HERBS and spices have been associated with the Christmas holidays for many centuries, as well as forming the basis of many pagan midwinter ceremonies.
Although many of these herbs are used year round their traditional use in Christmas food and the legends attached to them, make them especially significant.
Frankincense, from the Boswellia tree, is perhaps best known as one of the gifts brought by the Three Kings to baby Jesus.
However, the aroma of frankincense is said to represent life, with the Judaic, Christian and Islamic faiths all using Frankincense mixed with oils to anoint new born infants.
The other herb brought by the Three Kings was myrrh, an aromatic gum from the Commiphora tree often combined with frankincense in many religious and Pagan ceremonies.
At one time myrrh was considered so valuable it had equal weight value to gold. Today frankincense and myrrh tend to be used in aromatherapy.
Cinnamon was a prized spice given to visiting dignitaries for many centuries.
Native to south-east Asia, from the bark of the Cinnamomum verum tree, cinnamon is used as a dried stick or in powder form.
An essential ingredient in mulled wine, and spiced apple cider infusing a warming aromatic flavour.
Ground cinnamon is perhaps best known when added to apple pies and sticky buns, but is also used in teas, chocolate and savoury dishes.
Legend has it that Mary hid the baby Jesus under a sage bush to avoid detection by King Herod’s soldiers.
Since then the sage bush has been credited with many healing powers, earning it the name ‘herb of immortality’.
Its association with Christmas cooking is of course as sage and onion stuffing for the turkey.
Mulled Wine Spice Recipe
Combine: 2 tbsp of whole allspice, 1/4 tbsp of whole cloves, 1x10cm stick of cinnamon and 1x10cm strip of orange peel.
Place on a square of double muslin and tie securely.
Place the muslin bag in a pan with red wine or apple cider and warm through.
The spice mix can also be added to infuse a wonderfully aromatic flavour to rice pudding!