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How to make Rose Potpourri

by Mark Whitelaw

More than just a pretty flower to adorn the dining room table, roses have been preserved in various forms since the time of the Egyptian pharaohs. If properly prepared, hints of the rose's delicate fragrance can remain for thousands of years.

Today, the art of preserving the beauty, color and fragrance of roses can take any number of creative forms - from dried rose blossoms which are then used in wreaths or unusual table decorations to the creation of a rose potpourri.

Of all of these aromatic confections, the easiest way to preserve a rose's fragrance is through the creation of potpourris. Generally speaking, potpourris fall into two categories: Dried and Moist. Dried potpourris are the easiest to make and require all dry ingredients. Their fragrance is less intense, however, and you may find yourself repeating the process after several months. Moist potpourris, on the other hand, can sustain their fragrance for many years with only slight rejuvenation. These potpourris are those whose recipes have been handed down from generation to generation.

Before you begin, a few general hints about making rose potpourri from Dr. William Welch's book, Antique Roses for the South [Taylor Publishing: Dallas, Texas; 1990. (US)$29.95, hardcover]

  • Keep the ingredients away from contact with metal. Use glass, plastic, or glazed containers and wood or plastic utensils. Avoid unnecessary exposure to light.
  • When calculating quantities of ingredients, remember that as they dry, rose petals shrink to one-third their original volume.
  • If salt is called for, as in moist potpourris, use plain salt with no additives. Salt with additives will destroy the natural chemicals in the rose petals.
  • White and pale pink petals turn brown as they dry, and yellow petals may also turn an unattractive color. As a result, these sorts are best suited to wet potpourris, in which the petals are hidden from view.
  • Use fragrant rose petals. Roses are at peak fragrance and ideal for potpourri-making when the blooms are only half open. In general, early morning is the best time to cut flowers for this purpose, since the blossoms' perfumes are freshest at that time. There is not single best time of year, however, for peak fragrance.

What follows then is a recipe for a moist potpourri passed along from one of my favorite people - my own grandmother.

Grandma's Rose Potpourri

First, "salt cure" your rose petals by collecting about 4 cups of various fragrant roses (reds, pinks and whites preferred). Spread them atop a newspaper and let them dry two or three days. (The petals will feel like soft leather when they're ready.) Layer the partially dried petals with 1/2 tsp. non-iodized, coarse ground sea salt in a straight-sided, crockery bowl. Place an inverted plate on top of the petals and weight it down. (I used an old rock.) Be certain to cover all the petals with the weighted plate. Cover the container with foil and seal the edges. Stir the petals daily with a wooden spoon. After 14 days the petals have "cured," reduced in bulk to about 1 1/2 cups, and changed colors (usually auburn, cream, deep rose and purple).

In a separate bowl combine the following:
1 1/2 cups cured rose petals
1 Tbsp. crushed whole clove
1 Tbsp. cedar shavings
3 crushed bay leaves
1 crushed cinnamon stick
1 tsp. fresh shaved nutmeg
10 drops of rose oil
1 tsp. fresh lemon zest or lemon extract

(Note: I found cedar shavings at the grocery store in the section for scents, sachets, etc. for closets and drawers. Rose oil is available from most scent shops.)

Place the mixture into the curing crock, replace the plate and weight. Seal with aluminum foil and rubber band. Do not stir the mixture and don't peek! The potpourri will smell a bit "raw" for the first three weeks. (If you peek, you'll understand why the literal translation for potpourri is "rotten pot"!) After the fourth week, it can be transferred to a moist potpourri jar or "scent jar."

If it dries out, you can refresh with a few drops of alcohol or rose oil. (Grandma called it "feeding the rose jar.") That said, I last made this recipe in 1991, and the fragrance lingers in my rose jar to this day.

I am told, however, the recipe's ingredients are decidedly masculine in fragrance - which is good, since I am "decidedly masculine." :>) So you may want to try other spices and herbs in combination. Or better yet, ask your grandmother for her recipe!

About the AuthorMark Whitelaw was a landscape designer and dedicated rosarian. He was a Past President and an executive board member of the Ft. Worth Rose Society, as well as an American Rose Society Consulting Rosarian and ARS Cyber-CR, who laughingly referred to the rose as "his mistress.".In everything he did, he sought to educate people about the plant he loved so much. As editor for Rose Garden at he continued to educate people about his favorite flower - and continues to do so in the many informative articles he left as his legacy.

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