Here are six homemade crafts/gift ideas that are easy to make and will definitely get you in the seasonal spirit.
Making winter wreaths
At this time of year, it is traditional to gather evergreen boughs: cedar, fir, juniper, spruce and weave them into wreaths to symbolize the turning of the season. Evergreens represent longevity, maybe even immortality, and the wreath in particular has come down to us from Pagan times as a symbol of the turning of the year, the circle of the year and of our lives. I like to think of these things as I go out to the forest to harvest – to remind myself of the meaning and purpose behind the ritual, the opportunity to honour and celebrate the turning of the wheel of life. With our mild West Coast weather, even in early December I can find salal leaves, Oregon grape leaves and usnea lichens to add to my haul and decorate my wreaths with.
When you get them home, lay an old sheet on the floor and spread them out to dry off a bit, maybe even give them a good shake to loosen any dead needles or other bits. Use garden clippers and cut them down into pieces that can be worked with, anything from a few inches (5cm) to a foot (30.6cm) is about right, because you want to curve it around to follow the shape of the ring you’re going to attach it to.
If you have grape vines to prune, this is a fine time to do it and you can weave them and tie them into a circle to make a good base for your evergreens to be attached to. You can make this as big or small as you wish, but a typical wreath is going to be about 18 to 20 inches (45-50 cm) diameter on the inside of the ring. Or you can purchase a wreath base from crafting supply stores, but make sure that it is a twiggy construction, not florist’s foam.
To begin, attach a loop of wire to the wreath so you can hang it later. Start by inserting the end of one branch of evergreen into the wreath base, and use thin florists wire and wire clippers to tie on as needed. Tuck the ends of the next one under the one before, and so on around the ring, pushing them into the twiggy mass of the wreath base.
Lay down the largest or coarsest materials first as a sort of base and then use other pieces to interweave decoratively, pushing through into the twiggy base below. Use your wire as necessary and make sure to keep it hidden by the foliage. If you have any branches with berries, add them last so they most visible, or you can thread cranberries, rosehip or rowan berries onto dental floss using a darning needle and twist that around and through the greenery for a jolt of bright red colour.
A few other fun things to decorate with could include cinnamon sticks and dehydrated orange slices, pine cones, moss, usnea lichen, interesting seed heads, etc., attached with a hot glue gun.
Spice Island Essential Oil Blend
This is a rich aromatic formula evocative of grandmother’s kitchen, childhood Christmases and comfort. It has subtle woodsy notes, rich and dramatic middle notes and fresh, clear top notes.
The concentrated, 100% pure essential oils you will need are Clove bud, Cinnamon, Frankincense, Pine, Sandalwood, Fir, Peru balsam and vanilla.
Because these oils are concentrate, you only need to use one part each of the oils and mix them into a glass bottle with a tight cap and a glass dropper. DO NOT use a rubber dropper as it will perish. Use this blend in an oil burner, a lamp ring, potpourri or a diffuser.
You can also make your own spritzer to use as a room freshener. In a 4 oz. glass spritzer bottle, mix 3 ml. of the oil blend with two teaspoons of *vodka and top up with water. Shake well before using. *The vodka acts as a carrier for the oils in the water and evaporates easily when sprayed into the air.
The Yule Log
Long, long ago, the tradition of the Yule log began in Northern Europe to marks the turning of the season. A large log (a tree trunk really) would be dragged in the night before winter solstice, December 20, and set to burning in the big fireplace of the great hall to ward off the dark. It would be kept alight until Christmas Day, or in some cases, even until 12 days after Christmas. (The Epiphany in the orthodox Christian calender).
Overtime, for people who could not have such a giant fire, the tradition transformed into the sponge roll cake with chocolate icing that your grandma always made for Christmas, to go along with the rich fruitcake with marzipan and icing. Made to look like a log, decorated with holly leaves and berries made from marzipan and food colouring, rather kitch and thoroughly sweet, the cake is fun to make. But even better is a Yule log you can burn in your regular fireplace.
You could use logs from your woodshed if you have them, or go in the forest and find some fallen branches at least four to six inches (10-15cm) in diameter and cut them into logs a foot (30cm) or so in length. Take them home and find the flattest side to put down, then using a hand drill make a hole about an inch (2.5cm) deep and an inch (2.5cm) in diameter to take a nice taper candle. Using your hot glue gun, attach fronds of evergreen, moss, lichen, berries, pine cones and so on. Use aluminum foil to make a sleeve for the candle so that it will not touch the wood if it burns down, then when it is all done, you can remove the sleeve and put the log on the wood stove or back outside in the forest if you don’t have an actual fireplace.
Pomanders were originally mixtures of aromatic herbs carried in perforated boxes made of wood, silver or ivory and used to ward off evil smells and pestilential influences. They are still made today and are used to scent cupboards, drawers – even cars. They are easy to make and are a very attractive present. They can even be used as tree decorations and will subtly scent the room.
You will need large oranges (1 per pomander), whole cloves, narrow ribbon and pushpins. Plus equal amounts of ground cinnamon, ground cloves, ground nutmeg, ground ginger and *orris root powder. *optional
Use whole cloves, ideally quite fresh and with a distinctive spicy scent. Take a large, firm orange and pin the ribbons around orange, making a loop to hang it. Mark ribbon lines on orange skin and remove ribbons. Roll orange in ground spices then using a darning needle to punch the hole, insert cloves into it in a symmetrical pattern. Leave two channels wrapping around the orange at right angles and the width of the ribbon you are using. When the orange is completely studded with cloves, roll again in spice mix and knock off excess gently then tie the ribbon very firmly around the orange (remember the orange will shrink as it dries). Start by tying one piece of ribbon completely around the orange and pinning it off. Then tie the second ribbon, allowing extra length to tie a bow for hanging.
Moisturizing Evergreen Salt Scrub
With this recipe you can bring a bit of the forest inside. This simple scrub will leave your skin feeling super soft and deeply moisturized. This is a wonderful way to protect your skin from that dry and harsh winter weather.
65 grams shea butter (roughly 1/2 cup)
45 grams coconut oil (roughly 3 Tbsps)
3 Tbsps olive oil
2 Tbsps minced conifer needles
40 drops Fir Needle 100% essential oil
20 drops Scotch Pine 100% essential oil
10 drops grapefruit 100% essential oil
150 grams salt (1/2 cup)
Melt the shea butter and coconut oil on low or in a double boiler. Remove from heat.
Add the olive oil and needles. Add the essential oils and stir well.
Let cool until it becomes solid. If you leave this on the counter this can take up to five hours. If you put it in the fridge or the cold outdoors it takes considerably less time. Once it is solid (but still soft), use a rubber spatula to transfer the mixture to a food processor or blender. Blend on high until the mixture becomes thick. Using your spatula, transfer the mixture into a medium sized bowl. Gently stir in the salt.
Place the salt scrub into a small container with a lid that can be kept in the shower.
This salt scrub will keep for a very long time, but I recommend using it up within six months.
Makes roughly 1 cup of salt scrub.
*Be careful as it can make the floor of the shower slippery
Douglas Fir & Mandrin Bitters (nod to my friend and fellow herbalist, Rosalee de la Foret for inspiration on this recipe)
For a special treat, preferably by a crackling fire, snuggled with your sweetie or your furry pet, here is a recipe for a lovely boozy treat, which you can also pour in some cream to make it more of an after-dinner liqueur.
30 grams or 1/2 cup fresh Douglas fir needles
30 grams or 1/4 cup dried roasted dandelion root
5 mandarins sliced up (peels included)
1 gram or 1 teaspoon dried gentian root
1/4 cup honey
vodka or brandy
Put the herbs and fruit into in a 1.5 L jar.
Add honey to taste.
Fill the jar with the vodka or brandy. Stir well. Cover with a lid. Label. Shake the jar one to two times per day and give it a small taste daily. When the flavours have infused to your liking, strain off the herbs and reserve the alcohol.
Store in a dark bottle or dark location and use within a year.
You can mix and match flavours here by adding dried fruits like raisins or chopped figs, schizandra, elder or goji berries, ginger or herbs like Damiana, burdock, eleuthero or ashwagandha.