Thursday, June 7, 2012

Aromatherapy Thursday - Potpourri

I first want to invite my readers to participate in my giveaway at ChristieCottage.  Simply click on this link Butterfly's Giveaway on Christie Cottage  follow her instructions.  The giveaway is open to US and International (provided it is legal to send) entries and will be shipped out free to the winner.  The prize value excluding shipping is $18.00:

Over the years potpourri, oils, sachets, and many other products that you could only buy from a specialty store have appeared in discount stores for dirt cheap.  Unfortunately I don't think that people realize that they are getting just as equally low quality, essentially you get what you pay for.  While $1 - $2 dollars sounds great for potpourri those usually only last a few days, while purchasing a hiqh quality product that cost upwards from $5 will last for years.

The one main difference in potpourri is that the discount stores offer potpourri with large pieces of bark, pods, and cones died different colors to look like flowers.  Often they don't have a single flower in them and they look OK in the bag it really doesn't give you the look you really wanted.  At Christmas time someone bought me potpourri from Walmart it was about $6 for a giant bag, it wasn't a gift so I don't mind discussing the low quality of it. 

WalMart Brand
WalMart Brand
As you can see that the dye is an abnormal color for flowers and there are not any flowers in it at all, just a few pods but mostly big chunks of wood.  That is what the cheap brands of potpourri makers use as a fixative.  They soak the wood with the cheap fragrance oil and dye it, add some pods and Voila! Potpourri

What I think qualifies for potpourri is to have a great balance between flower petals, dried botanicals, herbs, spices, and enough fixative to give it a lasting quality.  Just like perfumes you may have a great smelling and inexpensive rose perfume but the notes are very monotone and the fragrance may not even last the day.  Often you will use much more of that product than if you would have just waited and spent more on one that was created with complexity that will last; one spritz and you are good for the entire day.  The potpourri from ButterflyInTheAttic has been created with those complexities, as you can see here:
In this photo of my hand designed Lavender Potpourri you can see bright red rose petals, purple flowers that give it accent, and small lavender buds.  The Lavender Buds itself will help keep the fragrance strong but I have also added Oak Moss (which is a light fixative) and a fixative called Cellulose Fiber. I will list the fixatives and their uses, benefits and drawbacks below.  The oil I used in this mix is an essential Lavender oil.

In this other mix you will see that I added many sunny colored flowers and botanicals along with some wonderful dried citrus rinds for color and fragrance.  You can also see the real Lemongrass and Lemon Verbena with in the mixture.  Again I used Cellulose Fiber for the fixative.
One more wonderful example of the lasting power of my handmade potpourri is that my daughter and I have made several batches as gifts and she even sold it at craft fairs.  As many of my readers know my daughter is special needs and so I am especially proud of her little mixtures.  I truly believe she is an artist and most often all of her work is her own with only supervision from me.  She picked, dried and mixed all of her own potpourris and the following is picture of one. 

These are recent pictures of it, this potpourri has traveled with me from Wisconsin to California and has been sitting on one counter top or another for well over 10 years.  At the time I loved a high quality Hyacinth fragrance oil (not essential) that I used for bath soaks.  She used that in this mixture and because of the proper fixative and balance it still has a beautiful light Hyacinth fragrance today.
Creations by Ashely Rose

Creations by Ashely Rose
The colors are still very bright and aside from the blue Amaranth all of the other colors are natural.  Storing and displaying your potpourri in a cool, dry environment away from direct or high filtered sunlight is very important if you want it to last, keeping its fragrance and color.  Often I store my products that are not in immediate use in large tightly sealed glass jars. 

Glass is the best choice for storing fragrant products because it is not porous and will not steal away any of the fragrance.  Unfortunately plastic (including the bags) is porous, absorbs the fragrance and wafts it way into the air. The longer you store it in the container the more fragrance you loose.  If it is displayed that way it is fine because you are wanting to fragrance the air, but if you are saving it for later use you may find that it is not the same when you go to use it.

You may have or may not have heard the term Fixative used before, but it is a very important part of finding a quality lasting aromatherapy product. A very general definition of a Fixative is that it is an ingredient added to potpourris and other fragrant products (including perfume) that will "fix" or "hold" the fragrance. Some very old, even ancient, recipes can be made and the fragrance will last for centuries. There is one example I had read years ago so I don't remember where it was from but archaeologist had opened jars of potpourri they had found in an ancient tombs and it still smell like roses. So it is possible to make a potpourri or sachet that will last for your lifetime and that is what has always drawn me to this natural art.

I would also like to mention that there are few different types of potpourri.  Two of the main kinds seen on the market in the last 20 years are Simmering Potpourri and Dry Potpourri.  You should never get these confused because it can be a bit of a mess water and Dry Potpourri does not mix. 

Simmering Potpourri is usually a mixture of dried spices, herbs, botanicals, fruits, berries and pods that are hardy and can hold up in hot water.  They are absolutely lovely and smell like heaven but they are usually only used one time.  A large bag will last a while if you only use a small amount at a time.  Most do not have much additional fragrance added to them because ingredients themselves have the scent. 

Simmering Potourris are used by pouring about a quarter cup of the mixture into a water that has been brought to a boil and turned down to a simmer.  The steam wafts the fragrance into the air.  It was quite popular in the 80's so you could find many potpourri warmers but now it is a little harder to find them. Another positive about the simmering potpourri is that you can still display it nicely as decoration until you use it.  It looks very pretty for the country home or a log cabin theme and it can make your house smell like your baking even if you can't.
This beautiful simmering potpourri mix can be found in ETSY shop NHWoodsCreations at
Another absolutely Gorgeous Simmering Potpourri from ETSY Shop IndigoMoonHerbals at
Dry Potpourri is used dry, I love it because all you have to do is find a pretty container or old dish, put in the potpourri, set it on a nice table and your done.   You may have to gently "scrunch" it once in a while to relive the fragrance but that is about it.  If you ever have a favorite potpourri that you want to refresh you can add a drop or two of matching fragrance to give it new life.  But make sure it is literally only a drop or two, more may stain the flowers etc.  I have to confess though that I am bias because that is what I make although I have to admit after looking for the Simmering Potpourri I am in love with a couple of theirs too.

Looking for a great potpourri will take a little time (or you can simply go to Etsy and more specifically ButterflyInTheAttic.)  Things to look for:
Brands that are proud of their ingredients and will tell you that they use high quality essential or fragrant oils, etc. As a side note most of the cheap brands have a big sticker with their logo and a disclaimer saying it could cause allergies, don't set it on fire and don't eat it.
Ingredients can include a few pods and pieces of wood to give it texture but it should not be the main part of the mixture.
Fixatives should be present and should not only be wood or pods they should include items listed below in the next section.  There is an exception with Simmering Potpourri because they tend to have more things like the pods and berries but they still shouldn't be primarly made up of wood chips.
Botanicals that are not dyed is also a key indicator of a quality potpourri.  A little for accent is fine but if the majority, especially if all of it, is made of dyed dried materials this leads me to question the quality.  Flowers and pods have their own color and it shouldn't be necessary unless the producer is trying hide the fact that the color is poor, the product wasn't stored or dried properly, etc.  They may be some exception for those that are looking for wacky wild designer colors not found in nature but I think this is still a very good rule of thumb.
High Quality Fragrance Oils or Essential Oils are very important.  The fragrance won't last if it was weak to start with.  Some oils have been "cut" meaning that they have been diluted with other cheap carrier oils (like grape seed that has no fragrance) to make a less expensive product.   This is often used in the bulky wood filled potpourris because the wood will soak up more to give it fragrance.  If it was used on flowers they would look wet and damaged.
Potpourri that has been stored properly to begin with is also important.  You wouldn't want to buy something that has been placed in a sunny display window where the sunlight has been cooking away all the color and fragrance.  Examine the packages before buying, avoid items that have patches of color variance because if one side is darker than another it may mean it was not stored properly and you are purchasing a product that will not last once you get it home.

Fixatives from Longest to Least Lasting (for a printable more easy to read version go Page: Aromatherapy Extras:

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