Potpourri & Bad Poetry

Oh to spend my days in a garden overlooking the sea, making potpourri and writing bad poetry…

Have you ever made your own potpourri? Not the dried sort but true potpourri, the moist sort. The kind that rots into a beautiful scent to perfume your home. Did you know that potpourri comes from the French and literally means “rotten pot”? Flowers and herbs were mixed with salt and left to rot in a covered pot. This lidded pot with it’s fragrant mix of rotting flowers was kept in the entrance hallway of homes. It was opened when guests arrived to ward of any scents or odors that may induce illness. Today, we use potpourri not so much to ward of illness but create beauty in our homes and workplaces through the use of fragrance.

Making potpourri always seemed magical to me. I have always dreamed of owning a lavish garden overlooking the sea. I see myself sitting there in the midst of lilacs, linden, nut and chestnut trees, beds of fragrant roses, lavender fields, peonies, pansies, wisteria, clematis, night blooming Jasmine, ranunculus, Day and Easter lilies, iris, rosemary, all the different types of sage and thyme, and so much more…writing bad poetry while sipping on cool drink. I see myself strolling through my garden pruning, cutting and gathering flowers to make potpourri.

Unfortunately, it is still just that…a dream. But that does not stop me from making potpourri. I used to only make the dried kind. Which was easy enough.

Recipe for Dried Potpourri

You will need

  • A bowel for mixing
  • A covered container (large glass jar) for curing
  • A binder like orris root
  • Dried  like cinommon, cloves, vanilla, nutmeg
  • Essential oils to create the fragrance
  • Flower petals and herbs seeds and pods

What to do

  • Gather flowers, cut or bought
  • Enjoy them and dry them
  • Mix the different dried flowers and herbs, seeds and pods together to provide a base for your potpourri
  • Add the following
  • A binder like orris root
  • Essential oils to CreTe the fragrance
  • Cover and let cure.

This is fast and easy way to make potpourri but it does have its drawbacks. The scent is fleeting and you have to replenish it often.

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Making true or moist potpourri is a bit more time consuming and requires patience and planning. But in truth it’s not much more difficult. The real difficulty is in accessing fresh, fragrant herbs and flowers at their peak. Further down is the basic recipe. Roses are traditional but you can really use any fragrant flower of choice. Make sure flowers are not the least bit damp.and be careful not to stir the pot too often especially in the beginning. You can even cheat a little by adding a few drops of scented oils to help the fragrance along. Just make sure they are the highest quality you can get your hands on. That much said, a recipe below from 1890.

A recipe dated 1890 gives some guidance, and although this is perhaps too involved for modern tastes, it is a gem in its own right.

‘Gather the roses on a dry day only, and lay them on sheets of newspaper to dry in the shade, then sprinkle them freely with finely powdered bay-salt. Pound smoothly together a quantity of musk, gum benjamin, dried Seville orange peel, angelica root, cloves, Jamaica pepper, coriander seed, and spirits of wine. Now take sun-dried rose leaves, clove carnations, lavender, woodruff ‘, rosemary, violets, etc., and place them in layers in a china or earthenware jar, alternately with salt and the pounded spices mentioned above. Or, pound very fine, 1 lb bay-salt, 2 oz salt petre, 0.5 oz each of cloves and allspice, and mix these thoroughly with a grated nutmeg, the very finely pared rind of four lemons (being careful to omit all white pith), 1 dr of musk, 1 oz bergamot, 6 dr powdered orris root, and 1 dr each of spirits of lavender, essence of lemon, and storax. Have ready minced a handful each of bay leaves, rosemary, myrtle, lemon thyme and sweet verbena. Place these all, when well hand-mixed, into a jar with a close fitting lid, adding to them, as you can get them, six handfuls of sweet-smelling and dried rose leaves (these must be petals I imagine), three of orange blossom (philadelphus), three of clove pinks and two each of rosemary flowers, lavender flowers, jasmine flowers and violets. The roses must be gathered on a perfectly dry day, and may then, if liked, be placed in the jar at once – and the same applies to other blossoms, for all sweet-scented flowers (so long as they are not succulent) can be used for potpourri – stirring them all well into the mixture, for potpourri cannot be too much stirred, especially at first. But remember no flowers must be added while the least damp, either from rain or dew.

Here a simpler but still effective Recipe for Moist Potpourri

You will need:

  • a wide mouthed jar or container (earthenware is best)
  • a lid or plate to cover the contents with
  • a weight to hold the plate down
  • flower petals and herbs
  • spuce
  • Crystal sea salt

What to do

  • Place petals in a wide mouthed jar
  • Cover with course sea salt
  • Keep layering, alternating between petals and salt
  • Cover with a dish and place a weight on it.
  • Leave to cure, adding flowers and herbs as you like.
  • When you lift the weight and plate to add new petals, you should see a residue which has firmed at the bottom of the jar. That is your fragrance firming. Give everything a good mix before adding the next layers.

So you see it’s really quite easy. You just need to be patient and constant. I guess it’s the same as with most thing in life.

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Let me know if you try either one of these methods and tell me about your success with it or any questions you might have. Always happy to help. Wishing you Happy Potpourri making. In the meantime you can find me dreaming if my garden by the sea.

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