Capturing the scents of summer in a jar

Mix up a batch of potpourri and bring the outdoors in

Make your own potpourri, and you will capture the essence of a summer garden year-round.

For me, making a potpourri begins with the gathering of fragrant flowers, which I consider the most pleasant of tasks. I fill my basket with scented geranium leaves, rose petals, mint leaves, spiky lavender blooms, rosemary, and lemon verbena leaves, all used to create potpourris to scent my indoors.

Potpourris are made most often by air drying a mixture of fragrant herbs, flowers, leaves, spices, and other ingredients. Placed in a decorative container such as a glass jar, a beautiful bowl, or box - which is left open - the potpourri emits a special aroma that's one of a kind.

Each batch is different, depending on what plants are used in it. Or you can use the same ingredients in many batches of potpourri, creating a "signature" scent of your own.

As far back as the Middle Ages, housewives practiced the art of making potpourris. They gathered and dried herbs and spices, and later measured them into pleasing, fragrant mixtures. In addition, they also soaked dried herbs such as lavender in liquid to make floral water to scent the laundry.

Today, there's a resurgence of interest in this ancient art.

Wherever you reside, whether you have a garden or not, flowers and herbs are available to help you can create your own sweet blend. Flowers from a roadside stand, a florist, or a friend's garden are good sources for materials from which to produce potpourris.

Follow these simple steps for harvesting and air-drying herbs and flowers:

1. Cut and gather herbs and flowers on a sunny day after the dew has dried. If it has rained, wait two days before gathering the plants.

2. Gather flowers just after they have opened, so the essential oils are not lost.

3. Gently remove the petals of the flowers, the flower heads, and the leaves of the herbs.

4. Place petals, leaves, and flower heads on paper towels in a single layer on a drying screen in an airy, sunless room. (I prefer the linen or bedroom closet, an attic, or under a bed for drying herbs.) My drying screen is made from window screening tautly attached to a rectangular wooden frame. Two or three layers of cheesecloth attached to a wooden frame also works.

5. Don't crowd petals, flowers, and leaves on the rack; allow air to circulate around them to prevent mildew. In about two weeks, they should be as dry as cornflakes.

Once materials are dry, store them in large, clear glass containers out of direct sunlight until you are ready to assemble them into potpourri.

Other methods of drying are oven drying and microwave drying. According to Edward Werner Cook at Caprilands Herb Farm in Coventry, Conn., these methods are not as effective as air drying.

"The volatile oils are lost if you microwave, and the color is not preserved as well as when you air dry," he says.

Mr. Cook also suggests that you avoid air-drying in a kitchen or basement, because of the dampness.

Key elements for successful potpourris are color, texture, and fragrance.

Kathleen M. Gips, author of "Flora's Dictionary: The Language of Herbs and Flowers" and owner of the Village Herb Shop in Chagrin Falls, Ohio, believes more people are looking at potpourris not only to impart a pleasing fragrance in the house, but also for how the color of it can complement a particular room in the home.

Lindley Jayne, owner of the Sandy Mush Herb Nursery in Leicester, N.C., points out that flowers provide the color and herbal leaves impart the scent.

To provide the particular colors you'd like, look to these plants:

Yellow/orange - pansy, goldenrod, marigold, tansy, santolina, calendula, strawflower, and statice.

Pink/lavender - rose, geranium, globe amaranth, bee balm, heather, lavender, yarrow, and strawflower.

Red/purple - bee balm, salvia, rose, globe amaranth, and statice.

Blue - bachelor button, mint, salvia, borage, and hyssop.

White - bee balm, mint, yarrow, straw-flower, camomile, and statice.

Plants that will provide texture to potpourris include artemisia, baby's breath, grasses, palm, small pine cones and pods, and rose hips.

These fragrant herbs and flowers are popular in potpourris: anise hyssop, artemisia, bayberry, scented geraniums, lavender, lemon balm, lemon verbena, mints, pine, rosemary, roses, salvia, santolina, tansy, thyme, allspice, anise, bay, cardamom seeds, cloves, coriander seeds, ginger, frankincense, myrrh, nutmeg, orange or lemon peel, and sandalwood.

When you think of fragrance, favorite scents may come to mind. There are five basic scents - woodsy, spicy, exotic, citrus, and floral. Some examples of herbs or flowers in each category are:

Woodsy - rosemary, pine needles, and thyme.

Spicy - allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg, anise, and basil.

Exotic - frankincense, myrrh, and sandalwood.

Citrus - lemon balm, lemon thyme, lemon verbena, orange and lemon peel.

Floral - rose-scented geranium, rose, sweet pea, lavender, lily of the valley, and carnation.

According to Victorian tradition, not only did certain flowers convey meanings, so did various colors. Assembling a potpourri with a special message adds another dimension to the finished product.

The following colors symbolize various sentiments:

White - protection, peace, happiness

Green - prosperity, beauty, youth

Pink - love, fidelity, friendship

Red - strength, courage

Yellow - wisdom

Purple - power

Blue - peace

Orange - success

Whichever colors you choose, your potpourri will remind you of lovely gardens, even during stark winter days. Simply lift the lid and catch a whiff of summer captured in a jar.

Friendship Potpourri

The following potpourri is one I have made with flowers and colors to convey a birthday message to a dear friend. I have also made it to mark an anniversary, celebrate a new home, and express my condolences.

1 cup of pink rose petals (love, fidelity, and friendship)

1 cup lavender (devotion)

1 handful rosemary leaves (remembrance)

1 cup blue statice (everlasting love and peace)

1 handful basil leaves (good wishes)

1 cup lemon-rose scented geranium leaves (true friendship)

5 drops of rose oil

4 tablespoons ground orris root (can be obtained from a pharmacy or herb shop; it is a fixative to retain the mixture's fragrance)

Using a wooden spoon - not metal - mix the contents in a nonmetallic bowl. Add drops of rose oil and mix again. Place the mixture in a large, airtight glass container for about six weeks.

Stir or shake the mixture occasionally to heighten the scent.

Then transfer your potpourri to a decorative bowl, box, or jar with a lid. The mixture can also be inserted into sachets for adding scent to dresser drawers, clothes closets, bed linens, desk drawers, and stationery.

When the fragrance fades, an additional drop or two of rose oil will revive the potpourri.

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