I had to go to the dentist the other day and parked a bit away so I could walk. My dentist is located in a shopping center so I got to window shop along the way. When I crossed the parking lot, I stepped over one of the landscaped islands that you see in most shopping center parking lots. I walked between some juniper bushes and to my surprise, I saw juniper berries! I was so busy with daily life that I forgot this is the time of year juniper bushes set berries.
Juniper berries in the shopping mall parking lot.
You are probably wondering why I am so excited over juniper berries. Well, juniper berries are a key ingredient in potpourri. For example, here is a potpourri recipe from the book, Potpourri, Scented Souvenirs by Gail Duff (page 22):
Refreshing Lavender Potpourri2 cups lavender flowers
1 cup costmary
½ cup peppermint leaves
6 tablespoons rosemary leaves
2 tablespoons each juniper berries and allspice berries
4 tablespoons orris root powder
4 drops lavender oil
2 drops each rosemary and peppermint oil
People have been making potpourri for centuries. I heard that when archaeologists opened some of the Egyptian tombs they found potpourri in clay jars that was still fragrant after thousands of years. Pioneer women often gathered herbs and flowers to create wonderful fragrances in their homes. You can too! You can purchase all the ingredients you need but why pay for store-bought ingredients when you can gather them yourself. I found the juniper berries in a shopping center parking lot! You can too!
Lavender flowers will be blooming soon (here in the south anyway – those in the north will have to wait a few more weeks). Peppermint and rosemary are also growing now in the south. All three of these plants are available in home improvement centers throughout the spring season and they are all easy to grow. For those of you in the north, you may have to grow your rosemary in pots; it is only winter hardy from zone 7 (in a protected spot) to zone 10.
Women in the last half of the 19th century grew costmary in their herb gardens. It is very sweet smelling. You should be able to find seeds or plants in the home improvement store as well. You can also find all these plants anywhere herbs are sold. Orris root powder can be omitted if you prefer. I have made potpourri with it and without it. The purpose of the orris root powder is to hold the scent. It is considered a ‘fixative’ to help the scent last longer. Orris root is the rhizome of the iris flower. If you happen to have some iris flowers that you no longer want, pull up the rhizome, wash it off and grate it up. Let it dry and it is ready to use. Orris root has no scent when first dried; it can take up to two years for the orris root to gain a scent on its own. If not scented with oils as part of a recipe, the orris root will have a fragrance like violets.
Dry the herbs and flowers in the sun and be sure they are completely dry before you store them. All ingredients store well in glass jars.
Juniper berries drying in the sun on my patio.
Making your own potpourri is fun and doesn’t have to cost a lot of money, if any at all. If you keep your eyes open this summer you can gather up ingredients you can use to make your own potpourri this fall!