How We Make Potpourri
by Mary Fulghum, Houston Rose Society
This is a 2018 Award of Merit article.
There are two basic kinds of potpourri; dry and moist. At our house we make the dry kind which is far simpler. The first step is to gather and dry petals, blooms, and other plant material. By October I am searching the yard on every dry day. A short cut way to do the drying involves using silica gel, a sand-like product that is available online. I used this more in the past when I grew a lot of minis in order to dry buds. I would place them face up in a shallow sealed container and completely cover them with the silica sand. They will dry in 3 to seven days or about a minute in the microwave. (LEFT: Photo by Rita Perwich)
The speedy way to dry petals is to spread them on shallow sided cookie sheets and put them in the oven on low heat. The time it takes will vary depending on your oven; the object is to make them crisp but not so much so that they shatter when handled. So if your big source of rose blooms is elsewhere – perhaps a friend’s large garden or a public one – these methods will get you caught up when you bring home a lot of material at once.
Letting Go of the Past. I sorely miss the days when I would take my young daughter to a store which featured a wall covered with large jars, each filled with different herbs and spices. We would smell and decide on so many interesting choices. Now I order online for my basics which include Orris root, cinnamon sticks, whole nutmegs, whole cloves, and personal favorites such as Lavender flowers, large cut orange peel, lemon grass, peppermint and spearmint. There are many other choices and of course if you grow herbs as well you will want to dry and use your own.
Basic Ingredients. In order to make a batch of potpourri you will need dried plant material, essential oil, a fixative, spices and herbs, a large bowl or container for mixing, and another container which can be sealed for storing. At our house a sledge hammer is also an essential item. When I order the herbs and spices I make sure to get orris root pulverized but not powdered. This is the number one fixative for potpourri although there are some others.
The essential oil that you choose will be the dominant fragrance of your mixture and I am finding more and more places to get these. Just be sure you are getting the purest oils you can find; this is not the place to scrimp on quality. I spread the chunky orris root into a very small sealed plastic container, about 3” by 3”, and drop in just a few drops of the oil. After stirring it carefully I put the lid on and let it sit for at least a week before combining the other ingredients. When I am hosting a children’s potpourri party I prepare 3 batches using different oils so that the children will have a choice.
Randy and his Sledge Hammer. When it is time to combine the ingredients Randy pulverizes the whole nutmegs, cloves, and cinnamon sticks with his sledge hammer. He does this one ingredient at a time in a 5 gallon bucket placed on a thick towel on the kitchen floor. Suffice it to say that we learned this the hard way. Again we are going for very small chunks, mostly, rather than powder, in part because we don’t want the consistency so small that it shakes out of the tulle bags. We use this same 5 gallon bucket for mixing and storing the potpourri because it has a lid that can be tightly sealed.
We put in the petals and dried plant material first because the herbs and spices are heavier and will sink to the bottom. Then each ingredient in turn is gently stirred in and the bucket is sealed. Every day after that we shake the bucket vigorously and turn it upside down. I always wait a week before opening and using it but longer is better.
We give potpourri to family, co-workers, and many friends. Years ago I presented family members with potpourri containers – small bowls of all kinds with slotted or removable tops. Every year after that I have given them potpourri to put into them. Sashay bags are also great to hang on hangers or place in drawers. These can be homemade but I just go to a craft store and find lots of prepackaged tulle bags on the wedding aisle for about a dollar each. When spooning it out be sure to reach down to the bottom of the container so you will get herbs as well as petals. The simplest way to give it is by putting it into a sealed sandwich sized ziplock bag which has been rolled up with a festive bow tied around it. Next month – How We Host A Children’s Potpourri Party! (TOP: Photo by Mary Fulgum)