Rosemary, sage, thyme, oregano, mint—these are the scents of the season. We use them to marinate, toss around in oil and roast, or simmer gently on the stove. No matter how they are used, fresh herbs always fill the kitchen with an aroma that instantly perks up the senses. There’s no better way to perfume a home than to draw attention to the stunning simplicity of fresh herbs into a gorgeous wreath centerpiece. I’ve seen herb wreaths featured in kitchen store catalogues during the holidays. Gigantic wreath with layers upon layers of sprigs and leaves. Stunning. But how could they possibly stay as fresh and as aromatic as the day they were crafted? Could I use the herb leaves to cook with after they have dried out? Is it worth spending over $50? Don’t bother. If you have even the modest of gardens with just a few simple herbs or can find a neighbor with a lemon tree, you can craft your own fresh wreath—for under $10! Here’s how:
For the a base, it’s best to use a very bare, natural wreath made of grape vines or some other mixture of thick and thin twigs, as it’s essential to layering and securing your sprigs. I found a great 18″ grape vine wreath from Michael’s arts and craft stores for $3.99. It has plenty of thick twigs that wrap around—perfect to bond sturdy branches like rosemary—and lots of thin little slots for other delicate sprigs that will be good space filler.
You’ll want a large assortment of herbs whose leaves vary in thickness and texture. I’ve used a mix of durable sprigs that are great for filling up a great portion of the wreath and add most of the structure (rosemary, lemon leaves and bay leaves still on branches) and tons of tender, delicate ones that add softness and lightness (oregano, marjoram, sage, thyme, mint). If you gather them from your own garden, be sure to cut the stems at their thickest point so it will be sturdy enough to hold itself in the wreath. Herbs like thyme are best kept in one solid bunch, since each little sprig is too flimsy to stand on its own. Trim off a big branch, or tie a number of them together into a bouquet with a thin thread. You can also throw in herbs that have flowers—I was dying to include fresh lavender, but I couldn’t find any at the markets and didn’t have the guts to run up the street and steal a handful from the front yard gardens of my neighbors. Spurts of color would be great additions (I don’t like giant bows on my wreaths) so I’d go for some fresh holly near Christmas time.
If you don’t have an herb garden and have to purchase your herbs, try finding them at a farmers market first. It’s absolutely worth seeking them out—you’ll find large quantities of all varieties that are in much better shape and size than ones stuffed in those plastic packets found in grocery stores (and will save you from spending nearly $20 on them). I found gorgeous bay leaves, rosemary, and large-leaf sage all for $1 a bundle.
First, acknowledge the natural flow of the wreath and how you’ll want it to hang. Look at where the thickest parts of the branches are—this will indicate where the firmest herbs need to go. Start with thick leafy ones and secure the end about an inch under the branch. It should be able to stay put on its own. If not, try tying it with a thin wire (also found at any arts and craft store).
Think in terms of proper placement: the durable herbs that can withstand the curves should be thought out first. For instance, you wouldn’t want to have the sage bundles in a position where the leaves will completely droop on itself. You’ll want them to point downward and go with gravity (so you’ll tuck them into the area that’s near 3 o’clock or 9 o’clock). I prefer to keep each type of herb bundled together instead of intermixing them throughout the whole wreath and have them go in one direction. I think the bulk looks better than a chaotic collective of intermixed leaves looking inconsistent and messy—but if you can find a way to mingle them, then go for it. Also, having them in bunches allows you to keep them easily separated when you go to use the dry herbs for cooking.
Layer each branch about an inch under where the previous herb hangs. The ends of the branches should be able to hide under where the other herbs overlay. Continue to go around the wreath, alternating herb types. Try to put contrasting textures next to each other—something spikey with small leaves (rosemary), then large soft leaves (sage), then long thin twiggy ones (thyme, oregano), then thick short leaves (mint).
Focus on how the sprigs naturally flow when looking at it from the front, but don’t forget about the sides. Fill the holes and frame the border with any branches you can—try to set aside the best looking ones for these; the prettiest and most delicate sprigs that stand out on their own, such as large mint sprig with perfect leaves or a curly piece of thyme with a flower on it.
Hang the wreath in a cool, dry area. It should stay fresh for a couple of days (the mint is usually the first to dry up) as long as you keep it away from any heat vents and out of the kitchen—the herbs would dry up too quickly if you plan on baking in the oven or have something steaming on the stove. When they do dry up nicely, remove from the wreath and store in some jars—you’ll have tons of great dried herbs to cook with from now on!