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An Introduction to Making Potpourri at Home

Updated on June 22, 2014
Painting by Herbert James Draper of a woman preparing potpourri.
Painting by Herbert James Draper of a woman preparing potpourri. | Source

Potpourri is a traditional way to preserve herbs, spices, flowers and other plant material and capture the essences of a summer garden to enjoy all year round. Today potpourri is the name given to aromatic mixtures used for to bring fragrance to rooms and spaces. This is quite far from the original French potpourri mixtures which were moist and often fermented or when mouldy, especially in the summer months. As far back as the early 17th Century in France, fresh herbs and flowers would begin to be collected in early spring and through to late summer. After each collection the plants where left for a day or two to go limb and then would be layered with sea salt in a bowl. Occasionally the growing mixture would be stirred and in autumn spices and a fixative would be added to preserve the potpourri, which would then be used to fill potpourri pots.

Potpourri can be made using an interesting variety of plant based materials.
Potpourri can be made using an interesting variety of plant based materials. | Source

Modern potpourri is created using a variety of dried plant material such as petals, flowers, wood shavings, leaves and peels. These can be used in their natural forms or processed into decorative shapes and can come from scented or unscented plants. In the case of unscented plants, these can be complemented with scented plants or natural or synthetic fragrance oils and perfumes can be used to add the potpourri’s aroma. Using essential or fragrance oils to potpourri gives a wider variety of scents and these can be tailored and changed to suit your personal preferences. The development of the dry method of making potpourri has also made it possible to use the finished product in a variety of craft projects such potpourri balls, herb pillows, scented coat hangers, pomanders, herb bags and in crafts not directed related to potpourri such as paper making or scrapbooking.

The ingredients used to create potpourri fall into various categories:

  • Flowers for scent
  • Flowers for colour
  • Aromatic leaves
  • Spices
  • Peels
  • Roots
  • Woods chips

Fixatives – these are used to preserve the finished blend

Essential oils and other perfumes can also be added in small amounts. Due to the nature of these items care should be taken that small amounts are added as they can dominate over more subtle scents. It is easy to add more if desired but once added essential oils and perfumes cannot be removed. A small pipette is ideal for this purpose as the oils can be added easily drop by drop until the desired results are achieved.

Dried herbs are often used when creating potpourri blends.
Dried herbs are often used when creating potpourri blends. | Source

Materials to be used in potpourri can be collected from your own garden, foraged from the wild or bought fresh or ready dried. A wide variety of herbs and other dried plant material can be bought on the internet from websites such as eBay or Baldwins & Co. If you have your own garden or space in which to grow flowers, leaves and other components can be collected and dried throughout the year to slowly build up a store of aromatic ingredients. Plant material can be dried successfully in a very low oven, dehydrator or simply left hanging in a dry, dark but ventilated room, airing cupboards and warm lofts are often ideal. All plant material should be kept out of direct sunlight as this a fade their colours and cause the plants fragrance to be lost. Orris root is a commonly used fixative to hold in the scent of a potpourri blend but other options are available such as sweet woodruff, sandalwood chips, benzoin and clary sage leaves.

As well as being used to generally fragrance and add atmosphere to a room potpourri can be created and used with a specific purpose in mind. Depending on the ingredients used to create the blend potpourri can be uplifting and energising, calming and soothing or used for practical purposes such as repelling insects. Potpourri blends can also be themed: for example using only plants that could be found in a cottage garden or that are used in cooking.

A herb garden is a prefect place to collect materials to be dried and used in making potpourri.
A herb garden is a prefect place to collect materials to be dried and used in making potpourri. | Source

Making Potpourri

If you wish to make your own potpourri the most popular method is to select ingredients from the above categories so that the mix is balanced. Many recipes are also available online or in books but do not feel that these must be stuck to rigidly or that there are rules that must be followed. A better approach is to look on these as guides to help you get started on the path of potpourri making that you can build on and adapt to suit your own tastes and needs as you gain confidence and knowledge. Any materials used to make potpourri should be free from any damage, mould, disease or other contamination and be dried thoroughly. Care should also be taken in where potpourri is used as although the ingredients are safe to use for the purpose some can be harmful if eaten, which can be a real possibility if children or pets can reach the mixes. Care is also needed in relation to allergies both for yourself when making and using the potpourri but also for anyone else that may have contact with the finished item.

Examples of Ingredients for Each Category

Flowers for Scent
Flowers for Colour
Aromatic Leaves
Lemon balm
Lemon verbena
Lily of the Valley
Sweet Marjoram
Sweet Woodruff
Peels, Roots and Wood Chips
Citrus fruit peels
Orris root
Angelica root
Cowslip root
Tonka bean
Valerian root
sandalwood chips
sandalwood chips
Sweet woodruff
Cedarwood chips
Cassia chips
Star anise
Potpourri mixture.
Potpourri mixture. | Source

Making Dry Potpourri

The actual process of making potpourri is relatively simple and most recipes will come with instructions regarding amounts and mixing. As a basic guide, when creating your own blends paper dry flowers and leaves should be gentle combined before adding small amounts of any spices, peel, roots, wood chips and your chosen fixative. Any essential oils or fragrances can be then added at this point, a drop at a time. Stir the mixture well between each drop to ensure that the oil is distributed evenly throughout the other ingredients. The potpourri should then be placed in a sealed container and stored in a dry dark place for six to eight weeks in order to cure. After this time the potpourri can be used or incorporated into other projects.

© 2014 Claire


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    • Elderberry Arts profile image

      Claire 3 years ago from Surrey, Uk

      Essential oils would be my personal choice as well as they are natural and bring their own benefits when used. A lot of artificial fragrances set off allergy like symptoms for me too. I also like to make my own loose incense.

    • cloverleaffarm profile image

      Healing Herbalist 3 years ago from The Hamlet of Effingham

      I love making my own potpourri. You can combine just about anything. I use essential oils, as perfume oils are chemicals. Voted up!