At Christmas time the shops and restaurants are filled with tantalizing seasonal smells and tastes. Cinnamon, ginger, peppermint; they are all included into the traditional holiday fare in the form of candy, desserts, or candles. It seems that more spices are used during the holiday season than at any other time of year. They touch memories of Christmases from the past, and help to create new traditions for generations to come. There are certain spices that just seem to attach themselves to the holidays more than any other time of year, but there is more than a hint of history when we look at the story behind Christmas herbs.
There is no question that myrrh and frankincense are herbs of the season; they are mentioned in the story of the birth of the Christ child. Both of these were very expensive during Biblical times, probably worth more than the gold that the third wise man brought. They are both resins from trees that grew in the area, and both were used in trade as currency at one point. Frankincense and myrrh are still highly prized as essential oils today. Synthetic versions of their fragrances, as well as the natural oils, are used to scent candles, potpourri, and other items during the Christmas season.
Peppermint is another herb that seems to take over the aromatic department during the holidays. Peppermint sticks, peppermint candy canes, peppermint candles; they all greet us with their cheery red and white coloring. These were originally white sticks of sugar candy given to choirboys to keep them behaving well during services. Today the candies with a curved top-making them into a cane shape-are found in many colors and flavors, but it is still the red and white peppermint canes that come to mind whenever candy canes are mentioned.
Lavender is herb that is often used in potpourris that are given as gifts at Christmas time. It is perhaps not the most popular herb of the holidays, but it has its place. It refreshes the stale air, and helps to keep insects and other pests out of closets and storage areas. Legend tells us that the cloths that wrapped the Christ child were washed in lavender water.
The story behind Christmas herbs would not be complete without rosemary. This herb is popular both as a decoration and as a culinary addition. Rosemary is said to have bloomed when the baby Jesus was born. Rosemary has a very unique scent and flavor. It is added to soups, stuffing, and dressings, as well as herbal mixes used for scent. Shakespeare said that rosemary was for remembrance; this makes it a great herb to include into a recipe for potpourri or something edible than one to help us remember loved ones, and the 'reason for the season.'
Gingerbread men and gingerbread houses are another seasonal treat that includes a mysterious herb from the Far East. The crusaders returning home first introduced this spice to England, somewhere around the twelfth century. Ginger was added to sweet breads because of its preservative qualities. Soon these breads were shaped, and decorated with sugar, and gingerbreads as they are known today were born.
Cinnamon seems to take on more popularity during the festive season, too. Bright red scented candles are found on the seasonal shelves in shops, and on crafter's tables at holiday fairs and bazaars. Cinnamon bark can be used in many ways to decorate and scent the home for the holidays. The spice is added to pies and other culinary delights, too. This is a very old and valuable spice, playing a part in herbal medicine, as well as adding flavor and aroma to traditional holiday dishes.
From home decorating to kitchen creation, there is no question that there are certain smells that are associated with the holidays. Traditions and cultures may vary, but the scent of winter brings many people together for a common cause, to enjoy each other's company and celebrate the scents of the season. It is diver
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