An herbal wreath is a fragrant and decorative way to dry your culinary herbs. While wreaths are most commonly used throughout the holiday season, especially pine or fir wreaths for their fresh scents, herb wreaths can bring aroma and ambiance indoors throughout the year.
Harvesting Herbs for Drying
Choose herbs to harvest that have not yet flowered. Cut the stems in the morning after the dew has dried, but before the heat of the day. Use clean, sharp scissors, or pruners. bundle them together in stems of five to ten, and hang them to dry. Once they are 3/4 of the way dry, they are ready to work with. At this point, they are not crisp. To dry bay leaves, place them between two paper towels and set a book on top of them. After a week, they should be ready to use. Here are four potential wreaths to make:
Lavender Wreath— Nothing smells better than a dried lavender wreath in the home.
Mediterranean Wreath–Bay stems, Rosemary, Sage, and Thyme make this a wonderful culinary wreath for any time.
Bay Wreath–Bay leaves can be dried to make a fragrant, culinary wreath to enjoy through winter.
Harvesting Fresh Herbs
Some herbs last longer than others in fresh herbal wreaths. Good herbs to choose include evergreens, such as bay stems, lavender, rosemary, sage, and even thyme stems. Flowering herbs, like chamomile, tansy, rosebuds, and yarrow, also work well. Avoid more tender herbs, like dill, parsley, or basil; they do not last and look poorly after just a couple of hours.
Making a Fresh Herb or Dried Herbal Wreath
Once you have collected a variety of herbs, you can dry them in a beautiful wreath. I like to contrast needles with broad leaves and vary the color, but a wreath made of entirely one type of foliage can also be pretty.
Grapevine wreath form
Rosemary, thyme, oregano, lavender, bay, sage, or other garden herbs
Everlasting flowers for color
Floral wire or twine
Scissors or snips
Lay the grapevine wreath on a table, and set out the freshly cut herbs and florist wire.
Build a bundle of herbs in your hands, like gathering a bouquet. I like to incorporate woody-stemmed herbs like rosemary as the base of bouquet because the stems can hold the shape of the softer stems layered on top. Be sure to add a touch of color with lavender flowers or fennel blossoms.
Snip off any long stems and tie the first bundle with florist wire, leaving one end of the wire long. Wrap the long end of the wire around the wreath form to secure the first bundle in place.
Gather the second bunch of foliage. Lay this bunch with the tops overlapping the first one, and secure it to the wreath form with the wire.
Continue adding bundles of herbs to the wreath by overlapping the previous bunch and securing with wire until there are no more gaps to fill.
Secure the final bunch by gently lifting the herbs from the first bunch and tucking the stems underneath it. Secure with wire by twisting it together.
Take a last look at the wreath. You can tuck in a few more greens to even out the design and hang in your kitchen.
As the herbs dry, use needle-nose pliers to twist the wire on the back of the wreath to tighten the hold on the herbs.
Harvest herbs from the wreath for cooking for up to three months or until they lose their flavor and aroma.
“When should I prune lavender? I tried it at the end of summer last year, but I think I might have cut too far back.” Question from Manda of Florence, Kentucky
Answer: In my experience, lavender has the best regrowth results if one waits to prune until the plants begin to produce fresh spring leaves. It simply bounces back best when it has begun to actively grow. It is a warm-season perennial, so wait until April before trimming it.
The best pruning method is to cut the shrubby top growth back by 1/3, using sharp pruning shears. Try to keep the top rounded to maintain a pleasing, bushy habit. At this time, you will also want to remove any dead or dying stems. Don’t be tempted to cut it back further. If you prune lavender back too far towards the base, it can invite fungal disease and disable the plant from fully recovering to its former glory.
“This is the 2nd lavender I am having problems growing. I can pull up part of it like it’s rotting. What am I doing wrong? There is another Lavender about 3 feet away that is looking great.” Question from Jacklyn of Portland, Oregon
Answer: When lavender (Lavandula spp.) struggles, it is almost always due to a problem with soil quality and drainage. If fungal rot has taken hold, it is definitely caused by excess soil moisture. The frequent rains of the Pacific Northwest make it even more important to give your lavender very sharply drained soil. The difference between soil from one garden spot to another can be quite dramatic, even if they are only 3 feet away.
Lavenders naturally grow along sunny uplands with very well-drained soil, and they require full sun. If the soil is too moist and does not drain fast enough, rot will take hold. I encourage you to read our article titled, Soil Matters to Lavender; it will give you all of the information you need to properly amend your soil for lavender growing. You might also consider growing lavender in large containers and cutting their mix with part Black Gold All Purpose Mix and part Black Gold Cactus Mix. Topping the pots off with decorative pebbles would also be helpful.
You don’t need a huge garden to make an abundance of herb crafts to benefit your home, garden, and artistic inclinations. Starting with just a few common and versatile herbs is an easy way to get your hands dirty and feel the magic of plants. I’ve chosen three herbs that are perfect for herb crafting because you can turn them into all sorts of potions, lotions, recipes, and garden crafts. Wait until you see all that you can create with these three familiar garden herbs: lavender, rosemary, and calendula.
English Lavender (Lavandula spp.)
Lavender is my all-time favorite scent. It’s light, floral, and soothing, but even more, it has helpful herbal properties that can be used in your home, garden, on your skin, and also in the kitchen. The scent of lavender has a balance of sweetness and spice that makes it appetizing and appropriate for baking, tea, soda-flavoring, and all kinds of body care recipes. The scent promotes relaxation and exudes cleanliness, which makes it ideal for scentings linens and clothing. And its antiseptic and antibacterial properties make it a perfect aroma to freshen the air, your skin, and your home.
English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia, USDA Hardiness Zones 5-8) is native to the Mediterranean, so it loves climates with hot, dry summers and cool winters. It is drought-resistant and thrives in well-drained soil with some organic matter and a neutral to slightly alkaline pH (6.4 to 8.2). Plant English lavender in full sun and prune in both early spring and late summer to keep a neat and productive plant. Cut it back up to one-third while pruning and reserve the unopened flower buds and leaves to use in recipes around the house. (For a more detailed growing guide, read more here.)
For dried flowers, harvest Lavandula angustifolia when it has visible purple buds but before the flowers open; buds retain better color and fragrance. Harvest the stems in the morning when the oil content of the leaves and flowers is the highest. Use sharp, clean pruners. (Leave some of the shorter bud stems on the plant for bees.) Gather the harvested stems into a bundle, tie them together with twine, and hang the bundle upside down to dry in a cool place away from direct sunlight.
When dry, roll the stems between your palms over a plate to catch the buds. You can also remove the leaves to infuse the oil, vinegar, and make tea. Store the dried flowers and leaves separately in airtight containers for up to one year.
Fill small muslin drawstring bags with dried lavender buds for sweet-smelling sachets. Tuck them into your pillow, linen closet, sock drawer, or anywhere that could use a little refreshing.
Make a decorative lavender wreath that adds fragrance and beauty to the indoors.
Add dried lavender buds to your favorite herbal tea blend for a floral flavor and soothing effect that can help with insomnia. It pairs wonderfully with chamomile and rose.
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)
Rosemary has long been prized for its antiseptic and antibacterial properties. It is excellent for deodorizing and cleaning; the scent is purported to help focus and memory. In ancient times, scholars wore crowns of rosemary when studying for exams, so imagine how it can help you perk up in the morning shower! Did you know that rosemary is also well known to be THE herb for healthy hair? It stimulates hair growth and adds shine.
Most of all, rosemary is beloved for its delicious flavor in recipes. It ramps up a roast and cooked root vegetables and adds an earthy punch to soups and stews. Whether you are freshening up your home, trying to wake up or adding oomph to hearty recipes. Rosemary can’t be beat!
Rosemary cultivars have variable hardiness. Most overwinter in USDA Hardiness Zones 8-10, but some hardier varieties, like ‘Arp’, may survive in Zones 6 or 7. Otherwise, grow rosemary in a pot that you can bring indoors in fall or grow it as an annual. It likes well-drained soil and full sun. Rosemary does well in dry conditions, so be careful not to overwater it. Overwatering rosemary can commonly lead to root rot.
Cut sprigs of rosemary to use fresh or tie them up in a bundle to dry, the same way you would with lavender. When dry, remove the leaves by pinching the top of the stem with your finger and thumb and running it along the stem to the bottom. The leaves will pop right off. Keep dried rosemary sealed in an airtight container for up to one year.
Make rosemary sachets to deodorize any place in your home that needs it, like gym bags and stinky shoes.
Add the leaves to homemade soap recipes or a morning salt scrub for exfoliating skin treatment and energizing scent that will help you start the day with a spring in your step.
Make a rosemary hair rinse by infusing three fresh new stems of rosemary in one cup of apple cider vinegar for 2-3 weeks. Apply to the scalp, massage in, and rinse thoroughly to add shine and softness. Here are a few more rosemary hair care recipes.
Chew a rosemary leaf for an instant breath-freshener.
Calendula, Pot Marigold (Calendula officinalis)
Many people view calendula as an annual garden flower, but with so many healing properties and beneficial uses, herb nerds see it more as a versatile garden herb. It’s been used for thousands of years to help heal minor wounds and inflammations, has a bright and sunny personality that attracts a host of beneficial insects to the garden, and it could not be easier to grow. Include calendula in your herb garden this year for some pops of color and fun herbal crafts.
Calendula is an annual that grows easily from seed either sown directly in the garden or indoors. Begin seeds indoors about eight weeks before transplanting calendula in the garden. Plant your calendula somewhere in the garden with good soil amended with fertilizer-boosted Black Gold Earthworm Castings that gets a lot of light but isn’t extremely hot. Deadhead and harvest the flowers liberally throughout the season, and you’ll have continual blooms to pick from spring to fall.
Harvest the full flower heads from new blooms and spread them out in a single layer in a drying screen (which can be as simple as using a window screen) or setting them in one layer in a shallow basket. Leave the flowers in a well-ventilated area that is cool, dry, and away from direct sunlight. After a few days, test for dryness. The petals should sound crunchy and not feel cool to the touch. Store the dried flowers in an airtight container for up to one year.
Use fresh calendula petals to decorate cakes or other desserts. The bright orange and yellow ray florets are a festive natural way to add color that is appealing on sweet treats.
Calendula petals have a mildly spicy taste that pairs with savory foods as well. When entertaining, add them to salads and pizza for a fresh summer presentation that also helps to aid in digestion. They also make a soothing, healing tea.
Add dried petals to bath salts for natural colors and a spa-bathing experience amongst floating flowers.
Potpourri is a mixture of aromatic plant parts that captures the essence of the growing season for yearlong enjoyment. To create your own, gather leaves and petals that are attractive as well as fragrant. Preserve them by thorough drying, and mix them to heighten their aroma and looks.
Some classic dried potpourri additions with exceptional fragrance include lavender flowers and leaves, rose buds and petals, and elderflowers. Pot marigold petals are also a favorite for orange-yellow color.
A lavender that performs well in almost any climate is Phenomenal™ (Lavandula x intermedia Phenomenal™, 2-3 feet high), a true hybrid hedge lavender. French lavender (Lavandula stoechas, 1-3 feet high) is another easy-to-grow species with its showy tufted flowers, strong scent, and good drought tolerance. This one is a little more tender, surviving to USDA Hardiness Zones 7-10. (Click here to learn how to grow your own lavender.)
Roses with fragrance and pretty color include the easy-care, reblooming, peach-colored shrub rose At Last® or the bi-colored (strawberry and cream) hybrid tea Double Delight™. These roses yield both small buds and petals. Cut small tight buds and harvest rose petals by gripping the full-blown flowers, pulling gently, and catching nicely separated petals. Keep the petals whole. (Click here to discover more tough, fragrant roses.)
Tiny elderflower blooms also dry nicely and add a sweet, summery scent to potpourri. There are many ornamental elderberries for the garden with nice flowers or you can pick the flowers from native elderberries along roadsides.
Scented geraniums are another essential ingredient with aromatic leaves that retain their scent. Different species and cultivars have different scents including rose, citrus, and mint as well as those with the subtle smells of fruits and chocolate. (Click here to learn more about growing scented geraniums.)
Mints and lemony herbs of all sorts will also offer bright flavor to potpourri. Some of the more pungent than others. Lasting options include lemon verbena and lemon balm. (Click here to learn more about lemony herbs.)
Growing Potpourri Plants
Most of the summer plants for potpourri are common garden plants that thrive in full sun and well-drained, fertile garden soil. In-ground soils should be fortified with quality compost for best performance. Tender potpourri plants, such as scented geraniums, grow very well in containers. For these, a porous potting mix, such as Black Gold Natural & Organic Potting Mix, is a good choice.
Drying Potpourri Plants
Thorough drying is absolutely crucial for the creation of a potpourri. Moisture in leaves or petals may cause mold and put a damper on their scent quality. Adding drops of essential oil (lavender, rose, etc.) can help fix a stronger fragrance.
You cannot make potpourri until all plant parts are thoroughly dry. There are several drying methods to try. Here are four:
Hang herbs in a cool, dry place until fully dry.
Spread the plant parts on newspaper or paper towels on a tray in a single layer. Allow all to dry completely in a cool dark place. This can take anywhere from a few days to a couple of weeks.
Dry materials in an oven set at 180 degrees F for about two hours or until the various plant parts are completely dry. Larger, thicker material takes longer to dry. Check frequently and remove the plants as they become slightly brittle.
Use a food dehydrator for fast, efficient drying.
Potpourri possibilities are endless and depend upon personal preference and what plants are available in your yard and garden for harvesting. Here are two reliable, wonderfully fragrant recipes. They can be used for linen or drawer sachets or home aromatherapy.
Classic Summer Potpourri
½ cup dried rose petals
½ cup dried lavender flowers
1/3 cup dried small rose buds
1/3 cup dried scented geranium leaves
one orange peel, cut into thin slices and dried
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
2-3 drops of lavender or rose essential oil or both, mixed with a teaspoon of water.
Mix all of the plant parts together in a bowl (make sure they are thoroughly dry).
Sprinkle or spray dried plant parts with the cinnamon and essential oil and water mixture and mix gently.
Seal the potpourri in a glass jar for at least a week to allow the fragrances to combine.
When the potpourri is strongly fragrant it is ready to use!
Many landscape evergreens—pines, spruces, junipers, and Japanese cedars—give off spicy, resinous scents that evoke the spirit of the holiday season. Let these be the base of your winter potpourri.
1 cup of dried evergreen needles or greens
1 cup of dried bayberry leaves or berries
1 tablespoon of whole cloves
1 cinnamon stick, broken into pieces
1 orange rind cut into narrow strips and dried (orange slices also work)
½ teaspoon cardamom
½ teaspoon nutmeg
10 drops cedar essential oil mixed with a tablespoon of water.
(You can also add the dried berries of holly, beautyberry, or pyracantha as well as rose hips and small pinecones for interest.)
Mix all of the plant parts together in a bowl (make sure they are thoroughly dry).
Spray or sprinkle them with the mixture of the cedar essential oil and water.
Seal the potpourri in a glass jar to fix the fragrance.
Set it out in bowls to scent your rooms.
These are two of many potpourri recipes to try. You may even create your own to suit your senses. The key is growing your own components for freshness and longer lasting scent.
“When is the best time to plant Lavender in southeastern Wisconsin?” Question by Janet of Elkhorn, Wisconsin.
Answer: There are several lavenders that will survive winters in USDA Hardiness Zone 5, which is your local hardiness zone. The hardiest lavender for your climate is English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia). I suggest the varieties ‘Munstead’, which is quite compact, and ‘Hidcote’, a taller variety with deep lavender-blue flowers. The new lavender ‘Phenomenal’ is also remarkably hardy, vigorous and beautiful.
Plant your lavender in perfectly drained ground in spring, as soon as the threat of frost has past. This will give them a full season to set deep roots, which will help them survive your winters. If you can plant them in a sunny, protected spot, their chance of survival will increase even further.