A History of Potpourri [Part 5 of 7]

Potpourri in the Victorian Era [Part 5 of 7]

“Choosing” (Portrait of Ellen Terry)
George Frederick Watts, 1864

In the centuries that followed, potpourri-making altered significantly.  Dried flowers and herbal ingredients, and oils could all be purchased at an apothecary store.  Along with the introduction of the steam distillation process for producing essential oils, pure essential oils also became more affordable and were readily available commercially.


Potpourri in the Victorian era was made by combining favorite dried flowers and herbs with natural fixatives (like orris root) and fragrant essential oils.  Rather than grey masses of unrecognizable ingredients resulting from the moist potpourri-making method, individual flowers were now recognizable and colors were more vivid in these dry-method blends. Scents were pure and enlivening.  With the right ingredients, potpourri could be made with ease, with beautiful elements could be grown in the garden or bought at the local herb shop.


19th Century Potpourri Vase


A Victorian Sachet


Check back next week for post six, “Potpourri Into the 21st Century,” in the series “A History of Potpourri.”




A History of Potpourri [Part 4 of 7]

Bouquet of Flowers in a Vase.  
Maria van Oosterwijck,1630–1693)

Potpourri in the 17th Century
This post is the fourth in a seven-part series, A History of Potpourri.  



Painting of a woman making potpourri

We arrive in France. It’s the 17th century and the crafting of potpourri, the “rotten pot,” provides a popular accessory for home decor.  Potpourri-making was a process of layering fresh flowers and herbs with coarse salt which acted as a preservative and drying agent, in covered ceramic vessels.  More flowers, herbs and salt were added to the original mixture throughout Spring and Summer as the garden became more abundant, and were layered and tossed with additional salt.  The result was a not-so-pretty somewhat sweet-scented (and sometimes moldy) mass of grey botanicals.  After the Autumn harvest additional spices and botanicals, like orange peel and cinnamon stick, were added to pretty the mixture up and add more scent, and essential oils or perfumes were added as a final touch to create a long-lasting mixture that would bring beautiful scent to the home.  This fermented blend was then placed in bowls or baskets and set around the abode, whether it be castle or cottage.  Additional fresh flowers, when available, were placed atop the mixture.

17th Century potpourri vessel

Check back next week for post five, “Potpourri in the Victorian Era, “in the series, “A History of Potpourri.”