How to make old fashioned wet potpourri

How to make old fashioned wet potpourri
My first exposure to scented goods came in New York City at the fabulous boutique and scented goods store Cherchez. The book produced by the owners of the store was aptly named Scented Room. Winter nights spent cozily sipping herbal tea and this fine read launched me into the whirlwind of the quest to find different ways to scent the indoors in natural ways easily composed and stored at home. After reading this book I launched into making my own old fashioned wet potpourri created from pounds and pounds of rose petals gathered from a friend’s garden. The potpourri was easy enough and lasted for years.

It became a visual mass of leaves and flowers mostly rich browns and red hued with time layered between salt and infused with just about any fragrant material around the house. The ones I favored were anchored with orris root and comprised of rose petals, dried orange peel, whole cloves, cinnamon, rose oil, patchouli and a soul of its own, lasting for long in my imaginings as one of the finer things ever created.

Wet potpourri is an ancient art, gleaned from days bygone when covered potpourri dishes, handkerchiefs and pomanders were popular in any respectable home. Books were devoted to household management and tucked between notes on plucking and cleaning game, sometimes were found instructions on scenting the home next to the invariable household sick bed remedies. Such recipes disappeared with the notion that household management was not an industry in itself but a chore best met with an ever mechanized conglomerate of tools and shortcuts.

Making wet potpourri however is an act of wonton artistry. Ingredients need only be fresh or freshly wilted. The more fragrant flowers are favored as well as herbs and spices such as vanilla pods, grated nutmeg, cinnamon, cardamom, star anise and whole cloves. Other fragrant material used are dried orange peel or fresh orange/lemon peel studded with whole cloves dusted with a pomander mix of cinnamon and nutmeg. On a foray to a Persian market, I found this very interesting cross between an orange and a lemon called orange lemon as well as yuzu. Such variations create unusual and exotic final fragrances in this scent delght.

Fragrances should be added especialy if fragrance is lacking in the flowers used. Well, why make this whole thing then if you need to add fragrance?one reason for all this bother is that the fermenting process produces a final product that is rich with dept and more longevity than any simple mixing of ingredients would give.


1. Pick fresh flowers apart from the stems. My favorite are roses, freesias, jasmine and lillies

2. Layer between salt and spices. The final product is best put in a large glass jar or some other glass or porcelain type container with a tight fitting lid.

3. Add fragrance and essential oils liberally. Some folks will even add some of their favorite perfumes or colognes.

4. After layering, cover with some kind of weight and cover tightly. The weight can be an upturned saucer with heavy rocks placed on it. The weight pushes out any air spaces and makes the ferment a more even one. My guess is that the bacteria from the rotting material starts a fermentation of sorts and the salts acts as a preservative of the final material. It is during the process of breaking down the flowers and spices that fragrant chemicals are released with morphing of some of these aromas into something quite unexpected.

5. The wet potpourri is allowed to cure for 3-4 weeks. After two weeks or so, the mixture is turned to allow the top contents access to the juices at the bottom. It is served up in a potpourri dish with cover dotted with holes if one wishes to keep it covered or placed in a grand wide dish for display. The final arrangement looks perfect topped with dried flowers and even scented rock salts. My favorite way to serve up this scent deligh is to save some of my flowers, dry them and decorate the top with these flowers and spices.

Sources for Materials

Potpourri Material and Spices
San Francisco Herb - These guys have been in business for a while. I can hardly look at their website without ordering anything.

Places to get fresh or wilted flowers besides your own garden
My favorite place in New York City is the New York Flower District. If one goes there at about 5-6 am in the morning you will catch the dozens of wholesale florists open and you will catch the many, many flowers that they discard. I would imagine other cities with their own flower districts would have the same occurences; afterall, flowers that are anything but perfect will have to be gotten rid of or sold very cheaply.

from your own garden or a friend's garden. At one time a dear friend of mine having been aquainted with my potpourri making craze, donated all her slightly wilted roses from her garden to me. And like clockwork, every week I got a basketful of glorious roses. They were not perfect but good enough to make old-fashioned potpourri.

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