Give thanks with a green centerpiece

Photo: iStockphoto.com/cstar55
Save money with a DIY, environmentally-friendly Thanksgiving centerpiece!

Creating that green centerpiece doesn't have to be complicated. By carefully selecting your materials you can go green to save time and money.

Choose your candles carefully

The most common candles used in home décor are made from paraffin wax, a cheap sludge waste product of the petroleum industry. When paraffin burns, benzene and toluene, both known carcinogens, are released into the air, Burning paraffin also produces petrol-carbon soot, carbon particles that don't fully burn but are incandescent, giving the flame its bright white/yellow colour. Unfortunately, this soot has the toxins found in diesel, which ends up as residue on walls, ceilings, fabrics and even in the ventilation system. Those pretty gel candles may be crystal clear but they too are toxic, made from petroleum-based wax or synthetic hydrocarbons. The Canadian and American Lung Association both caution against prolonged exposure to fragrances and soot for the very young, the elderly and those with respiratory diseases.

The healthiest candles by far are vegetable wax candles made from hydrogenated soy, palm and coconut oils. Soy wax candles have become popular since soy is both affordable and plentiful. This biodegradable wax burns clean and any residue can be washed away with warm water and soap.

Dress up your candle

Beeswax candles are the most natural candles of all. Since the wax is a by-product of honey, these candles give off a sweet scent and burn clean. Although more expensive than paraffin or soy, beeswax candles last up to three times longer. Pure beeswax candles have a golden to amber colour. Beeswax candles that are ivory coloured typically have less of a natural honey scent. Be wary of candles labelled blended beeswax since these will often contain paraffin; look instead for the 100 percent beeswax label.

Warm up the outside of a large three-wick candle and press small leaves into the softened wax. Start a new tradition, set a glass dish of any kind underneath your newly decorate candle and scatter autumnal leaves at the base on the candles. The tray makes the arrangement portable. Beforehand dry out the leaves by putting them between two pieces of recycled paper towel and placing them in a heavy book.

Leaves that have dried nicely can be used as name places. Simple write your guest's name on the leave and arrange your seating plan accordingly. Your guests will appreciate this touching gesture.

Cornucopia

If you've run out of time then create a simple but effective centerpiece using a basket and some plants. Line your basket with newspaper and place a potted plant like an ivy or chrysanthemum in the middle. Insert a few fallen leaves in the basket to round out the display.

Add colourful fruits and vegetables like yellow squash, green and red apples, orange and yellow peppers or small pumpkins. Sprinkle assorted nuts in their shells for the finishing touch.

Green flowers

If you want to use freshly cut flowers keep in mind that the majority are imported from Columbia and Ecuador, where pesticide laws are fairly lax. Imperfect flowers don't sell so most greenhouses use a toxic mix of pesticides, herbicides and fungicides, 20 percent of which are banned in North America. A typical florist bouquet can have 100 times the pesticide residue than on fruits or vegetables. Most contain the insecticide chlorpyrifos (side effects include long-term neurological damage, blurred vision and headaches) as well as the herbicide methyl bromide (side effects include headaches, dizziness and vomiting).

The Montreal-based Sierra Flower Trading, one of the largest distributors of cut flowers in Canada, introduced the Sierra Eco brand, guaranteeing flowers have been harvested from socially and environmentally responsible farms. Their list of Canadian florists offering organic flowers has grown steadily ever since. For those in the Greater Toronto area, Eco Flora sells wildcrafted, organically grown flowers as well.

What will make your dinner a success is the love and warmth extended to friends and family gathered around your centrepiece.