How to Harvest and Preserve Fragrant Flowers
Scented flowers can be used in lots of different ways; as cut flowers bringing fragrance and colour to the indoors, or in crafts such as pot pourri. The fragrance can even be extracted from flowers or foliage to create scented ouls for use in a bath, or as a massage oil.
How Do you Get the Most From Cut Flowers in Vases
To maximise the vase life of cut flowers you should:
- Pick the flowers first thing in the morning, or in the evening. They should not be allowed to dry out, so
place them in a bucket of water as soon as they are picked.
- Cuts should be made at an angle with a sharp knife. Flowers which have been away from water for
more than a few minutes should have their stems recut.
- Remove the lower leaves, otherwise they will rot in the water.
- Flowers with tough, woody stems will last longer if the cut end is crushed.
- Stems which exude milky sap will last better if the cut end is quickly scalded in hot water or burnt with
- Stand the cut stems in a bucket of deep water for several hours before arranging them in vases.
- Use water which is neither too cold nor too hot (ie. tepid).
- Add a commercially prepared cut flower formula to the water to extend the vase life (some people claim
that copper coins, asprins, sugar and various other home formulas are also effective).
- Change the water regularly.
Preserving Dried Flowers
There are several methods of drying flowers:
This is the easiest method. Pick flowers when they are dry to prevent mildew forming. Strip the leaves from the stems, place into small bunches, tie the ends of each bunch and hang them upside down in a cool, dry spot for several weeks eg. cupboard. For those flowers which are being dried for their particular scent or colour, a more rapid drying in a dark, warm area is recommended.
Some flowers will dry naturally if left in a vase of water eg. proteas, hydrangeas. For best results, pick the flower just as it is beginning to dry of it's own accord on the plant, and stand in a small amount of water (a couple of centimetres deep).
These are substances which absorb moisture out of the plant as they are sprinkled over the petals or leaves. Borax, alum and silica gel crystals are the most commonly used dessicants borax and alum are best suited to fragile flowers; silica gel crystals are relatively heavy so they should be used for drying heavier blooms. The bottom of an airtight container is covered with the dessicant, the flower heads are then lain on top, and then sprinkle more dessicant until each flower is completely covered (each part of the flower should be thoroughly coated). Seal the container and store in a warm, dry place. Drying will around take 1 to 2 weeks) depending on the thickness of the flower and the drying agent).
Glycerine dried plants will still appear flexible and lifelike, as the plant's moisture is replaced by the glycerine which is absorbed into the plant. It is commonly used for preserving foliage and some flowers. Cut stem ends should be split and placed in deep water for several hours. The stems are then placed in a mixture of 1 part glycerine and 2 parts hot water to a depth of 10 cm (the hot water should be allowed to cool slightly before use). Leave in a cool, dark room until all the glycerine has been taken up this can vary from 1 week for light foliage and flowers to several weeks for thicker leaved plants.
Annual Flowers that Keep a Long Time after Cutting
Celosia argenta plumosa
Honesty (Lunaria annua)
Other Flowers with a Long Vase Life
Flowers to Air Dry
How to Make Pot Pourri
Pot pourri is any mixture of scented flowers and leaves, used either in crafts or simply loose as an air freshener. It can be used to retain the color and fragrance of one part of the year through to other times of the year.
You can make your own pot pourri very simply by drying, chopping up and mixing plants. The secret is to use the right plants, dry them properly, and mix them in appropriate proportions.
There are extra things which can be done to retain the scent of a pot pourri longer:
- Fixitives (things which help hold the natural scent in the mix) can be mixed in. (eg: Powdered orris root or dried citrus peel).
- Scented oils can be added to return a scent to a pot pourri which has lost it's smell.
You can mix dried plants together in a combination to suit your own tastes, and create your own pot pourri.
Flowers to Dry and Use in Pot Pourri
Rose petals (Scented types)
Foliage to Dry and Use in Pot Pourri
Using Non Aromatic Oils
Here is a simple way to create herb oils is by using oils that have little or no scent (eg: Olive oil or Safflower oil).
Herbs can be mixed with non aromatic oils and allowed to stand for a period of weeks (or more).
The oils in the herb will to some degree penetrate the non aromatic oil giving a mixture of non aromatic oil and the herb's scents/flavour. This type of oil is weaker than that extracted by distillation, but it can still be used in much the same way as the pure herb oil can.
Other Methods of Creating Oils
1. Place petals from scented flowers such as Jasmine or Rose in a clean ceramic container and pour
water over the top. After some weeks or months oil will appear as a filmy scum on the surface of the
water. You can then use a piece of cotton wool to carefully absorb the oil from the surface of the water.
The oil can then be squeezed out of the cotton wool. This is a delicate procedure which will work, but
is tedious and only yields small quantities of oil. Store in small glass vials.
2. To extract oils from fragrant woods such as cedar, sandlewood, sassafrass, camphor laurel etc.
Reduce the wood to shavings using a wood plane for tough woods, or garden shredder for softer
woods. From there extract the oil using one of the methods outlined above.
How to Make Lavender Oil (Massage oil)
1. Add a handful of fresh lavender flowers to 1 litre of non aromatic (ie: non smelling) vegetable oil, such
as olive oil.
2. Leave standing in a warm position in direct sunlight for four days.
3. Strain off the flowers through a muslin cloth and collect the oil.
4. If necessary, the procedure can be repeated with the oil several times until a strong lavender scent
develops in the oil.
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