*This post contains affiliate links. This means that if you click through and give the product a whirl, I get a tiny fee for spreading the news at no extra cost to you.
I wasn’t exactly planning to make my own zero waste Christmas ornaments this year, but when my boyfriend and I were staying at an Airbnb in Lake Lure over Thanksgiving, he found an artificial tree in a closet.
I went into full elf mode. I became the Spirit of Christmas Present, hippie edition. I played Mariah Carey on repeat.
I do personally hate artificial trees, mostly based out of childhood nostalgia for our real tree tradition, and since I was already dealing with a plastic tree I for sure wanted to keep the decorations zero waste. Could you make pretty, colorful salt ornaments WITHOUT acrylic paint (which is plastic polymer based) and all the plastic packaging that goes along with modern crafts?
Oh yes, dear reader, you absolutely can.
I made some really cute ornaments thanks to a quick trip to the grocery store, some antique hors d’oeuvres shape cutters, a bulk spice store, and an oven, but it was still trial and error. Then I finally nailed down the DIY for the boho salt ornaments of your dreams. You’ll see photos from the first batch when we get down to the egg wash bit, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
I could not be more thrilled with how these turned out! Why?
THEY SMELL AMAZING.
They’re a zero waste craft.
They’re compostable, which means I don’t have to go into my creepy carport closet where I store the holiday decorations. There are spiders in there. BIG ONES. I can just pop these in the compost, guilt-free, without accruing more stuff. Or spiders. Did I mention there are spiders?
REESE’S NOTE: Because this is a ZERO WASTE CRAFT, you’ll notice the instructions and supplies list is probably a little different than you’re used to. Stick with it!
Modern Minimalist Christmas: DIY Natural, Botanical Salt Dough Ornaments
What You Will Need:
2 cups white flour from paper bag (this is a great opportunity to use that flour that’s out of date) + additional flour for rolling
1 cup white table salt from cardboard box
1 cup water OR natural pigment (details on this below, keep reading)
Assorted fresh herbs, whole spices such as cloves or star anise, loose tea, and botanicals (Bulk spice stores will allow you to bring in your own reusable containers. I used tea, basil flowers, part of my Christmas tree, and cloves and star anise.)
Dehydrator (A dehydrator will make this craft a SNAP. You can also use an oven, but your ornaments are more likely to curl up or stick to the pan. You can also air dry them over several days, but I have no patience)
Kitchen sieve or cheesecloth or coffee filter (but that would be messy)
Cookie cutters (or wine glass)
Rolling pin (or wine bottle, whatever)
For natural varnish, optional: 1 egg, brush, whisk
To Make Natural Pigments:
I went into this concept in my DIY Vegetable-Based Watercolors post, but food makes for beautiful, non-toxic pigments in some crafts… such as this one!
I frequently use beets, mulberries, herbal teas, and fresh turmeric, so pick your ingredients and play with your food!
Chop ingredients, if needed.
Add ingredients to 2 cups water. (Use a designated dye pot if you are NOT using edible products and know what plants are toxic.)
Boil until 1 cup pigment remains or as desired (I made three batches of cookies, so I only needed 1/3 cup pigment)
Strain out materials through kitchen sieve, leaving only liquid to use for dough. RESERVE TEA LEAVES AND BERRIES IF YOU PLAN TO USE FOR DECORATIVE ELEMENTS. Wet ingredients will stick in ornaments more easily.
How to Make DIY Natural, Botanical Salt Dough Ornaments
Make your dough! Whisk together flour and salt in a large mixing bowl. If you’re making white dough, add one cup water. If you’re making three colors, scoop one cup flour mixture into two additional mixing bowls. (One cup dry ingredients per bowl.)
Pour water or pigments into flour mixture. Knead until a dough forms, about 3-5 minutes.
Lightly flour your rolling pin and cutting board, partially roll out your dough.
Decide what, if any, botanicals or decorative elements you’d like on your final ornament. Now is the time to add them! They will stick in the final ornament MUCH more easily if you roll them into the dough. Additionally, fresh herbs, evergreen leaves, and the strained tea from your DIY pigment will stick much more easily than dried elements. I used mostly tea, fresh basil flowers, and evergreen leaves in mine. I sprinkled a little bit of flour to simulate snow, as well.
Arrange decorative elements and finish rolling out dough. I kept my dough around 1/2 inch thickness, as I found it easier to work with.
Cut out shapes as desired.
Carefully move the ornaments to the racks on your dehydrator, taking care they don’t touch. Make a hole for stringing your ornaments, I recommend using a meat thermometer for this step, personally, by pushing an instrument of your choice through your ornament and the spaces in the dehydrator rack for a clean hole.
If you want a smooth, varnished finish, MOVE TO EGG VARNISH INSTRUCTIONS BELOW. If you’re content with a matte finish, continue by turning your dehydrator on high. Allow the ornaments to dry until they are thoroughly done and twist easily from the racks on your dehydrator.
String your DIY natural salt ornaments using twine and enjoy!
How to Make Natural Egg White Varnish for Salt Dough Ornaments
Eggs have been used as art supplies since the Renaissance times, if not before. They’re a beautiful gift from nature with a number of practical uses other than eating! If you’re worried about salmonella, be sure to bake your cookies in the oven at 200 degrees. Wash all kitchen tools that come in contact with your raw egg with soap and warm water.
Gently crack egg in half and pour into the smaller half of the shell over a bowl. This should separate the yolk from the egg white. Reserve egg yolk for breakfast by storing in the fridge in an airtight container.
Whisk egg white with a half tablespoon of water (approximate) in a small bowl.
Brush onto the front of your ornaments. Let varnish dry and repeat as desired for a brighter surface, then put in oven or on dehydrator.
You can see the differences in the matte and egg varnished surfaces below. The varnish will yield a brighter and smoother surface as well as enhance the color of your ornaments.
Final Note: All waste materials from this DIY should be recyclable (packaging from flour and salt) or compostable! No holiday storage needed, no creepy carport closet. Simply compost and repeat next year!