Bowls Of Beauty
by Flo Whitaker
Once consigned to the dusty drawing rooms of maiden aunts, pot-pourri is staging a contemporary comeback. Home grown pot-pourri makes the perfect handmade gift.
‘Proper’ pot-pourri is made using wet, fermenting flowers and foliage. The resulting foul-smelling sludge slowly and mysteriously turns into an aromatic powder, (‘pourri’ comes from the French word for ‘rot’ – how charming.) Happily there is also a ‘dry’ method, which will not offend the eye – or nose…
Lavender flowers and foliage are staple pot-pourri ingredients, as are roses, (pull the flowers apart and dry the petals individually.) Delphinium, marigold, chrysanthemum, verbena, geranium and helichrysum flowers dry easily. Thyme, sage, bay, rosemary and lemon balm provide aromatic foliage, while nigella, poppy and aquilegia offer interesting seed heads.
After harvesting, thoroughly dry your ingredients. Line tea trays with kitchen paper and scatter the material in thin layers. Place the trays in a cool, dimly lit room. The drying process typically takes 10-14 days. Now blend everything together, adding a few drops of fragrance oil of your choice to enhance the aroma. Expensive pure flower distillations were traditionally used. Modern ‘home fragrance’ oils are far cheaper and will adequately do the job. Finally, add a ‘fixative’. This is not essential, but it will help the fragrance endure. Orris powder is best. Made from ground iris root, it’s sold by craft suppliers and specialist florists. You’ll need a heaped teaspoon of powder for every pint of dried ingredients. Seal the finished pot-pourri in a plastic bag and keep in a cool, dark place for 8-10 weeks to mature.
Supermarket spice aisles offer exotic additions such as star anise, cinnamon sticks, vanilla pods and cloves. Ground nutmeg or cinnamon powder make good alternatives to orris root, as do orange and lemon rinds. Remove the rinds with a vegetable peeler, leaving most of the pith behind, (‘Easy Peel’ clementine rind is perfect for potpourri.) Chop the rind into pieces and dry thoroughly before use.
Botanical pot-pourri rapidly degrades in a humid bathroom atmosphere – so go beachcombing for shells! Wave-scoured seashells are porous and will readily absorb scented oil. Place them in a plastic bag, add a few drops of oil, tie the bag and gently ‘massage’ the contents. Keep them in the bag for a few days until the oil is thoroughly absorbed.
Pine cones can be fragranced in the same way. Scented cones in a rustic basket make a thoughtful gift, as do fragrant sachets for perfuming wardrobes and drawers. A fabric bag with a drawstring top is easy to make, but if you have zero sewing skills, cut a 10 cm square of pretty fabric, place a tablespoon of pot-pourri in the middle, gather the material to form a ball, then secure tightly with a length of ribbon. Tucked away from sunlight, the scent can last for years. In this mass-produced age, a simple homemade gift often gives the greatest pleasure.