Naturally fragrant botanical materials have been used since before Egyptian times to perfume households. This use, with variations, continues to the present day. The name we have given to this fragrant craft is potpourri.
There are two methods of making potpourri, the moist and dry methods. Of these, the dry method is the only one suitable for fragrant craft work.
To make a potpourri, three things are needed – flowers, fragrance and fixative. To be appealing and useful, a potpourri must look good and retain a pleasant fragrance almost indefinitely. The important thing to remember though is that both visual and fragrant appeal are personal, what you like others may not.
Flowers give colour and form, not necessarily fragrance. They must be fully dry. Quick drying directly in the sun accentuates colour but minimises fragrance. A drying rack retains fragrance but minimises colour. Select a range of flowers and proportion them in the mix so the variation of colour and form is eye catching.
For economy in potpourri making, it is wise to select at least one cheap bulky material as the base then add smaller amounts of other more expensive ingredients. A very frugal way is to grow your own and harvest the plants as you need them.
Fragrance is added to potpourri either by natural botanical materials or by concentrated fragrant oil. Most commonly a blend is used. Fragrant and essential oils are more versatile in creating attractive potpourri fragrances than just botanical materials. To ensure the fragrances of a potpourri lasts a fixative is essential. The two most commonly used are orris root, the dried fragrant root of Iris Florentia and gum benzoin, a natural tree gum. A cornstarch substitute can be used but powders cloud the colours of a potpourri and make it dusty.
All ingredients of potpourri may be finally mixed by placing in a large bag and or air tight container for about six weeks and shaking it every now and then. This allows proper blending of all fragrant components. It is said the fragrance of a well made potpourri lasts up to 50 years.
Traditional uses of using potpourri:
Open bowls: Fill colourful open china bowls and leave in a central location to fragrance room.
Pomanders: Mix with vegetable gum such as karaya or Arabic and form into balls. Allow to harden and use as beads amongst clothing. Oranges are also used and cloves are pushed into oranges then the oranges are rolled in a mixed spice then left to dry.
Sachets: Make small bags from open lace or cotton material and fill with potpourri. Decorate with ribbon and place in drawers.
Pillows: A larger variation of the sachet.
8 cups rose petals
4cups rose or lemon verbena leaves
6 cups lavender flowers
½ cup orris root glandules
½ cup gum benzion
2/3 cup coarse ground, mix spice
2 teaspoons rose fragrance oil
Method: Place rose petals, leaves and lavender in a plastic bag. Place fixatives and spice in a mixing bowl, add fragrance and mix. Add to plastic bag and shake. Place in air-tight container keep in a warm place and shake occasionally for six weeks.