I have never used silica gel before, so today has been a bit of a learning curve.
Silica gel is a desiccant which absorbs moisture from anything in contact with it – in this case flowers. It is used in creating dried flowers because it speeds up the drying process, and the weight of the beads reduces wrinkling. I bought a kilo of gel from eBay, and it is a type which turns from orange to dark green when saturated, so it’s easy to tell if it’s still working. When it turns green, you can just heat it in the oven to drive off moisture again so it can be re-used. I read that you can leave the flowers in contact with the silica gel for a couple of days without heating, but though I would try the fast way using my microwave.
I picked some fresh viola flowers from my garden and put them on a 2cm thick layer of silica gel beads in a microwave container, then covered them up with more silica gel until they were completely buried.
I microwaved them on full power for a minute, then left to cool for one hour before carefully removing.
As you can see from the photo, the violas did dry successfully, but the silica gel beads left tiny dents in the flowers. The process also made them very brittle, and I shattered a few removing them from the container. In addition, some of the beads became inextricably attached to the centre of the flowers!
This time I tried layering tissue between the beads and the flowers to try and prevent marking.
This produced much more uniform-looking flowers, which look almost as if they have been pressed. I think the tissue protected the violas from the drying effect, as these were less brittle although they were treated for the same times as before.
I consider the experiment a success! If anyone has any hints or tips for me, do let me know. I am currently on the lookout for finer gel in the form of sand rather than beads, if anyone knows where I can get it.