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Enjoying Your Fragrance Garden with Potpourri

As much as we love our gardens for the edible bounty they provide, it’s also important to appreciate their aesthetic value as well. The beautiful fragrances that grace our gardens can be brought into our homes in many ways, but one that has always been very popular with my family are potpourris.

Potpourris are an excellent way to bring our gardens to life indoors as well as outdoors. Potpourri is a mixture of aromatic botanicals that have been coarsely broken and kept closed up in a decorative container. To release their beautiful perfumes, simply shake the jar and open the lid. When building a potpourri, think of the seeds, spices, woods, roots, and essential oils that will complement and enhance your base fragrance.

Harvesting and Drying

Cut and gather your herbs and flowers on a sunny day, preferably early in the day – just after the morning dew has dissipated. To capture them at the height of their essential oils, gather flowers just after they open. Gently pull the petals off, throwing away any that are discolored or wilted. Spread them out on a screen or newspaper to dry – using screens will allow more air circulation, causing them to dry faster and preserve more of their essential oils. Dry them in a warm, dark, airy place, stirring the petals often.

Selecting Herbs

Potpourri herbs are selected for both their colors and their scents, as the mixture should be richly fragrant and well as attractive. When picking herbs, those which are battered, ragged from insect abuse, or wilted should be discarded.

Grow Your Own Heirloom Herbs This Year And Harvest into Potpourri!

Fragrant Herbs

Acacia, allspice, angelica root, anise, basil, bay (laurel), bee balm, cardamom, cinnamon stick, cloves, coriander, costmary, frankincense, ginger, jasmine, lavender, lemon balm, lemon peel, lemongrass, lemon verbena, lilac, lily of the valley, marjoram, mint, myrrh, nutmeg, orange blossoms, orange peel, patchouli, roses (cabbage roses, damasks, gallicas, moss roses, or musk roses), rosemary, sage, sandalwood, santal (a soft white wood), scented geraniums, sweet flag root, sweet woodruff, thyme, vetiver wood, and violets.

Color

You can use any colorful flowers that dry well. Add the petals or flowers of baby’s breath, calendula, delphinium, elecampane, goldenrod, hydrangea, larkspur, nasturtium, pansy, safflower, statice, tansy, yarrow, or zinnia.

Fixatives

Fixatives are plant or animal materials that prevent evaporation of the essential oils. This will also hold the fragrance in your potpourri. Three common animal derived fixatives are ambergris, civet, and musk. While unpleasant on their own, these additives will amplify, enrich, and set the beautiful scents of your botanical mixtures. These animal-derived fixatives are very costly, so you might want to use plant-derived fixatives instead. They work quite well and can be prepared at home or purchased at a nearby pharmacy.

Orris root is the most common of the plant-derived fixatives. It will compliment lavender very well. It is the ground rhizome (root) of the Florentine iris.  While this is a great fixative, Orris can cause allergic reactions in many people. Those with allergies may want to use another botanical fixative. Those you can consider are benzoin, rose attar, ground and dried rosemary, sandalwood, storax, sweet flag, tonka beans (vanilla scent), and vetiver root (good with roses). Add about one tablespoon for each quart of herbs and flowers.

Oils

To enhance or add an accent to your potpourri, stir in a few drops of a complementary essential oil. If you can’t decide which oil to add, divide the herbs into small portions and add a drop of the different oils to each portion to check out which one you prefer.

Mixing

With the exception of the scissors or knife used to cut your herbs, it is best not to expose them to metals when preparing or drying, as metals can change the scent of your mixture. Using wood, enamel, or ceramic utensils will help avoid this problem.

Crush or grind seeds before adding. Stir together all dry ingredients – or if you are really into you potpourri, toss it together gently with your hands. Viola, perfume!

If adding essential oils, add just two or three drops while tossing or stirring your potpourri. Too much will overpower the fragrant botanicals and may make it overbearing.

When your botanicals are well mixed, place the potpourri in wide-mouthed jars or ceramic pots with tight lids. Place containers in a cool, dark, dry place for six weeks to allow the scents to meld into one, shaking the container once weekly. When the six weeks are complete, your potpourri is ready to use throughout your home or to share as gifts.

Containers

A clear glass jar will show off all of the different colors and textures in your potpourri. Containers with lids will allow for using your beautiful potpourri fragrances when you choose and to preserve its scents, making it last longer. Always label and date your potpourri before you store it.

Moist Potpourri

You may use rose petals or the petals of any fragrant flowers to make moist potpourri. Add chosen spices, herbs, and oils to the petals. Layer your mixture in a wide-mouthed canning jar or ceramic crock with a tight lid with un-iodized salt or sea salt. Close up and set in a cool, dark, place for six weeks, stirring daily.

Once fermentation begins, let it set one to two weeks without stirring, until a cake is formed. At this point, moist potpourris are traditionally compressed under a weighted plate. Break the cake into small pieces and combine with additional oils, spices and a fixative. Let it blend a few more weeks. Put it into a decorative container with a vented (holey) lid so that the potpourri is smelled, yet unseen (as it isn’t very pretty to look at, but it smells wonderful).

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