Friday, January 28, 2011

Lavender-rose potpourri

For years, I tried to grow lavender. For years, I failed. Then, came a hardier variety of lavender. It was developed specifically for North American growing conditions. This munstead variety is available at the start of the planting season here -- around late May. I start it in pots on the back deck where it will get the most sun. All summer long, I water it, feed it Miracle Gro and harvest the blooms as they mature. I tie them in bundles with kitchen twine and dry them all over the kitchen. The plants bloom from around the end of June through to the end of September. At points in the summer, the house looks a little like a heralist's cottage or something out of the Cadfael series of novels. At the end of August, I transplant them from their pots to various spots in the front and back gardens. This past the summer, the plants were so huge I had no room for them, so I gave them to my friend Amanda who has a beautiful garden. She says I can still harvest from them next year.
Extracting the buds is a little like thrashing wheat.

Stir it up with a popsicle stick.
 I always wanted to make some long-wearing sachets for the linen and clothes closets, and even some natural scented dryer sachets.
Problem: I could never get the scents to last for long. Then, I read about orris root. It is a natural stabilizer made from the dried roots of iris flowers. It takes about three years to make the stuff, so it is EXPENSIVE. But, you only need a teaspoon or two to stabilize the essential oils used in the making of potpourri or sachets.
I found mine in the local natural food market, in the section where they sell things like marshmallow root and powdered soap wort. (I am not kidding -- I looked, but I didn't see any eye of newt) Anyway, 100 grams of the powder is around $7 and the cut orris root is about $11 per 100 grams.
Now, 100 grams is a lot of orris root. Most recipes for potpourri call for a teaspoon or two. I have a lot of lavender, so I figured I get 50 grams each of the cut root and the powder. The cut roots are better for sachets because of their bulk. The powder can be used in potpourri, because it disappears when mixed in with the petals, spices, leaves and what have you.
I mixed about 50 drops of essential oil of lavender into the cut roots, and 25 drops of Rose absolute oil. I stirred it together and put it into a cool swing top sealed jar I found at our bulk food store for under $3.
Next, I carefully extracted the dried buds. I do this on some paper so that I can just tip them into the jar.
I give the whole thing a little stir as I go, using a popsicle stick. (Bonus, the popsicle stick becomes pleasantly scented too. You can throw them away in the green bin and it smells nice for a change).
Once the mixture has filled the jar, seal it and put it away in a dark cool spot. It has to cure for about six weeks. Shake the jar up every now and then to make sure the scent is distributed evenly. I plan to use this batch as sachet filler when it is ready. Apparently, the scent can be recharged with additional sprinkles of essential oil as the YEARS roll on. I consider the $11 outlay on orris root money well spent!
Hmm lavender, your orris roots are showing...
This has to cure for six weeks.

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