How to Make Potpourri


saflora / istock

Learning how to make potpourri is easy and if you use plants from your garden, it's also memorable. Just mix spent or dried flowers and other natural items with essential oils and a fixative to create a uniquely fragrant treat. Dying flowers can make the end of the growing season a depressing time of year. For gardeners in areas with four seasons, dying foliage is a sign that months without a garden are ahead.

Luckily, there are plenty of ways to preserve the fruits and flowers of your garden during the coldest months. It’s nice to have some vegetables stored away and maybe some dried flowers to remind you of summer’s glory.

Even in warmer climates, it can be nice to bring something from your garden indoors, where you can enjoy it without noticing all the needed weeding. Potpourri allows you to bring not only some of the flowers, leaves, and pods inside with you, you can also bring some of the scents of the season. Read on to learn how to make potpourri for the joy of using it yourself or for giving it as gifts.

Making Potpourri From the Garden

When choosing flowers for potpourri, look for those that hold onto their color and still look good when dry, like bachelor buttons, calendula, Echinops, geraniums, larkspur, lavender, peonies, pinks, roses, and yarrow.

Then add in interesting seed pods, like sweetgum and rose hips. Pinecones make a nice chunky addition. For more color, include berries such as beautyberry, holly, and pyracantha. You can include leaves, but many tend to fall apart quickly when dried. Look for thicker leaves, like leather-leaf viburnum and the lacy leaves of scented geraniums.

Don’t forget the edible garden. Bay and sage leaves dry very well. Dried citrus peel and dried apple slices also add fragrance and a nice texture

Homemade Potpourri Embellishments

It’s okay to add some extras to your homemade potpourri, too. Your local craft store probably has lots of potpourri standards like sandalwood chips and patchouli. Don't hesitate to look for ingredients that will add some bulk to your potpourri mix.

Adding Scent to Potpourri

As woodsy as fresh potpourri can smell, it’s probably not enough of a fragrance for most people’s tastes and it won't fill a room with its aroma. That’s where essential oils and fixatives come in.

A fixative is a substance that absorbs scented oils and hangs onto them for a long time. While it’s true that most of the ingredients in potpourri will absorb and hold scents, they can dissipate quickly. Some commonly used, long-lasting fixatives are orris root, from the Florentina iris, oakmoss, a lichen that grows on oak trees, and Vetiver root, a plant in the sweetgrass family. You can find most of these in craft stores and often in health food stores.

As for essential oils, the selection is vast and so is the quality. Be sure to check the fragrance of the oil before buying it. Some are overpowering and others only remotely resemble their main ingredient. A more expensive but better quality oil will pay for itself by not needing to be reapplied every week.

You can choose non-native flowers or you can stay with the theme of your own garden and choose floral scents, like lavender, rose or wisteria, or fruity scents, like citrus and apple.

The Easiest Method to Make Potpourri

No matter how you make your potpourri, do not use metal bowls or utensils. These can react with your ingredients and alter the fragrance. Glass, ceramic, and wood are the safest materials. Plastic is fine too, but the scent will linger in the container for weeks.

Here's a quick and easy way to mix up a batch of potpourri using rose petals:

  1. Remove the petals from the roses.
  2. Spread them out on a screen and let them dry in a warm, dry place for about two to three days.
  3. Separately, dry some whole rose buds, rosemary, lavender, and orange peel. 
  4. Mix 1 cup of dried rose petals, 1/2 cup of dried lavender, and 1/4 cup of dried rosemary. Add 1/8 teaspoon of ground cloves and cinnamon, along with the dried rosebuds and orange peels. Mix in a few drops of rose or lavender oil. Add 1/4 teaspoon of a fixative such as crushed orris root and mix well. 
  5. Pour the mixture into a Mason jar and cover the opening with Saran wrap. Store it in a cool dark place and let it steep for four to six weeks. 
  6. Check it occasionally to make sure the scent is strong enough. If not, add more oil. The scent can weaken if you've added a lot of ingredients.

Using Your Potpourri

Of course, you could display your homegrown potpourri front and center in an attractive bowl on your coffee table. Another option is to make sachet bags and fill them with your fragrant concoctions. Even if you’re not handy with a needle, you can find small, net bags at the craft store. The nice thing about making sachets is that you can hang them in unexpected places, like on the showerhead, where the steam will enhance the scent. You can also tuck them in drawers, storage cabinets, pillowcases, linen closets, and anywhere else you want to be reminded of the flower garden.

Even when using the finest oils, the scent will eventually begin to disappear. You can always freshen your potpourri with a few more drops. Or, you can start a whole new batch with next season's garden.