small measures with ashley: holiday potpourri

A large part of the scintillating magic of the holiday season is its smells. From the intoxicating spiciness of gingerbread cookies to the resinous aroma of Douglas and Fraser fir trees; from the crystallized wetness of freshly fallen snow to the smokiness and sulfur of wood stoves and fireplaces, we can’t help but get caught up in the avalanche of festive fragrances. They take us places, lift us out of the ordinary and transport us somewhere distinct, somewhere temporal, somewhere inherently “special.”

Why not add a homemade potpourri blend to the holiday olfactory mix? Far superior in fragrance quality to their cellophane-wrapped, pre-made cousins, do-it-yourself potpourri allows you to inject your home, office or even vehicle with the most inspiring scents of the season. Better yet, once you’ve secured your essential oils of choice, all you need to round up are natural materials easily found at your local grocer, in your backyard or at your area park (but only if gathering wild materials is allowed at those parks!). These aromatic blends also make fantastic and affordable go-to items for ready-in-a-flash gift-giving.

The following blends are from Sheherazade Goldsmith’s compelling book A Greener Christmas. I return to this gorgeously photographed and all-natural treasure trove of eco-inspiration again and again, always coming away with an idea for some delicacy to bake or gift to craft. If you find yourself on the hunt for “green” holiday ideas, I can’t recommend Goldsmith’s book enough.

CLICK HERE for homemade holiday potpourri recipes after the jump!

Spice Potpourri

1. Collect a few cinnamon sticks, star anise, a nutmeg or two, some cloves and a selection of dried natural materials or some walnuts or hazelnuts.

2. Place materials in a medium-sized mixing bowl.

3. Sprinkle 10 drops of cinnamon essential oil and 5 drops of clove essential oil.

4. Keep bowl covered until needed, and refresh with a few more drops of oil as necessary.

Citrus Potpourri

1. Dry some whole clementines, kumquats, orange and lemon slices and orange and lemon peels.

2. Place materials in a medium-sized mixing bowl.

3. Sprinkle 10 drops of orange essential oil and 5 drops of lemon essential oil.

4. Keep bowl covered until needed, and refresh with a few more drops of oil as necessary.

Pine Potpourri

1. Collect pinecones and a few small branches of any fragrant evergreens, such as pine, juniper, and cypress.

2. Place materials in a medium-sized mixing bowl.

3. Sprinkle 10 drops of pine essential oil and 5 drops of cedar essential oil.

4. Keep bowl covered until needed, and refresh with a few more drops of oil as necessary.

These blends are also, of course, totally customizable. For the citrus option, try tangerine, grapefruit or lime oils. The pine blend would also work beautifully with juniper and fir oils. Also, dried whole herbs, thistles, berries and dried flowers and pods can replace any of the natural materials suggested above. Essential oils are readily available at natural food stores or online from Aura Cacia, Mountain Rose Herbs and Simplers.

What about you? Got any odor-rific potpourri suggestions of your own? I’d love to hear them. Otherwise, here’s wishing you a fragrant season! — Ashley

  1. I love the use of fresh pine, it really adds a lot of color. This would be a great little something to include in a gift basket for a friend or kind neighbor! Some pinecone firestarters would fill it out nicely:

  2. These look incredible, and I bet they smell even better. I had such a knee jerk reaction against the idea of potpourri, but these just seem so seasonal and fresh. Along with paperwhites, the smell of clementines and pine are the most evocative of the holidays for me, so this is perfect. Also anything that requires some light foraging… Thanks for this!

  3. Alli says:

    I have been looking for some lovely potpourri, and this sounds like a great craft for my weekend! Where can I find the scented oils? Do they have those at craft stores? Thanks!

  4. Alli-I’ve offered three online sites for sourcing the essential oils, found at the end of the post. They can also be found at natural foods stores.

    As for what might be offered at craft stores, I’m honestly not certain; if they do offer scents there, I’m guessing they’re most likely artificially scented and not natural. If that’s to your liking however, than that would work just as well! Have fun!

  5. Michelle says:

    I, too, usually have a knee-jerk reaction to potpourri, but I like a nice-smelling house, especially this time of year. My favorite scented candle at winter is a spiced apple cider – so I’m thinking dried apples, cinnamon, nutmeg, and a bit of orange for both the oils and the potpourri (and maybe some star anise because they’re just so pretty). I love this idea and can’t wait to try it!

  6. Valerie says:

    Oooh, these all sound lovely… I love the spicey, warmer scents associated with these colder months. So comforting. Thank you!

    In the past I’ve kept out a little open container of cloves and dried clementine peel. Smells fantastic! I may try something with cini sticks, star anise, clove and ginger… hmmm.

    For those asking about where to find essential oils: try health food stores. Stuff at the dollar stores or craft stores are usually artificial scents and are laden with harmful chemicals. You want ESSENTIAL oils, which are the oil contained in the botanical.

  7. Alli says:

    Thank you, Ashley! Clearly I did not look closely–oops! :)

  8. Bre says:

    Love this post! One of the best things about this time of year is the seasonal scents. And these look fantastic to boot.

  9. Christine says:

    Love the idea of the citrus one.

  10. Debbie says:

    Whole Foods grocery stores sell a nice selection of essential oils.

  11. Delphine says:

    i think i’ll try the citrus one! :)

  12. Lisa says:

    We picked up a bunch of balsam fir branches from Lowe’s (for free!) and can’t wait to try this!

  13. Hi everyone,

    Here’s another tip for you. The essential oils can be use for other things too! I put a few drops in my bathwater sometimes (leaves just a faint hint of scent on your skin) and I also blend them with body lotion. Essential oils (the natural kind) are…essential :) !

  14. Sarah says:

    Smells, I would argue, are the most important part of holiday decorating. Why do people dislike fake Christmas trees? Because they don’t SMELL! I am thinking of getting one this year, however…and will still have the festive smell of pine in my house by adding fresh wreaths. Happy holidays!

  15. Cynthia Pickrell says:

    I have a small bedroom that I would like to make into my sewing room but need some help to make it more user friendly. Plus I need to have storage for sewing supplies. One wall in the room is all closet with two sliding doors I thought maybe this could be opened up for bins and shelves.

  16. SV says:

    I will try the spicy one! Can I make it without essential oils?

  17. Another great source for essential oils is Atlantic I love there products!

    Also another way to scent a room is to add a few drops of your favorite essential oil to an unscented candle. Just light the candle and after it burns and forms a sort of puddle of melted wax, drop a few drops into the puddle. This is an inexpensive way to creat a scented candle! A pillar candle works best.

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  19. Carla Andringa says:

    Love the smells of winter holidays. I also love the smell of a fire and it’s glow. I found a candle that’s called campfire and also has the cracle effect of a log burning. Found it at target. Great smell to add with your existing ones. Makes the men more comfortable as well. Add some chestnuts to the puddle of candle wax, with the tree smell. To me it’s a cabin retreat in the woods for the holiday. Add those baked smells, close your eyes with a glass of wine… Heaven!


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