I don't care what anyone says, potpourri has not gone out of fashion.
Bowls of dried flower petals, softly scented cinnamon sticks, rose hips and other items collected from the garden all season are just one of the ways we can make our homes feel more cozy and warm when the cold weather starts creeping our way.
One of my close friends is an interior decorator, and she tells me it isn't the furniture, the drapes or the rugs that make our homes feel warm and inviting. It is the accessories. Whether you like stuffed pillows on the sofa or modern art designs on your walls, accessorizing is the one thing you can do to bring your own personality into your living space.
Potpourri is not just a way to mask unpleasant odors of pets or overzealous cooks in the kitchen. It simply looks nice filling up a decorative bowl on a side table or nightstand.
Keep in mind that I am not talking about the dyed, artificially scented bags of wood chips we find in stores. The best potpourri ingredients come from our own gardens. And these ingredients aren't just collected when the flowers are opening their petals. In fact, fall is my favorite time of year for collecting ingredients for my winter potpourri bowls. Items such as acorns, small pinecones, dried leaves and seedpods are all excellent additions to bring nature inside the one season of the year we don't get to see much of nature otherwise. But we have to do our gathering now before the snow covers it all up and the wind whisks it all away.
What is potpourri anyway?
People have been using flowers, spices and herbs to scent their homes, not to mention their bodies, for thousands of years. These types of ''recipes'' were once used in one way or another in religious rituals, celebrations and even sporting events.
During the Middle Ages, when bathing was not a common practice, people would sprinkle scented herbs on the floors of their homes and pin them to their clothing to mask offensive body odors. Fortunately, we don't have those problems today, but the idea of bringing nature inside to decorate our homes, while adding a bit of scent to the mix, is still appealing to many homemakers.
There are four basic things needed to make successful potpourri: flower petals, buds, stems and leaves you've dried during the summer; and the textural materials, such as rose hips, acorns, pinecones or whatever else you like; essential oils of your choice; herbs and spices for scent and a fixative.
A fixative is basically material that when mixed with the essential oil holds the scent and keeps it from immediately evaporating. Natural fixatives include orris root, oakmoss, vanilla beans and ground cellulose fiber. There also are commercial fixatives available at local craft stores.
Herbs and spices can come right from your own garden in the form of dried leaves, seeds and stems of your favorite scented plants. These can include lavender flowers and stems, the seeds of the cilantro plant we call coriander, dried rosemary leaves or entire stems, bay laurel leaves and any other plant that has a scent you want to preserve. Other types of spices can be purchased including cinnamon sticks, tonka beans, whole nutmeg, star anise and patchouli.
Recipes are in the hundreds. You can find them in herbal magazines, books or on the Internet, or you can develop your own favorite mixture of these four basic ingredients to make a personal potpourri. But if this is your first attempt at making potpourri, here is a simple recipe for a rose scented mix you can try to get started:
6 cups of your favorite colored dried rose petals
2 cups rose buds
2 cups lavender buds
2 tablespoons fixative of your choice
15 to 20 drops of rose essential oil.
Mix the oil with the fixative and put it in a small glass container with a tight fitting lid to cure for a few days. Once that has been done, mix all the other ingredients and then add the scented fixative to the mix.
Keep your potpourri in an airtight container to retain the scent.
To use your potpourri, put it in a bowl and place it on a table near a heat register or lamp so the heat can begin evaporating the oils to scent the room. If the scent begins to fade, you can add more of the essential oils and fixative.
It is fun to experiment with potpourri recipes. They also make excellent gifts.