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SCENTS COMMON & UNCOMMON
Although all the five senses can appreciate beauty, sight and smell respond
most universally to the aesthetic qualities of plants. The beauty of nature at
its best is a blend of color, fragrance, and design, creating a single
impression in the mind of the beholder. But you don't have to rough it in the
woods or get up before dawn to enjoy nature's sensory delights: you can bring
them into your own home whenever you want-in the form of a potpourri.
A potpourri is a mixture of flowers, other aromatic plant parts, and oils kept
in a decorative covered container. When you want the fragrance of the mixture
to scent the air, you remove the lid for as long as it takes to achieve the
desired effect. At other times you keep the container closed to conserve the
fragrance. But potpourris can please the eye as well. Those made of colorful
dried flowers and plant parts show off to good advantage in a glass container;
those made by the wet method (see below) can be kept in an attractive opaque
Although rose petals are the traditional main ingredient of a potpourri, any
number of other flowers, plant parts, and oils can be combined to make for
unlimited variety of scent and appearance. Roses have the advantage-shared by
only a few other flowers, including lavender, lemon verbena, rose geranium,
and tuberose -of not losing their fragrance with drying. Other flowers can be
dried and then scented with their own volatile oils, or they can be used in
the potpourri for color and bulk. Other plant parts ---leaves, roots, fruit
rinds, etc.---can also contribute fragrance or add interest by providing
variety of color and form.
You can make potpourris by either the dry or the wet method. The dry method is
easier and more common, and it has the visual advantage of preserving the
ingredients in something like their live state. The older wet method often
called "sweet jar"--actually accounts for the name potpourri which comes from
the French term potpourri, meaning "rotten pot." Perhaps you'd rather not have
been told that little tidbit, but it's true: the ingredients, mixed with salt,
do actually rot into an aromatic caked mass. Some claim that the fragrances
are extracted and retained better in this method; but the wet potpourri is
also more likely to take on a stale or musty odor with time. The dry potpourri
tends to have a lighter, more subtle scent.
If you gather your own potpourri ingredients, following a few rules will help
produce better results. Collect roses and other flowers on a dry, sunny day,
preferably no less than two days after the last rainfall. The best time of day
is in the morning, just after the dew has dried. Pick flowers that are nearly
or recently opened; never use damaged flowers or those that have passed their
peak, since the latter will have little volatile oil left. Pick other
decorative plant parts (leaves, buds, etc.) at the same time.
The next step is to dry your collection. Use the standard methods described in
"Getting and Keeping Herbs" (Part 1), being especially careful not to bruise
delicate petals and leaves. Drying the parts on a raised window screen is very
effective because it allows air to circulate on all sides. Turn them every few
days. If the parts tend to blow away, cover them with cheesecloth or nylon
netting. Keep them out of sunlight while drying; otherwise their colors will
fade. For a dry potpourri, let the parts dry thoroughly; for a wet one, use
them after one or two days, when they have become limp.
Unless you have a very large garden and lots of room to dry flowers, it will
take time to accumulate enough materials for one or more potpourris. Keep your
dried materials in large, well-sealed jars, protecting them as much as
possible from light. If you have enough containers, you can store the
different colors separately and then blend them in any proportions you like
when making the potpourri mixture.
To make a dry potpourri, begin by mixing your flower petals to achieve the
desired color effect. Put the mixture in a large bowl and for each quart of
petals add about a tablespoon of fixative material (in crushed or ground
form), which helps to keep the potpourri fragrant longer by retarding the
evaporation of volatile oils. Then, carefully stir in a like amount of crushed
or ground spices, and add any miscellaneous decorative or aromatic items your
sense of artistry or of smell may suggest. Finally, stir a few drops of one or
more aromatic oils into the mixture, but don't overdo it: too much oil or too
many kinds of oil can unbalance the fragrance enough to ruin a good potpourri.
To determine your own preferences, experiment by dividing your mixed petals
into small batches and adding the rest of the ingredients (reduced
proportionately, of course in various combinations. When doing this, keep a
good record of each experiment so that you can duplicate the most successful
When the potpourri mixture is complete, store it in a sealed container for
about six weeks to let the various fragrances meld into a smooth, harmonious
blend. Fill the container only half to two-thirds full, so that you can stir
the mixture every few days by turning and shaking the container. After six
weeks, divide the mixture into as many portions as you plan to make up into
individual potpourris, making sure that all ingredients are equally well
balanced in each portion. For the longest-lasting fragrance, put up each
potpourri in a decorative glass jar that can be tightly stoppered. If you open
it sparingly, the fragrance can last for years. Potpourris made up in baskets
or otherwise continuously exposed to the air will fade much sooner. Adding a
little flower oil or brandy can revive a potpourri when its scent begins to
Dry potpourri mixtures can also be made into sachets and bath potpourris. To
make a sachet, put an ounce or so of mixture into a small bag and keep it in a
closet or drawer to perfume clothing, linens, etc. For a bath potpourri, crush
or powder all the dry ingredients, then mix with an equal amount of borax
crystals. Age the mixture in a sealed jar for a week or two. For each bath,
put a teaspoon of the aged mixture into a small bag, and hang the bag where
the steam from the incoming hot water will pass over it to release the scent.
For the wet method of making potpourris, put a layer of partly dried petals in
the bottom of a large, wide-mouth jar; then add a layer of un-iodized salt (or
even better, bay salt-salt from evaporated sea water). Add alternate layers of
petals and salt until you run out of petals. Stir the mixture with a wooden
spoon and compress it by putting a Weighted plate on it (you see why you need
a wide-mouth jar). Repeat the stirring daily, adding layers of salt and petals
as more become available. Keep the weight on between stirrings. Eventually,
fermentation will produce a broth at the top of the mixture. When this
happens, stir the mixture-broth and all-thoroughly, replace the weight, and
let everything sit undisturbed for one to two weeks. The result should be a
caked mass that you can remove and break up into small bits. To complete the
potpourri, combine the crushed cake with spices, oils, and fixatives as in the
dry method. Because its appearance is not one of its appealing qualities, keep
this potpourri in an opaque container. The best ones have two lids, a solid
one to retain the scent and underneath it another with holes to release the
fragrance when the solid lid is removed.
There are innumerable recipes for potpourris, but ultimately your own nose and
eyes are the best guides. Keep in mind the general proportions of one
tablespoon each of spices and fixatives per quart of petals. Add flower oils a
few drops at a time until the fragrance is what you want. Whatever you add,
always err on the side of caution: you can always add more.
The most common ingredients for potpourris are listed below. Some you can grow
and prepare yourself; the others are available at drug stores, herb stores, or
perfume supply houses. Experiment with these ingredients to get used to the
processes involved; then you can strike out confidently in new directions to
produce your own unique fragrances and effects.
Aster, baby's breath, calendula, camomile, cardinal flower, carnation, common
mullein, cornflower, elder, elecampane, European linden, garden violet,
heliotrope, hollyhock, hyacinth, jasmine, jonquil, larkspur, lavender, lemon
verbena, lily of the valley, mignonette, monkshood, narcissus, nas- turtium,
orange, Oswego tea, pansy, peppermint, rose, rose geranium, safflower, sweet
acacia, tiger lily, tuberose, white melilot, wild daisy, w oad, ylang-ylang.
Balm, basil, bay, cinnamon, garden violet, lad's love, lavender, lemon thyme,
lemon verbena, life everlasting, lovage, mint, Oswego tea, patchouli, rose,
rose geranium, rosemary, sage, sweet cicely, sweet fern, sweet marjoram, sweet
vernal grass, tarragon, thyme, wild vanilla, woodruff.
Allspice, caraway, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, cubebs, ginger, mace, nutmeg.
Ambrette, asafetida, balsam of Peru, balsam of Tolu, dory sage oil, gum
benzoin, gum mastic, khus-khus root, labdamyrrh, oakmoss, orris root,
patchouli oil, reindeer moss, sandalwood, storax, sumbul, sweet flag root.
To make your own, soak at least ten successive batches of fresh petals in
olive, safflower, or ben oil, leaving each batch in the oil for a day or two.
When finished, strain and
keep in a tightly closed container.
Bergamot, bitter almond, caraway, dill, eucalyptus, fennel, gardenia,
heliotrope, honeysuckle, jasmine, lavender, lemon, lemon verbena, lilac, lime,
meadowsweet, narcissus, orange flower (neroli oil), peppermint, rose (attar),
rosemary, rosewood, sandalwood, tonka bean, vanilla, wallflower.
Aniseed, cedar wood, coriander seed, European angelica root, lemon peel,
linaloe wood, orange peel, rose buds, sandalwood, sassafras root, tonka bean,
Ambrette comes from abelmosk (Hibiscus moschatus).
Balsam of Peru comes from the Peruvian balsam tree (Myroxylon pereirae).
Balsam of Tolu comes from the balsam tree (Myroxylon balsamum).
Ben oil comes from the horseradish tree (Moringa oleifera).
Gum mastic comes from the mastic tree (Pistacia lentiscus).
Labdanum comes from rock-rose (Cistus ladaniferus).
Oakmoss is a general term for various lichens that grow on oak trees.
Rosewood oil comes from rhodium shrubs (Convolvulus scoparius and Convolvulus
Storax comes from the oriental sweet gum (Liquidambar origintabs).
TAKE ME TO THE MINISTIK POTPOURRI SHOP
Based on a 16th century recipe
Ad Longam Vitam"
Elixir for a Long Life
Available as a ready to use
tincture or in a dry herb kit form.
Site 210 Box 8 RR2
Canada T0B 4J0