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The word "potpourri" means "rotten pot". Sounds delightful doesnít it? This word came about because original moist potpourri blends were bruised rose petals, layered with salt, and left to age in a covered jar. When they were opened, the essence filled the air with the smell of roses and potpourri was born. Today potpourri is usually a mixture of dried, sweet-scented plant parts including flowers, leaves, seeds, stems and roots. The basis of a potpourri is the aromatic oils found within the plant. These oils are not confined to the flowers, but are at their peak at flowering time. You can harvest your own leaves and flowers just as the plant begins to flower. Harvesting in the morning, after the dew has dried, is recommended.

Flowers, Herbs and Spices

Flowers, herbs and spices have been used for thousands of years to add fragrance to our lives. From the earliest writings we have found evidence of the importance various scents have played in our history. We all canít pour 18 inches of rose petals on the floors of our homes the way Cleopatra did for Mark Antony, but we can make and enjoy the fragrance of plant aromas. Early Egyptians carried hand bouquets and burned aromatic plants in their homes, or scattered pleasant-smelling plants on their floors. Pious Pharisees of biblical days decorated temples with mint to "make a sweet smell before the Lord."

Two Kinds of Potpourri, wet and dry.

Two kinds of potpourri can be made - dry and moist. The most common, the dry method, is quicker and easier, but the potpourri does not last as long. Both methods require a "fixative", which is responsible for absorbing the aromatic oils and slowly releasing them. Common fixatives include finely ground non-iodized (pickling) salt, orris root (dried rhizomes of the iris plant), sweet flag (calamus root), gum benzoin, storax (styax) and ambergris. . Make sure the fixatives are finely ground so they can better absorb the aromatic oils. 

Potpourri Recipes

For making dry potpourri, use an equal weight of finely ground spices (such as cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg) and fixative. Two different fixatives are often used in case one is more effective that the other. Add a few drops of essential oil to the fixative/spice mixture. For every quart of dried plant parts, add two tablespoons of the fixative/spice mixture. Store the potpourri in an air-tight container, and shake daily to ensure good contact between the fixatives and the plant parts. Allow this to mellow for four to six weeks, then display your potpourri in an attractive container. A container with a removable lid will allow you to enjoy the aroma from time to time, yet retain the aroma when the lid is on.

Have some fun with potpourris, using as many different aromas as you can, but not all in the same container. Try using the flowers from roses, larkspur, delphinium, cornflower, pot-marigold, nigelia, marigolds, peonies, chamomile, sweet peas, hyssop, bergamont, statice, strawflower, lilacs, honeysuckle and linden for a pleasant looking as well as sweet smelling potpourri.

For scent, try the flowers and leaves from herbs such as artemesia, thyme, sage, rosemary, basil, achillea (yarrow), lavender,scented geraniums, mints, marjoram, verbenas, anise and fennel. Or use common fruits such as rose hips, hawthorn berries, juniper berries, grapefruit rind, orange rind and apples. Make sure the herbs and fruits are thoroughly dried to prevent mildew from establishing. The Romans used lavender to add fragrance to their linens. Rose petals were used to stuff their pillows and mattresses. In later times, Ladyís bedstraw would replace the petals. Hops were added which helped to induce sleep as well as soften the bed. During Medieval days, fragrant flowers and herbs were strewn about the floor to release their scent when stepped upon. During those times of few baths, and fewer launderings, people carried small nosegays of fragrant herbs to help hide the odors. The mixing of special potpourri blends became something Victorian ladies delighted in creating. Today we are seeing a return to this desire for fragrance, both subtle and exotic. Potpourri can be a simple mix of lavender and roses, or a more complex blending of flowers, woods, leaves and fixatives.

You can make potpourri by blending together 2 to 3 cups of dried flowers, roots and leaves (use herbs and flowers), 2 to 3 tablespoons crushed cinnamon, star anise and cloves, 1/4 cup dried orange or lemon peel, 2 tablespoons of a fixative (more later) and 5 or 6 drops of an essential oil. Be sure to add lots of dried flowers for color and maybe some pine cones or exotic looking pods. I like to add the essential oil to the fixative and allow that to blend and age for about 4 weeks. Then I mix this into the flowers, leaves, cones, etc. By doing this, the fixative has time to really absorb the aroma of the oil. You will find the aroma will be longer lasting. If you are in a hurry, you can mix everything together and achieve a very satisfactory fragrance.

Fixatives are those ingredients that "fix" the aroma. This is a substance which is used to make the scent last longer. They come in many forms, liquid, dried, and powdered. Some of the more common fixatives are orris root, calamus root, frankincense, patchouli and oakmoss. Many people are allergic to orris root so you might want to avoid using it in your blends. There are new fixatives on the market made from corn cobs which seem to cause no problems for sensitive individuals. You can also use pine cones, cedar shavings and cinnamon sticks. Even dried hibiscus flowers makes a great fixative. Just place them in a jar, add the essential oil and cover. Allow them to steep for several days before adding to your blended flowers and cones.




How to dry flowers
Dried Banksia
Dried Calendar for children
Dried Fruit
Dried Roses
Collecting flowers for drying
Make a dried flower topiary
Growing flowers to dry
Make holiday decorations using aromatic pine cones
Skeletonized leaves
Dried Statice


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