Children used to make "coal flowers" on lumps of coal or grow salt crystals on string, shaped cardboard or large twigs, sometimes just for fun, sometimes to decorate their 1800s to 1940s-era Appalachian homes. The craft revived in the 1970s, in the form of crystal-growing kits. These solutions used combinations of salt, bluing and ammonia, making them highly toxic. Solutions of alum and Epsom salts make this a safer, environmentally-friendly way to make homemade frost-kissed branches for Christmas centerpieces.
Things You'll Need
Thin-diameter pussy willow or birch branches
Plastic underbed storage bin
2 gallons water
8 lbs. Epsom salts
Long-handled wooden spoon or yardstick
Clear craft glue
10 lbs. coarse sea salt crystals
Select branches from trees or shrubs in your own yard or purchase branches in the craft section of your favorite discount department or craft store. Use pruning shears to trim away some of the smaller twigs and shape the branch to an eye-pleasing form.
Cut the branches about 2 inches shorter than the length of the plastic underbed storage bin.
Fill the 10-quart stockpot with 2 gallons water and bring it to a boil. Mix in the Epsom salts, 1/2 cup at a time, using a long-handled wooden spoon or yardstick to stir them until they dissolve into the water. Keep adding Epsom salts until a few crystals settle to the bottom of the stockpot instead of dissolving into the solution.
Place one trimmed branch in the plastic storage bin. Ladle the Epsom salt solution over the branch until the liquid covers the branch as much as possible. Leave the bin uncovered to allow the liquid to evaporate over the next three to five days, leaving behind salt crystals on the branch.
Tie twine around one end of the branch and hang it from a ceiling hook to finish drying. Use the dried, crystallized branches to make your centerpiece.
Fill a plastic storage bin with coarse sea salt.
Brush clear craft glue onto the entire surface of your chosen branch.
Hold the branch by the trunk end and dip the end with the smaller branches into the salt crystals. Turn the branch until all but 6 inches of the trunk end is coated.
Tie twine around the trunk end and hang the branches from the ceiling. Repeat brushing the branches with clear glue and dredging them in coarse sea salt until you coat as many branches as you wish, at least three per centerpiece.
Use the branches to make your centerpiece after they dry for two to five days.