Gifts from herbs
My children have been growing herbs in an aerogarden hydroponically, and we really don't cook around here, so we thought we might turn them into gifts for the holidays. I was wondering if the risks of botulism when making cooking oils still exist if the herbs aren't grown in dirt/soil? Any ideas for what exactly we should do that would make nice gifts? We have basil, dill, purple basil, and mint. We did this for the scientific aspect of observing hydroponics in action (I'm a science teacher), but it seems a waste to not dry or preserve these herbs somehow. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.
Herb jellies aren't hard to make. My favorite was rosemary and apple which made a nice filling for thumbprint cookies. You should be able to find a fruit and basil combination. Mint jelly is popular with lamb in some areas. Purple basil makes a pretty vinegar. A book I have at home but haven't used in a while is "Summer in a Jar". The recipes made small batches unlike traditional canning recipes. There was another one "The Herbal Pantry" for ideas published about 15 years ago. Maybe your library has copies you can borrow.
Mint is very hardy, so maybe you could separate the root ball and repot into mini pots to give as gifts. Just make sure they've gotten established before gifting. Nobody likes a plant that dies in a week. Recipients can advance them to larger pots as they grow.
As for the dill, why not let it go to seed, harvest the seeds, and package them in small celophane bags. Make a gift of the seeds, a starter pot with a small bag of potting soil (or those compressed starter hockey puck things that you soak in water), instructions for growing, and a recipe card for something using dill -- salmon dip or refrigerator pickles perhaps.
A friend of mine made small paper sheets one year with her kids, adding seeds to the paper slurry. The idea is that recipients rip up the homemade paper, plant it in a pot or garden, water, the seeds germinate and -- voila! -- a new plant. She reports it's a very messy, tedious process, even with teens. However, if you don't cook, this may be something you might want to consider and research on-line. You can write your message on the paper using, I'm assuming, veg-based ink.
In the meantime, eat the fresh herbs in your own home right now! Dill in tuna salad sandwiches. Make those refrigerater pickles (see above).
Basil leaves skewered on toothpicks alternated with grape tomatoes and the tiny mozzarella balls or just wee chunks of mozz. Drizzle with salad dressing of your choice.
green oils (like a nice basil oil, for example) don't really last beyond a week - the chlorophyll is too perishable. So I'm afraid that any green oils made now really wouldn't last until Christmas! And even dried herbs lose their scent and flavour if kept for a long period of time, so any gifts involving those probably won't keep too well for Christmas. Sorry to be so little help! Most of my ideas would involve processing/cooking them, like pesto, which would make great now gifts, but difficult for Christmas.
If you want to try to make the herbs last, you can chop them up and put them into an ice cube tray, cover with a little water, and freeze. Then come November you could defrost them and make them into sauces to give people (pesto, etc). But if you don't really cook I'm not sure how much you'll want to do that.
I don't know about botulism in oils, but I received a gift of herb satchels ("bouquet garnis") that I loved - simple herbs wrapped together & then wound with simple string, possibly before they dried.
It looks like they took smaller strips of herbs (thyme, oregano, savory) & then took larger-leaf herbs (bay leaves but i'm sure basil would work - not purple basil maybe) & arranged these around them to make a sort of casing. Then took white string and would it around it 5-6 times, but beginning & ending with an inch lengthwise on each side so that the ends could be tucked under the wound string. The herbs I got were probably more for french-ish cooking, but you could come up with combos of the herbs you have and maybe cut cheese cloth to make little dumpling sized satchels that you fill with the herbs & tie. I'd put the prettier ribbon on the thing that holds your present, since they'll be throwing them into their pots. I pop these into roasting chickens or some like dish and it's fantastic. I really appreciated the gift, & if they were hydroponic I'd be even more excited (not really sure why...) Great gift idea.