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7 Hand Made Herbal Gift Ideas

Potted herbs make wonderful gifts.
Potted herbs make wonderful gifts.

Making your own gifts for loved ones is satisfying to create and delightful to receive. Add some herbs from your garden and you have a magical ingredient that shows you care.

The secrets are to give yourself enough time to make the gifts, to use only the best ingredients, and to be clever in matching the gift to the recipient.

Dad generally doesn’t appreciate sandalwood bath salts or granny a bottle of fiery hot pickled chillies – unless she’s quite a gal!

A well-made Christmas gift is probably the most personal gift you can give, because it has taken up a lot more of your time and thought than taking out your credit card and buying up the store.

Here are 7 gifts you can make yourself:

Don’t have time to make your own? Check these out:

vegetable growing kit

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Spring Vegetable Growing Tips

spring vegetable growing tips from bouquet garni nursery

spring vegetable growing tips from bouquet garni nursery

Herbs and vegetables are natural companions. If you grow fresh herbs you’re bound to also love the idea of harvesting your own home grown tomatoes, beans, lettuce and anything else in season. We can dream after all!

Here’s our top spring vegetable growing tips and a proven  list of popular veggies that can be sown in the garden or in pots in South Africa from mid August to the end of November.

Salad Vegetables

  • Tomatoes – good varieties are Heinz 1370, Moneymaker, Oxheart, Floridade
  • Cucumber if you have space because it’s a vigorous creeper
  • Lettuce – especially those that don’t form a head, like Lollo Rosso and Lollo Biondo because the individual leaves can be harvested for up to three months
  • Sprouts – one of the easiest ways to get fresh salad greens
  • Radishes – Sparkler and Cherry Belle.

NB: For lettuce choose a spot that gets afternoon shade or dappled sunshine because full sun in summer is too hot and the lettuce will quickly go to seed.

vegetable growing kit

Vegetables for Small Gardens

Spinach (especially ‘Bright Lights) beetroot, lettuce, bush beans, eggplant, chillies, summer cabbage (‘Cape Spits) and leeks. All these are compact growing vegetables and veggies like lettuce, beetroot and spinach can be used as borders. Chillies also make beautiful pot plants.

Find out How To Start Your Own Herb Garden!

Vegetables in Pots

Tomatoes can be a bit overwhelming for a garden bed but you can plant a tomato bush in a large pot (about 20 liter) and train it up a trellis or pyramid. To contain its growth pinch off the growing tips when it reaches the desired size otherwise you could have a monster. The small cherry tomato ‘Sweety’ is particularly good in pots.

Other runner plants like peas and beans can also be planted in pots and supported on a frame. Try chillies and eggplant in pots as well.

tomato plant in fruit grown in a container
Tomatoes can be a bit overwhelming for a small garden but you can plant a tomato bush in a large pot (about 20 liter).

Vegetables for Large Gardens

If you are lucky enough to have plenty of space you can also grow the more rambling types of vegetables like squash, patty pans, cucumber, and watermelon.


Vegetable Growing Tips

Like herbs, vegetables do best if grown in a sunny position. Prepare the beds by digging them over well and mixing in compost. Growing veggies from seed is much cheaper than buying seedlings and most veggies can be sown in situ. Just store the left over seeds in the seed packet in the fridge or in a dark drawer and they will remain viable for longer.

There’s a saying that ” a good gardener always plants three seeds – one for the grubs, one for the weather and one for himself.” It seems to work.

Keep the soil moist during germination and thin out the seedlings when they are big enough to handle. For a good crop fertilise with a balanced organic fertilizer two weeks after germination and at monthly intervals after that.

All the planting instructions are on the seed packet (planting depth, final spacing etc) so don’t forget to read the instructions!

To control insects spray with Ludwig’s Insect Spray or Margaret Roberts Organic Insecticide. Both are ECOCERT approved for use by organic gardeners.

And a last word from Prince Charles:

To get the best results you must talk to your vegetables.

herb growing kit


click to download master chef cheat sheets

This article wad first published in September 2015 and updated on 26 October 2016.

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How To Grow Borage (Borago officinalis)

photo of borage flowers

Borage (Borago offcinalis), an annual herb, is one of the easiest herbs to grow. It does not need a lot of water. Grows happily in poor soil, and just needs a sunny spot to seed itself. Coming up year after year.

The seed germinate so easily that it can be sown in any season in mild climates. In very cold areas it is best to sow in spring.

For the best results choose a sunny spot that is sheltered from strong winds, as the soft main stems break easily.

Dig the soil well over and add a generous amount of compost or manure.

Either buy young potted Borage plants from your local garden center or sow seeds 30cm to 50cm apart in shallow drills. Water well till the plants are established or the seeds germinate. Then water only when dry.

Feed once a month with a balanced organic fertilizer at half the recommended rate.

Young leaves and the flowers may be used fresh at any time of the year. Older leaves can also be used, but they are too hairy for most palates and need to be chopped very fine.

Drying the leaves and flowers is possible, but it is usually not worth the effort. Freeze the lovely blue flowers by carefully putting them, one by one, in ice cube trays and gently covering them with water. When needed pop a flowery ice cube into a glass of white wine, fruit juice or any other beverage.

Borage is an outstanding companion plant and mulch for most plants, being an excellent source of minerals, especially calcium and potassium. In particular, borage and strawberries help each other and strawberry farmers always set a few plants in their beds to enhance the fruits flavour and yield.

Borage is also a good companion for tomatoes – both seem to improve in growth and disease resistance when planted near each other.

Bees love the flowers, yielding an excellent honey.

If the Borage begins to take over your herb garden it is easy to thin out by pulling the plants out by hand. The shallow roots dislodge easily. Remember that the stalks are prickly. So you may need to wear garden gloves.

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in October 2007 and has been updated for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness.

photo of herbs growing in pots on a window sill
Click this photo to read more herb growing articles.


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How To Make Your Own Fines Herbes Blend

chervil in flower
Fresh chervil is a key ingredient in Fines Herbes

One single herb can make the world of difference to any dish but when herbs are used in combination with each other, the effects can be even more delicious. Some herbs work well together, their flavours blending and complementing each other. One such example is the traditional bouquet garni, which consists of parsley, thyme and bay leaf. Another is a traditional French blend called fines herbes.

Fines herbes consists of tarragon, parsley, chervil and chives. Although the blend is sometimes used dried, none of the herbs have much flavour in the dried form. So, it’s practically worthless as a dried herb blend.

Maximum flavour is obtained by using fresh herbs. Rather omit a herb that is not available fresh than to substitute it with dried herb.

All four herbs used in fines herbes have subtle flavours that blend well together and complement and enhance each other’s flavour. The subtle nature of the blend also ensures that it does not overpower any dish.

To make your own fines herbes, finely chop equal parts of tarragon, parsley, chervil and chives. Fines herbes should be added to cooked dishes at the end of the cooking period as the herbs, with the exception of tarragon, do not stand up well to heat. For the best results, sprinkle the mixture over dishes as a garnish, or place it in a bowl on the table.

Fines herbes are excellent when sprinkled over green salads. It goes particularly well with egg dishes, especially omelet’s. Use it to garnish light vegetable or simple cream-based soups.

Chicken, especially when poached, greatly benefits when sprinkled with this blend before being served. Fines herbes are excellent with simple fish dishes. Steamed vegetables, like beans, marrows and broccoli becomes a delicacy when flavoured with this blend.

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The Best Tonic Herbs for Each Body System

tonic herbs
By nourishing your tissues and energy the tonic herbs help combat disease, increase immunity and enhance the quality of your life.

Tonic herbs are a great way to begin with herbal remedies, to try something new and see what it does for you. And they can be taken throughout life. We live in such as toxic and disease-filled world that it cannot hurt to strengthen our “shields.”

By nourishing your tissues and energy the tonics help combat disease, increase immunity and enhance the quality of your life. Thus one definition of a tonic – the criterion used in most ethnic healing systems – is a herb that, with long term use is “building” in some way.

Don’t confuse the tonics with the adaptogens. Some, but not all, tonics are adaptogens. Adaptogens increase resistance and adaptation to all stresses and build stamina and vitality. Tonics may generally support a specific organ or system – i.e., a herb may be a tonic for the heart or lungs, but that doesn’t make it an adaptogen.

David Hoffmann, in The Elements of Herbalism, writes of tonics: “Western medicine has neglected such ideas as having no basis in fact. This is not so; rather it was a reflection of research procedures that could not recognize such complex and multifactorial processes.”

In addition, the tonic concept doesn’t fit into the orthodox scientific model of useful substances. According to this model a substance must have very narrow and targeted mechanisms of action – a tonic’s lack of specificity bespeaks the lack of an underlying mechanism. And that could mean, as Dr. Andrew Weil wryly points out in Spontaneous Healing, “the substance could be – perish the thought! – merely a placebo.”

Herbalists know from experience that the tonic herbs are not merely placebo’s. They value the tonics because they represent the very essence of what herbs are about, first and foremost: prevention.

Their focus is primarily on keeping you well – although many have secondary uses as remedies for already sick people.

But a word of warning. If you venture into herbal remedies by using the tonic herbs, you have to be prepared not to experience a necessarily dramatic result.

One of the ironies of striving for better than average health and wellness is the “no-result” result. We are simply not accustomed to measuring our success by what doesn’t happen. A shift in thinking is in order here: No news is good news.

Choosing The Best Tonic Herbs

Robyn Landis, in Herbal Defence Against Illness and Ageing, presents two practical strategies for choosing your tonics:

“Just as some herbs have affinity for particular organs, systems, or body processes, and are best utilized for healing in those areas, many tonic herbs “specialize” in balancing a specific system or systems.

Because everyone has a limit for daily herb consumption in terms of time, convenience, tolerance, and money, it’s not necessary to try to take four or five herbal tonics all the time and work on all body systems and processes at once. It wouldn’t hurt you, but it’s simply not practical. One or two at a time is sufficient.

One way to choose your tonics is to think in terms of individual areas of weakness. If you have a family history of heart disease and did not adopt heart-healthy habits until recently, hawthorn berry might be a good tonic for you.

If you tend to have respiratory infections and are a former smoker, a lung-affinity tonic such as thyme would be good. If a constant string of varying infections is your complaint, tonics that specifically increase cell-mediated immunity should be included.

If you can’t think of a specific area that would help you counter individual disease tendencies, another way to approach tonic use is by rotation. Use one or two for a couple of months, then switch to another one or two, so that every year you are nourishing and balancing two to four major systems.”

Listed below are some tonics for specific areas or issues. When selecting a herb for its tonic effects try to take into account the broader picture of your personal needs and the individual herb’s range of actions.

Circulatory system: Cayenne, hawthorn berries, garlic, ginger, ginkgo, ginseng, motherwort, turmeric

Respiratory system: Angelica, aniseed, cayenne, coltsfoot, comfrey, garlic, hyssop, liquorice, thyme, yarrow

Digestive system: Angelica, aniseed, chamomile, clove, comfrey, dandelion, garlic, ginger, mugwort, rue, turmeric

Urinary system: Buchu, parsley, yarrow

Reproductive system: Black cohosh

Muscles and skeleton: Alfalfa, angelica, black cohosh, comfrey, nettles

Nervous system: Black cohosh, lemon balm, motherwort, mugwort

Skin: Calendula, comfrey, echinacea, dandelion, garlic, gotu kola (a.k.a. pennywort), nettles, turmeric

Immune system: Echinacea, garlic, ginger, ginseng, liquorice,

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5 Proven Mixed Herb Pots or Window Boxes

a selection of herbs planted in  a window box
Window boxes are ideal for planting a selection of herbs. Here we have garlic chives, parsley, lemon thyme and basil growing happily together.

Herbs can be grown very successfully in containers and can be an attractive addition to any garden or patio. Apart from their aesthetic value, they are a practical solution for people who have limited gardening space at their disposal.

Most garden centres and nurseries stock a large selection of containers. They come in many shapes and sizes and are made from various materials like plastic, concrete and real clay. Finding the right container is a matter of personal taste, as almost any container can be used for planting herbs.

Herbs can be planted on their own or in combination with other herbs. When planting more than one variety in a container, care should be taken that there will be ample growing space for all the plants.

Prune the faster growing varieties regularly to ensure they do not overgrow their slower companions. Also, competition for space and nutrients will result in some varieties flourishing while others will suffer and, in most cases, eventually die.

It is never wise to plant any of the mint varieties in the same container as other herbs. In most cases the mint will overgrow the entire pot.

Proven Mixed Herb Containers

An Italian Chef’s Selection

Sweet basil
Italian parsley

A Perfume Pot

Rose scented geranium
Lemon balm
Lemon thyme
Pineapple sage

A Salad Bowl

Garlic chives
Salad burnet

A French Chef’s Selection


A First-Aid Medicine Chest

Peppermint (prune regularly to prevent it from overgrowing the other herbs)