What are Potpourris?
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Potpourris are commonly thought of as articles of decoration used to scent a room or a small space. They are typically made from dried herbs, flower petals, and sometimes even spices that carry fragrant aromas. In the olden days, potpourris were an excellent method to liven up a room (and subsequently) one's spirits – a practice which remains to this day albeit in heavily diluted form. Nowadays, when people think of potpourri, they think of 'shabby chic' – a type of home-décor that combines country motifs and traditional sentiments.
What most people forget however is that potpourris not only make for great décor, but they can also be useful (yet very subtle) healing materials as well. A jumble of naturally dried petals, herbs, and spices can, in their own way, provide healing benefits that may often escape the attention of many herbalists. While not strictly an herbal remedy due to the fact that it is neither consumed nor applied topically, it may count as belonging to the 'inhalants' group of herbal remedies for very obvious reasons.
What are potpourris used for?
Nowadays, potpourris are typically used for decorating and subtly scenting a room. In earlier times, it was a means to preserve spring flowers, fragrant herbs, and aromatic spices. While potpourris are typically employed as articles of home decoration, they can also be made into inhalants that uplift, invigorate, energise, or soothe the mood. Just like essential oils diffused into an environment, or incense burnt to scent or cleanse a room, potpourris affect the general mood of a person by evoking certain feelings and sensations. Aside from this psychological effect, potpourri functions in much the same way as any aromatherapeutic substance, by eliciting subtle mental responses from specific mental receptors that provoke a change in your mood or energy levels. Potpourri, in effect, is a very affordable and easy way to make mood-altering scent packets, inhalants and sachets. The sigh of potpourri also helps to heal psychologically, as it oftentimes evokes a sensation of a return to nature, a feeling of grounding, and a sense of pampered yet quaint elegance. While all of these healing benefits may work subtly, they are without a doubt, very beneficial. Potpourri may provide some degree of help for people who are depressed, and may be useful for individuals whose energy levels tend to be low. As a rule of thumb, whatever herbs that comprise a potpourri blend have their own distinct medicinal benefits, and there are hundreds of recipes both online and in books for various types of potpourris for any specific purpose.
What are potpourris made of?
In the past potpourris were originally made from plant matter that were slowly dried either via direct or indirect sunlight / heat depending on the type of plant matter that was being dried. This was then placed in sachets or drawstring bags and used to scent an area, keep out insects, or to carry around to provide a quick pick-me-up or to act as a medicinal inhalant against minor ailments. Potpourris may be made from dried herbs, spices, flower petals, and any fragrant natural substance. Some potpourris may even incorporate subtle nuances brought about by an integration of either one or a number of essential oils that either compliment or support the original herbal blend for more efficacious results.
How are potpourris made?
When making potpourris, you have the freedom to select the kind of herbs, spices or flowers that you want to make into a potpourri. When only using herbs or flowers of your choice, be sure to harvest only fresh, undamaged plant matter. If incorporating spices into the potpourri blend, you may opt to add this later on, as you will need to dry the fresh plant matter first. There are two basic ways to go about this: the easiest would be to leave your collected plant matter to dry in the sun. This 'direct-heat' treatment ensures that you have a wholly dry blend that will not rot or gather mold. However, direct heat often destroys the volatile oils found in plant matter, especially in flowers, which leaves the potpourri virtually scentless by the time the leaves or petals are truly wholly dry. Because of this, a second method is far more desirable – that being drying by indirect heat. To dry using indirect heat is to leave your collected plant matter in a warm place that constantly absorbs the heat of the sun (i. e. rafters in a barn, the underside of a roof), without really being hit directly by sunlight. In this way, the plant matters are thoroughly dried, but the volatile oils (and subsequently, its scents) are preserved. If you have the means to invest in a professional dryer, by all means do so. It isn't only useful for making potpourri, but for drying any plant matter you may require as well and is a good, lasting, and worthwhile investment.
After the selected plant matter has thoroughly dried, sift through the lot and discard very shriveled leaves or petals, as well as plant parts that have succumbed to the early stages of mold or decay. You may then incorporate your choice of spices. As a nice touch, you may add a few drops of your favourite essential oils to fortify the potpourris. These can then be used as ingredients for an inhalant sachet, or as a personal aromatherapeutic touch to your room or living room. Always remember to discard potpourris after three weeks. Don't throw the plant matter away though, as naturally made potpourris can be recycled and used in creating bath-time decoctions or powdered and integrated into tinctures, balms, liniments, ointments and soaps. If you'd rather use store-bought potpourri, discard these after three weeks (or until its synthetic scent fades) and do not attempt to reuse it for any other herbal recipe. You just don't know what goes into these mass-produced things, so it is better to be on the safe side!
Main article researched and created by Alexander Leonhardt, © herbs-info.com 2013
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