A Potpourri Primer

Potpourri was originally a French word, referring to a mixture of many different things, usually some sort of impromptu concoction.  These days, potpourri refers to a mixture of different botanicals put together for fragrance, eye appeal, and often, just for nostalgia.

Choose things like rosebuds, lavender, flower petals, scented geranium leaves, artemisia – anything you like. There are two different kinds of potpourri, moist and dried, but the most popular and easiest for most people is dried. The basic procedure to make your own potpourri is very easy, but to create a ‘proper’ potpourri that has a long-lasting fragrance and is visually attractive takes time and patience. 

The following instructions are very flexible—the best thing about making your own potpourri is that you can use materials you have on hand, or are easy to find. There is no single correct recipe, and the color, texture and scent are yours to create.

The basic ingredients for dry potpourri are:

  • 1 part fixative, such as chipped orris root. Orris root also comes in powdered form, but I prefer chipped. Other fixatives include tonka beans, vetivert, oakmoss and cedarwood.
  • 2 parts ‘hard’ botanicals, such as cinnamon sticks, cedar chips, cloves, citrus rinds.
  • 5 parts ‘soft’ botanicals, such as the heads and petals of flowers and leaves.
  • Essential or fragrance oils of your fragrance choice. You can combine several scents, and fragrance oils are less expensive than essential oils.

Mix your oil(s) with the orris root. Remember, a few drops of oil go a long way, and you should ‘smell as you go.’ Place the mixture in a glass jar (plastic will absorb your oil). Shake well and set mixture in a dark closet or cupboard. Shake every few days for 10-14 days. The idea is to get the oil to absorb deeply into the orris root; the deeper the oils penetrate, the longer the scent will last.

Add the hard botanicals, shake well, and repeat the process for 7-10 days. Store in a dark closet.

Add your soft botanicals. Choose things like rosebuds, lavender, flower petals, scented geranium leaves, artemisia—anything you like, and keep in mind that this is a great way to save flowers from florists’ arrangements, as well as material from your own garden, or even a craft store. You can even add material from old dried arrangements & wreaths that have faded or have been replaced.

Again, gently mix, and store.  Check in about a week to see if the scent has changed. You may want it stronger, or you might want to change it in some way. This is the time to do it. In two weeks, your potpourri is ready.

Strong light and heat will damage the potpourri. If you leave it in an open bowl, it will lose potency much faster than if you use a potpourri jar. When you are out of a room for a length of time, cover it if it is in a bowl to preserve the scent.Note: certain ‘soft’ botanicals, like lavender, highly scented roses and lemon verbena can hold their scent for years, but as a rule, most soft botanicals don’t really contribute to the scent, they are just for eye appeal and visual effect.

You can color-coordinate them to a room (pink flowers in a pink-toned room) or to their scent (yellow flowers for a citrus fragrance.)

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