the child was born. English pennyroyal adds a fragrant aroma to
wreaths but can
be toxic if ingested, so keep out of reach of pets and children. It
used in potpourri and cosmetics and is native to southern Europe and
Rosemary is one of the most beautiful and fragrant of the seasonal
herbs. According to folklore, rosemary will
bring happiness for the coming year to anyone who smells it on
During the flight into Egypt, Mary is said to have spread her
on a rosemary plant to dry. The flowers, originally white, turned
acquired the sweet scent they have today.
Another legend claims that at midnight on January 5,
the "old Christmas Eve," rosemary plants will simultaneously burst
into flower in celebration of Christmas. Rosemary plants add
fragrance to holiday wreaths and are especially suitable for tussie
are small bouquets made with dried flowers, doilies, and ribbons for
use at individual place settings on the holiday dinner table.
Rosemary plants are one of the most common holiday
herbs you can find in pots, often trained into various shapes such
or hearts or topiaries. Look for the
trailing or pendulous selection which you can try training on a wire
into such a shape.
Given a cool location with light, such as a minimally
heated hallway with windows, or unheated room or garage (but not
around 50 to 60F is ideal), they can be kept indoors overwinter.
You’ll be rewarded with their light blue
flowers through much of fall. Put your potted rosemary outside in
gradually increasing the amount of light over a period of weeks to
acclimate. Keep watered but not too wet.
I’ve kept such a plant for over 20 years in this manner.
Wild thyme, a pungent herb and member of the mint family, was
collected from the fields outside of Bethlehem to make a soft bed
during the birth of her child. It is thought to have antiseptic
was burned as incense later in history by the Greeks. Today thyme is
culinary seasoning but can be used in dried flower arrangements,
potpourri during the holiday season.
Plant thyme next spring in raised beds or rock gardens.
Lavender is said to have
been used by the Virgin Mary to
dye her newborn's swaddling clothes by spreading them on a bed of
lavender. This herb, also of the mint family, grows as a small
(but isn’t hardy outdoors in much of the cold north). It has
light purple flowers, and a sweet floral scent. When dried it can be
for wreaths and centerpieces or crushed to use in sachets for
drawers or to scent a bath.