The first time I introduced the concept of potpourri, most of my students had never seen, smelled or even heard of this french word before. Kids from each class kept asking me, “You mean like Febreze?” One former student made up the definition I now devotedly use: a natural air freshener. Perfect!
I’ve included this year’s recipe below, but the basic components of any effective potpourri are a mixture of botanicals (dried herbs, flowers and spices), fillers (something to give your mixture bulk, like pine cones or seashells), a fixative (orris root or dried corn cob are two choices) and essential oils (try lavender for something relaxing or peppermint for a more invigorating scent). If you have the inclination, mixing up your own potpourri recipe can be a fun, creative outlet. It’s hard to mess this one up!
Step 1: Add the ingredients listed on the left to a Ziploc bag. This recipe makes a small quantity, perfectly suited for a student looking to fill a 3X5 organza sachet. Double, triple, quadruple recipe at will to make the desired amount. The finished product makes really great gifts! We make an “Economy size” container of potpourri to use for gifts for colleagues around campus. A big glass jar works great for this. A local deli or supermarket may pass some along to you for reuse.
Few notes on ingredients and substitutions
- Shiso (aka perilla or Japanese basil) can easily be substituted with any type of purple leaf. This ingredient imparts only a small percentage to the overall smell, but adds a big boost to the overall look of the potpourri.
- Amaranth is also easily replaced by another dried flower. Just keep in mind that you want your potpourri to look wintery; the look is almost as important as the smell. We are creating a botanical art! We happened to dry tons of Amaranth (both love lies bleeding and a simple purple or red amaranth that reseeds like mad) throughout the late summer and fall, which adds a deep pink and maroon jewel tone to the mix.
- Dried orange slices add flecks of golden color, but you can easily use calendula or marigold petals, as well.
- For the oils, we used a 2:1 ratio of orange (4 drops) and cedarwood (2 drops). The two really compliment each other and help to create that spicy, holiday aroma.
Step 2: Shake Ziploc bag as frenetically as possible. This isn’t really necessary, but it is fun.
Step 3: Let bag sit for at least a week. During this time the various scents will mature, or marinate as one of my students, Matt, likes to say. The powerful smell of the essential oils will soften, and the more quiet aromas of the botanicals will bloom.
Step 4: Transfer contents of Ziploc bag to small sachets. I’ve found great deals for quantities of bags on Amazon, but local craft stores carry them as well. You can also make sachets from cheese cloth or any other porous fabric. The idea is that you want the amazing aroma to be able to permeate it’s container.
Step 5: If you are giving your creation as a gift, make a card to attach to your sachet. A quick search on the web of free clip art labels or tags will give you lots of ideas and templates to work from.
Now get busy, go make some potpourri!