Pioneer Lifeways - Antique Scents


Painting - "Appalachian Bouquet" - Terri Waters

     As the wildflowers faded into autumn, we generally accept them as lost until the next year's spring. Their loss leaves the mountains bereft, barren as the red and gold gradually falls from the trees. But the flowers are not lost to those who gather them, to dry their petals and buds as a wildflower potpourri. 

     The custom of potpourri began many centuries ago, its purpose to scent the home in a day when deodorants (for humans or rooms) had not yet been invented. the spicy floral fragrance of potpourri (a mixture of flower petals, spices, and perfume) wafted through the air, masking unpleasant odors quite well. Many a young woman drifted to sleep on a pillow stuffed with wildflower petals, or tucked a sweet-smelling sachet in her clothing. 

     Potpourri should be pretty to the eye as well as the nose, so the maker ought to choose the most colorful of flower petals. For a wild potpourri, consider wild roses, sweet purple clover blooms, Queen Anne's lace, butterfly weed, and iron weed. Tame roses can be used as well.

     Choosing only undamaged buds and petals, pluck them from the flower and spread to dry on papers in a warm, airy room. After a week or so, pour the now dried petals into a jar or container, a little at a time. Sprinkle each layer with a pinch of salt, powered orris root (if available), and a little clove of allspice (if you want a spicy potpourri). Close the jar lid tightly and store in a dark place for about a month. After the time lapses, open your jar and sniff. Now is the time to add extra spice or a few drops of your favorite perfume. When finished, give a quick stir to the potpourri, then pour into smaller jars to store away or give as gifts.

     Another nearly forgotten craft is that of pomander-making. Pomanders are spicy balls hung in closets to produce a sweet scent. Once a traditional Christmas gift, most children used to make them as presents for their relatives. Pomanders are both easily and inexpensively made and will add a 19th century atmosphere to your home. 

     A lemon, orange, or lime is your best choice for a pomander. Punch the skin all over with a fork, then roll the punctured fruit in a mixture of 3 tablespoons pumpkin pie spice and 3 tablespoons orris root (found in drugstores). Next, a whole clove should be pressed into each hole, until the entire fruit skin is covered by the touching whole spices. It is best to let the pomander air dry for about three weeks in a cool room. When completely hardened, it is ready to hang by a pretty ribbon or to give away. 

~ Sharon Hurst