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Making Potpourri - Simple Recipes for You to Make

Updated on February 20, 2014
1897 Painting of a woman making potpourris by Herbert James Draper
1897 Painting of a woman making potpourris by Herbert James Draper | Source

Introduction to Potpourri

The traditional way to capture the essence of a summer herb garden and bring it indoors is to make a potpourri, a mixture of fragrant, colorful flowers and leaves displayed in a bowl.

Potpourri has become a term for many aromatic mixtures, but the original French means "rotten pot," a moist mixture of pickled flowers and leaves.

This older, "moist" method gives a longer-lasting perfume but it is more difficult to do and visually less attractive. The dry method is popular as it is easier and the colorful result can be displayed in bowls or potpourri balls, and used in herb pillows.

The basic ingredients fall into four categories: flowers for scent or color; aromatic leaves; spices and peel; and fixatives to preserve the blend. Many herbs are available as essential oils, a great asset to modern mixtures, but they must be used with discretion to avoid dominating subtler scents.

The leisurely activity of creating the mixture, focusing intently on scent and color, gives as much pleasure as the finished product. As you become familiar with your herbs and their seasons, you can preserve a few leaves here and a few blossoms there, slowly building up a store of aromatic ingredients. When you wish to create a mixture, assemble your aromas and consider how each will blend and harmonize with the others.

Potpourri recipes are a good guideline for getting started, but experience is really the best teacher. To blend your own potpourri, select ingredients from each of the categories below.

Family Heirloom Potpourri

  1. Begin with a simple blend of rose petals, lavender flowers, rosemary leaves, allspice and orris root.
  2. Whenever you have a special occasion involving flowers, dry the petals and add them to the potpourri.
  3. As the scent fades, revive with family favorite essential oils.

The character of the potpourri will develop with your family history, and each petal will have a story to tell.

Madonna Lily at VanDusen Botanical Garden
Madonna Lily at VanDusen Botanical Garden | Source

Potpourri - Flowers for Scent

Traditionally, flowers dominate any mixture, especially rose petals and lavender, as they retain their perfume the longest. For fragrance, select perfect, whole flowers just before they open fully. Dry by laying as flat as possible on stretched cheesecloth to allow air to circulate. Large flowered roses and thick petaled lilies and hyacinths should have their petals separated. Small rosebuds can be dried whole; they look exquisite but have little scent at this stage.

Select from: Acadia broom, carnation, elderberry, freesia, honeysuckle, hyacinth jasmine, lavender, lilac, lily of the valley, linden, Madonna lily, meadow sweet Mexican orange blossom, mignonette, mock orange, musk mallow, narcissus, nicotaina, orange blossom, rose, stock, sweet rocket, violet, wallflower.

Tansy | Source

Potpourri - Flowers for Color

Choose from the following to include in display mixtures for extra color: bergamot, borage, calendula, cornflowers, delphinium, endive, feverfew, forget-me-not, foxglove, larkspur, lawn daisy, poppy, sage, tansy, tulip, viper's bugloss, zinnias, and any of the small "everlasting" flowers.

Use pussy willow and sweet myrtle buds to give extra texture.

Potpourri - Aromatic Leaves

These represent the second largest group in a potpourri mixture, and as their scent is often more powerful than that of flowers, select those that will harmonize. Dry leaves whole and then break or crush them in a blend to release their scent.

Choose from: balm of Gilead, balsam poplar buds, basil, bay, bergamot, costmary, lady's bedstraw, lemon balm, lemon verbena, melilot, mints, patchouli, scented pelargoniums, rosemary, sage, southernwood, sweetbrier, sweet cicely, sweet marjoram, sweet myrtle, sweet woodruff, tarragon, thymes, and wild strawberry.

Picture of Potpourri
Picture of Potpourri | Source

Potpourri - Spices, Peel, Roots and Wood Chips

These have a strong aroma and are used sparingly; about 1 tablespoon to 4 cups of flowers and leaves.

Selected spices are usually added in equal proportions. The best scent is obtained by freshly grinding whole spices in a pestle and mortar or pepper grinder; grate nutmeg.

To make dried peel, take a thin layer of peel with a zester, grater or potato peeler, avoiding any white pith. Dip in orris root powder to intensify the scent. Dry slowly, then crush or mince if desired.

Roots should be cleaned, carefully peeled, sliced and dried slowly. Then chop, crush, mince or powder them.

Select from: Alexanders (seed), allspice, aniseed, cardamon, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, dill seed, ginger, juniper, nutmeg, star anise, vanilla pods; dried peel of citrus fruits; roots of angelica, cowslip, elecampane, sweet flag, valerian, vetiver; and shreds or raspings of cedar wood sandalwood, cassia chips.

Potpourri - Fixatives and Essential Oils

Fixatives are available as powders and are used to absorb and hold the other scents so they will last longer. Most have their own perfume, which enters into the aromatic equation. The most popular vegetable fixative is orris root, as its sweet violet scent doesn't affect a blend stronly: use 1 tablespoon per cup of flowers and leaves. Gum benzoin has a sweet vanilla scent; use about 1/2 ounce to 4-6 cups of flowers and leaves. The tonka bean from Dipteryx odorata also has a strong vanilla scent; use one or two crushed beans per recipe.

Some fragrances act as fixatives, including oakmoss or chypre, sandalwood, sweet flag root, sweet violet root, and frankincense and myrrh. Use 1/2 ounce to 4 cups of potpourri.

Essential Oils are a great boon to present day potpourri blenders for adding intensity and depth to a fragrant mixture. Oils are particularly good for reviving an old potpourri that has lost its scent; but only a few drops should be added to each mixture or you will overpower the blend.

Painting by Edwin Austin Abbey - 1899
Painting by Edwin Austin Abbey - 1899 | Source

Method to Make Moist Potpourri

In traditional recipes, this is made from highly fragrant damask or cabbage rose petals, which are partly dried until leathery and halved in bulk: this takes about two days of dry weather. Then the petals are layered with dry, non-iodized sea salt (half coarse and half fine), using 1 cup of salt to 3 packed cups of petals. Alternate every 1/2 inch of petals with salt, in a bowl until it is two-thirds full. Stand it in a dark, dry, well-aired space for 10 days until caked together. If it froths, stir daily and allow another 10 days.

Break up the caked petals into small pieces, mix with the other ingredients and seal in an airtight container for six weeks to "ferment." Stir daily. Add dried flowers and essential oils and seal again for two weeks to complete blending. Transfer to a decorative opaque container with a lid, and cover when not in use. Moist potourri will keep its fragrance for several years.

Traditional Rose & Spice Mixture - Moist Method

  • 4 Cups "Fermented" Rose Petals
  • 1 Tablespoon Crushed Bay Leaves
  • 1 Tablespoon Crushed Orange Peel
  • 1/2 Cup Orris Root Powder
  • 2 Tablespoons Ground Mace
  • 2 Tablespoons Ground Allspice
  • 1 Tablespoon Ground Cloves
  • 1 Nutmeg, Grated
  • 1 Cinnamon Stick, crushed
  • 1 Cup Dried Rosebuds

1897 Painting of Woman Making Potpourri
1897 Painting of Woman Making Potpourri | Source

Method to Make a Dry Potpourri

Select a theme for the scent - such as woodland or citrus - and assemble paper-dry flowers and leaves. Gently combine the flowers and leaves, then mix the fixative with the spices and blend in with your hands. Sprinkle on essential oils if desired, a drop at a time, stirring between each drop. Seal and store in a warm, dry, dark place for six weeks to "cure".

Place the mixture in open bowls for display. Choose a container with colors tht harmonize with the potpourri, or use clear glass containers to show off the potpourri between layers of lavender or rose petals. A lid will prolong its scented life.

Cottage Garden Potpourri - Dry Method

  • 2 Cups Rose Petals
  • 1 Cup Rosebuds
  • 2 Cups Lavender
  • 1 Cup Mock Orange Flowers
  • 1 Cup Scented Pelargonium Leaves
  • 1 Cup Bergamot Leaves
  • 1 Cup Pinks
  • 1 Cup Larkspur Flowers
  • 1/4 Cup Daisies
  • 8 Love-in-a-Mist Seed Capsules or Hop Flowers
  • 5 Tablespoons Orris Root

Thanks for stopping by & Happy Crafting!

Potpourri - Another Easy Recipe

© 2013 Dawn


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    • faythef profile image

      Faythe F. 5 years ago from USA

      Great hub..I love making my own potpourri...

    • bridalletter profile image

      Brenda Kyle 5 years ago from Blue Springs, Missouri, USA

      This will be fun to make and gift on mothers day. Thank you for sharing the tips.