In 1976 I made a batch of potpourri that was supposed to last 50 years. I still have it. And it smells great. It is about 40 years old. I haven’t made any since then! But I would have to say that this is one of my favorite potpourri recipes and it’s superior to anything you buy — it truly is potpourri that lasts 50 years. You know how things become popular and all of a sudden it’s everywhere and everyone is trying to make a buck. And then you get these factory-made batches of synthetic smelling flowers. And synthetic air fresheners that you plug into an outlet.
I am surprised that this mixture has such a wonderful scent.
Since I’m a naturalist, I collect things from the earth. Rocks, shells, leaves, seed pods, flowers, and even the petals after they have fallen from the vase. I’ve been doing this since I was a child. I like to preserve nature.
So let’s roll back the clock to when potpourri making was an art — back to 1895. The French gathered flowers in the spring and summer months, left them out for days, where they became limp, and then layered them in a pot with salt. They stirred the mixture as it dried, and later added spices which would act as preservatives. Next, they would put the dried potpourri in pots with holes in it — and place them in rooms to acheive a pleasant scent.
This recipe is described as a moist potpourri (potpourri is French meaning “rotted pot” — not a very good sounding thing.) And this recipe comes from a book, Fragrant Flowers and Leaves by Donald McDonald (1895), in The Illustrated Earth Garden Herbal by Keith Vincent Smith.
Potpourri that lasts 50 years
1 quart fresh strongly scented roses, gathered early in the day after the dew has dried off them
2.5 ounces of sea salt
1 ounce allspice berries, crushed
1 ounce cloves, crushed
1 ounce brown sugar
.5 ounce benzoin gum, powdered
.25 ounce orris root, powdered
1 Tablespoon of brandy
Any other fragrant fresh flowers or leaves on hand, such as orange flowers, lemon flowers, lavender flowers, lemon verbena leaves, etc.
Pluck the petals from the freshly picked roses and place them in a very large mixing bowl or tub.
Sprinkle evenly over the roses the sea salt. “Let them remain two or three days,” says McDonald, “and if fresh flowers are added, some more salt must be sprinkled over them.”
When the two or three days have elapsed, add the other ingredients.
Sprinkle the brandy over the spiced, salted flowers and add any other fresh fragrant flowers. I added small pine cones, whole cardamom seeds, etc.
Stir thoroughly. Mix every week and keep in a tightly covered container. After a month, put it in an airtight jar and uncover when you need a nice scent.
Over the years, add a Tablespoon of brandy to the mixture, salt, and newer dried herbs — stir, and it will continue to smell good. This is what it looks like today, 40 years later:
I updated this batch of 40 years old, not because it needed anything — but I wanted to add some of the clippings from my current garden: