The Ladies' Tea Guild

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Another Victorian spring activity: making potpourri.

Violets.  Photo: Nikolay Dimitrov.
This is from the February 1860 issue of Godey's Lady's Book:

"A pot pourri, as it is called, if properly made up, forms an elegant and beautiful perfume, though it costs some months to complete.  You should begin it while the violets are in bloom, as they add greatly to its excellence.  There are, however, plenty of flowers that are available.  Get a china jar four or six inches deep, with cover.  Prepare layers of damask and other sweet-scented rose-leaves and buds, also layers of orange-flowers, if you can obtain them, jessamine, lavender-flowers, clove-pinks, sweet-scented stocks, marjoram, orange-mint, lemon-thyme, balm of Gilead, and rosemary.  Have some orris-root sliced, and the outer part of the rind of Seville oranges.  Have also a few cloves reduced to powder, and small quantities of benjamin, storax, and musk, and some bay salt, all in fine powder.  Mix the powders and the salt well together; then put a layer of leaves, as you collect them, into your jar, sprinkling each layer with a portion of the powders, and so proceed till your jar is nearly full;  stir all together now and then, press firmly down, and cover close.  When the cover is taken off in a warm room, a very agreeable scent will be diffused." 
Carnations, or Clove-pinks.

Early spring in San Jose means the flowers begin to bloom!   Although I have yet to see scented violets anywhere in the Bay Area (African violets are common houseplants, but they have no scent), fragrant roses, star jasmine, lavender and other sweet flowers can usually be found in home gardens as well as florist shops.  Ask around among your neighbors and friends to see what flowers are included in their gardens or landscaping.  You might be able to get some rose petals from the San Jose Memorial Rose Garden.  Fragrant herbs like lavender and rosemary are often used in commercial landscaping, so ask to see if you can cut a handful or two for your potpourri.  Orange blossoms appear on orange trees around Easter time.  The Master Gardeners' Sale at History Park (April 1 and 2) will provide many sweet herb varieties in pots for purchase. Orris-root, benjamin (benzoin), storax, musk and bay salt can be purchased online from herb and spice merchants, but you may find them at a health-food store or specialty herb and spice shop. 

Copyright 2011, Elizabeth Urbach.

For more information:
"How to make a Victorian potpourri"
"Orris root"


Martha said...

I love to make the old fashioned potpourri. I'm a purist, though, and mine is rose only. Such a nice thing to do with garden roses. There is noting like the scent of old fashioned roses to freshen the air.

South Bay Ladies' Tea Guild said...

Hi Martha,

I love roses, too, but I don't always have access to enough to make my potpourri only out of roses ... The garden at the museum where I work has a rose garden with lavender also, so I'll probably be using the rose petals, fresh lavender, and orange blossoms from my orange tree when they appear in a few weeks. Should be fun!

Now stir the fire, and close the shutters fast,
Let fall the curtains, wheel the sofa round,
And, while the bubbling and loud-hissing urn
Throws up a steamy column, and the cups
That cheer but not inebriate, wait on each,
So let us welcome peaceful evening in.
-- William Cowper (1731-1800)
"The Winter Evening" (Book Four), _The Task_ (1784)