History Of Potpourri

By F. Gayle Gregory

Potpourri was created in the 12th century for the purpose of freshening rooms in castles for the people of that time. Spices or herbs were placed in huge cooking cauldrons after the meal tasks of the day had been completed. People then took these herbs and spices and placed them in containers with lids, moistened them with spirits, and left them to rot. This process created a pungent perfume which was released each time the lid was lifted. Flowers were then placed in handsome bowls and baskets with these fragrant herbs and spices to beautify rooms throughout the castle.

During this era, the convenience of bathing and washing clothing was not as accessible, so wooden vessels were constructed to contain these lovely mixtures, and were hung inside of women’s heavy petticoats. Thanks to growth (and many centuries), we are much more civilized today however these sweet, pungent scents are very much a part of our existence.

The art of making potpourri is now extremely varied. Commercial varieties depend on imitation oils, which are applied to leaves and mixed with some of the original ingredients used for potpourri. The effect is the same, but the product can be very bad for your health.

The most exciting part of making potpourri is mixing the recipes. A blend of different Flowers, leaves, and trees produce a natural fragrance to suit your sense of smell – and your memories too. Herbs and spices add warmth, and cooking and botanical herbs add pleasant scents of a garden on a warm summer’s day.

The recipes that follow have been created with texture, color, and a sense of seasonal creativity. Herbs and spices have been added to enhance the ideas. Flower, tree and fruit tinctures with preservatives add the final touch to the finished product.

Try out our two favorite recipes!

Rose Potpourri – Traditional

4 pints rose petals
2 pints lavender Flowers
1 pint rosemary
1 cup cloves
1 pint lemon verbena leaves or lemon grass
1 cup whole allspice
1/3 cup juniper berries
1/2 cup anise seed |
1/3 cup Benzoin gum powder or Orris root preservative
1 cup pickling salt
15 drops Oil of Rose
7 drops Oil of Rose Geranium


Layer Flowers on the bottom of plastic pail. Add herbs, berries, and spices. Top with preservatives and salt, then put drops of oil onto the salt. Mix together and cover pail. Continue to mix the ingredients every day, for six weeks. Store in plastic bags until ready for use.

Citrus Delight


1 cup peppermint leaves
1/3 cup lemon verbena leaves
1/3 cup lemon balm
1/4 cup tarragon
1/2 cup rosemary
1/2 cup juniper berries
4 cups dried orange peels
4 pints dried Flower petals (roses, or any dried Flowers you have collected)
1/3 cup Benzoin gum powder or Orris root preservative
1/2 cup pickling salt
15 drops lemon oil and lime oil


The ingredients are layered starting with dried Flowers, herbs and spices (whole cloves or allspice may also be added). Top with preservatives, salt and oils. The purpose of layering in this sequence is that it helps to evenly distribute the preservatives, salt and oils onto the petals. You are, in fact, pickling and preserving a mixture that you would like to use for many years.

The addition of pickling salt to the mixtures was not only to create longevity of the product, but to make it usable for steaming potpourri. Steaming potpourri in fondue-like containers makes the scents travel throughout your home. Moist climates spread scents of potpourri while it is just sitting in bowls. Dry climates take away the scent once the potpourri is exposed to air, and it is best to steam it and keep it in containers.

The botanical ingredients and oils are available at the larger Health Food stores. Spices and cooking herbs are available at bulk food stores. Flowers, trees, fruit, berries or any unusual dried items are found in your garden, or out in nature.

Plant your garden with Flowers that may be dried for your potpourris (such as Marigolds). Collect Flowers from bouquets or remains of dried arrangements. You may also like to purchase fresh Flowers – which you may hang upside down in bundles to dry. You may also purchase dried petals or roses (the most beautiful Flower for potpourri) from florists who deal in bulk Flowers. Use whole buds to decorate the tops of the containers holding your potpourri.

Potpourri is fun to create and very rewarding to all the senses!