University of Vermont Extension 
Department of Plant and Soil Science

Winter News Article

CAPTURING WINTER WITH POTPOURRI

Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
University of Vermont


Freshly cut balsam. Pinecones. Cookies baking in the oven. Peppermint. Citrus. Bayberries.

Don't you wish you could just bottle up the smells of the holiday season to enjoy throughout the winter months, and perhaps next summer when it's so hot that you are almost wishing for snow? You can, by making your own winter blend of potpourri.

It's simple to do, and most of the ingredients you need are right in your own home. The rest are available at craft stores, pharmacies, florist shops, and department stores.

Potpourri, by definition, is a jar of flower petals and spices used for scent. You will need a mix of different botanical materials such as dried flower petals, seeds, and leaves; citrus peelings; balsam needles; and pinecones, as well as herbs and spices. Generally, a potpourri blend includes at least three, but up to six different plant materials and three to four herbs and spices.

You also will need scented oils and a fixative like orrisroot, which absorbs and holds the scent. Orrisroot is available at herbal shops, natural food co-ops and health stores, many drug stores, and possibly craft stores. Plan on about two tablespoons of fixative per five or six cups of dried materials.

Although scent is the most important part of potpourri, you want the mixture to be visually attractive, too, so pay attention to texture and color. Mix delicate flower buds with curls of cedar or twists of orange or lemon peel. Combine large flower heads and small pinecones. As to color, keep in mind that single color mixes can be just as interesting as soft, muted blends or bright, bold colors. Don't be afraid to experiment.

Ingredients for winter potpourri blends are all around you. Save trimmings from your Christmas tree, wreath, or pine boughs that adorned your mantle. Don't toss the peel from your breakfast orange.

Check your pantry for whole cloves, cinnamon sticks, or ginger root, leftover from holiday baking. Enjoy your holiday centerpiece then save the flowers and foliage. Or go for a winter walk to collect pinecones, sprigs of evergreen, and dried flower pods.

Once you have collected your materials, you will need to dry them thoroughly. A food dehydrator or an oven set at 100 degrees F works best as you will want to dry plant materials quickly to retain the color and shape. If you use an oven, keep the door cracked open and supervise the process to prevent scorching. Drying also kills any insects present.

Try different combinations of plant materials to find what you like. For example, you could mix balsam fir needles with orange peel (cut into one-eighth inch strips), bay leaves, and dried cloves. Or try rose petals, lemon peel, and cinnamon sticks. What about combining tiny pinecones, vanilla beans, and nutmeg?

Play around with combinations until you find a blend you like--both for its appearance and scent. Then measure two tablespoons of chopped or powdered orrisroot into a separate bowl, and sprinkle with a few drops of a scented oil. Stir well. Again the trick is to experiment. You can buy oils in a range of scents from lemon and peppermint to bayberry, almond, and florals like lavender and rose.

Once the oil is completely absorbed (it may take a few hours), toss the orrisroot with the botanicals. Place in a loosely covered container or brown paper bag to allow to cure. Stir every few days for a week to 10 days.

When the scents are well blended, transfer the potpourri to a decorative jar or container with a tight-fitted lid. This will help preserve the fragrance when the potpourri is not in use.

Anytime you want to remember the holidays, or evoke other memories of winter, simply open the container, close your eyes, and take a deep breath!


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