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What is Potpourri?

By Garry Crystal
Updated May 16, 2024
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Potpourri is a natural air freshener made from dried flowers, leaves, seeds and cones. Pronounced po-pur-ree, it is used to make rooms and cupboards smell fresh. Anything can be added to potpourri as long as it is dry, to ensure that the contents last longer and do not become moldy. Potpourri can be arranged in bowls or stuffed into small cotton pillows to be hung in cupboards.

Other uses for potpourri include masking the smell of mothballs in cupboards and deterring insects. Sachets can be placed in drawers or in shoes to leave a fresh scent. You can place loose potpourri in ashtrays in cars and in the fillings of soft toys.

Scent is also usually added to the dried flowers and can be sprayed on every few days to be absorbed into the flowers. A fixative is necessary to absorb the scent, and the most often used is orrisroot. Other types of fixative include calamus root, dry lavender, tonka bean and sandalwood bark. There are also powdered fixatives, but these are usually used in sachets of potpourri. The powder will not look good on an open decorative arrangement and will not hold the scent as well as the chopped fixatives.

There are many different scents and oils that can be used in a potpourri arrangement. If you have knowledge of aromatherapy, you can select different scents to create a mood or atmosphere in a room. Always be sparing with essential oils, as they can smell quite strongly. Always sprinkle tiny drops of the oil directly onto the chopped fixatives. With powdered fixative, sprinkle the oil randomly and then mix it in.

The best scents to use are flower scents. These include rose, lavender, violet and carnations. Spices can also be used, including rosemary, cinnamon, sage, thyme and nutmeg. For citrus scents, try lime, mandarin peel, lemon, dried orange and kumquat. Leaves to use in your arrangement include mint, bayberry, cedar, eucalyptus, balsam and pine needles.

Fillers are used in potpourri to add bulk to the arrangement or when stuffing pillows. Filler can be anything from small marbles to pine cones. You can also try using extra leaves, seashells or colored wood shavings. With potpourri flowers, you should go for color rather than scent, as bright colors make the display more eye-catching. Sunflower petals are good to use for an extra burst of color.

It is easy to make your own potpourri. Simply collect all the flowers and filler and leave to dry for a few days in a well-ventilated area. Placing absorbent paper under the mix will help absorb any moisture, but remove the paper after the first day. The petals will be ready to use when they are crisp and dry. A potpourri arrangement makes an ideal gift and brightens up any room.

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