Denise Schreiber is the infamous Mrs. Know It All of The Organic Gardeners on KDKA radio and the author of Eat Your Roses.

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How to Make Potpourri
by Denise Schreiber       #Fragrant   #How to   #Misc

The original French term for potpourri meant “rotten pot,” referring to the moist method of pickling flowers and leaves. More common now is the dry method using flowers and leaves that are picked just as they reach maturity full of fragrance and color. It also incorporates seeds, spices, dried leaves and flowers, berries, dried fruit slices, barks, seedheads and cones to add a variety of textures to the mixture. The best potpourris have a subtle, natural scent that comes from the combination of all natural ingredients. Different ingredients contribute aroma, texture, color and bulk. Many herbs contribute fragrance as well as color and texture.

Start collecting your flowers and herbs for drying early in the day, after the dew has dried and before the sun becomes too hot. This way they retain their fragrance and color. They can be hung upside down in a dark area or where there is a breeze. They can also be placed on a cookie sheet lined with foil or parchment paper in the same area. When they are completely dried, you can store them in a glass mason jar with a tight-fitting lid to keep out moisture. (Plastic allows some moisture to get into the flowers.) Store away from light until you are ready to make your mixture.

Flowers from top left: roses, dried lavender, bee balm (red petals) and mixed dried flower petals.

What to Use
Some plants you can use for potpourri include roses and rose buds, lavender, any member of the mint family, calendula, pansies, violets, lemon verbena, strawflowers, larkspur, scented geranium flowers and leaves, rosemary flowers and leaves, thyme flowers and leaves, angelica, gomphrena and statice — just to name a few. You can also use balsam needles, cones from evergreens, juniper berries, citrus peels (without the white pith), cloves, cinnamon sticks, star anise, allspice, cardamom and vanilla pods.

This large dish contains chopped orris root, and the small dish has powdered orris root and vanilla oil fragrance.

Birch bark

Combine the flowers and other ingredients together and mix by gently tossing. Make sure the fragrances complement each other.

Consider the effects of each ingredient. A citrusy scent including orange peel and lemon verbena or a mint to stimulate and refresh, or florals such as lavender and rose are soothing. Camphors like eucalyptus and balsam will cool, while spices like cloves, cinnamon and vanilla add warmth. Woods and barks (like cedar and birch) complement other scents while adding bulk, and fruits such as dried apple slices, rosehips and juniper berries add visual appeal.

I also like to add a few drops of an essential oil and a fixative, which can be purchased from a craft store or herb shop. A fixative keeps the scent from fading. Fixatives include orris root, gum benzoin, oak moss and vanilla beans. It’s fine to put more than one fixative to work in a potpourri; use at least 20 percent total fixative by weight. I like to use about 1 tablespoon of orris root to 1 cup of flowers and leaves. Gum benzoin has a sweet vanilla scent, but I use only ½ ounce to 4-6 cups of flowers.

After mixing up the potpourri, store in a jar for about six weeks in a warm, dark dry place to allow it to cure. You can add a drop of essential oil once a week and stir it in until you obtain the desired fragrance.

When the potpourri is finished, place it in an open decorative bowl and enjoy. You will probably have to refresh it with essential oil from time to time, but it should last several months for your enjoyment.

You can play around with the ingredients to suit your own personal taste. You can also make sachets of potpourri to give as gifts or to scent closets or drawers. Small organza bags are ideal for this and are available at craft stores.



A version of this article appeared in a July/August 2015 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Denise Schreiber.


Posted: 07/03/18   RSS | Print


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