This morning when I chatted with Matt Swaim on the Sonrise Morning Show, Sacred Heart Radio, we talked about Victorian manger herbs, along with our pledge drive to keep this radio station up & going. (Yes, if you feel in your heart you can donate, it would be much appreciated). Anyway, this is a fun and thoughtful topic and adding certain herbs to the manger/creche during Advent began in Victorian times. And to keep with the theme, I’m sharing a peppermint fudge recipe – oh my this is SO good and pretty, perfect for the holidays.
On the starry night when Christ was born, according to the legend, Joseph gathered herbs and grasses to cradle his newborn son. Among them were bedstraw and pennyroyal, horehound and thyme, rosemary and lavender: These are the herbs of the manger.
Each year we talk about the manger herbs during this season of Advent. So for some of you, this will be repeat information; for others a new insight into our traditions.
When we look into decorating the season using different Advent or manger herbs, it makes us appreciate Advent and the true meaning of Christmas. So regardless of whether you call it a manger or a crèche, try tucking in some of these herbs that are descendants of the very plants which were being grown and used over two thousand years ago.
When did the tradition start?
This tradition grew during Victorian times, when Victorian households used many of these herbs in their manger scenes.
Like bedstraw: Mary laid the baby on bedstraw, a plant of the fields and roadsides. Farmers fed it to cows to sweeten their milk, and stuffed mattresses with it, too.
Bedstraw was common in stables. And until this night, the stories say, it was no more than an everyday weed, with plain white flowers and no fragrance at all.
But when the Christ Child’s head touched the bedstraw, the plant was forever changed. Its blossoms turned golden, and its narrow leaves were imbued with a sweet, fresh scent.
When children in Sicily visit a creche, they tuck sprigs of pennyroyal into the straw. Some say this plant, too, was transformed as it lay in the manger.
Pennyroyal, a low-growing weed, hadn’t a single flower. But Joseph enjoyed its minty scent and picked it for the baby’s bed.
At the moment that Jesus was born, the little herb burst into bloom. Since then pennyroyal has carried bright purple blossoms — a royal hue, fit for a king.
One can imagine a young mother smiling, her baby asleep among flowers. But more sinister herbs also pillowed the Christ Child’s head, hinting at sorrows to come. Like horehound that Joseph gathered from Bethlehem’s fields.
Its felted leaves are soft, it’s true, and said to have healing powers.
Denoting both past and future, it symbolized Jesus’ Jewish roots — and foreshadowed a bitter betrayal.
Mary wept to find horehound there in the manger. Hoping to alter her child’s fate, she tried to pluck it from the straw, but its stems were twined tightly among the other herbs and grasses. The symbolism here is that some things just cannot be changed and we all have challenges in our life. But as Mary picked through the straw and horehound, she found another herb: thyme, a symbol of courage and endurance. it grows wild upon the hills of the Holy Land. There are many different thymes, some are mat-forming ground covers and some are more upright-growing. It’s also called a medicine chest in a plant. It’s antibacterial, antiseptic and cleansing to the air.
Rosemary and lavender were among the manger herbs
Lavender symbolizes purity and virtue.
Rosemary represents love and loyalty. Legend has it that rosemary will not grow taller than Jesus when he was on earth – 6 feet – or live longer than his 33 years.
Even now, some folks make sure to have rosemary in the house on Christmas Eve, to bring luck.
CANDY CANE PEPPERMINT FUDGE
This has become a cult fudge among certain members of my friends. It’s so pretty!
- 10 oz. white chocolate chips or white chocolate bars, chopped
- 2/3 cup sweetened condensed milk
- 3/4 to 1 teaspoon peppermint extract
- 1-1/2 cups finely crushed peppermint candy canes or peppermint candies, divided into 1-1/4 cup and 1/4 cup measures
- Place chips in the pan and pour milk over, being sure to remove all milk from measuring cup. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly.
- When the mixture is almost smooth but a few chips remain, remove from heat. Add extract and stir until smooth.
- Stir in 1-1/4 cups peppermint.
- Pour into prepared pan. Smooth top just a little bit and sprinkle on remaining 1/4 cup crushed candy.
- Chill until firm and cut into pieces. Store in refrigerator.
Make it Pink!
Stir in a drop of red food coloring after you stir in extract.