Why you don’t need orris root powder to make potpourri

I sell a lot of orris root powder for potpourri making

But why? Orris root powder is the dried powdered root of the flower iris pallida (sweet iris), and is used in potpourri making to prolong the fragrance.

dripping oil onto orris root powder for potpourri

Dripping essential oil onto orris root powder to fix the fragrance of potpourri.

Orris root powder is a fixative

Traditional potpourri is made by adding essential oils to dried flowers and herbs, and sealing them in a jar together for a few weeks to let the fragrance develop. Unfortunately, most essential oils are volatile, which means they are likely to evaporate over the space of a few hours or days, leaving the potpourri with no fragrance. A fixative is any material which prevents this rapid evaporation. A fixative absorbs the oil and keeps it in the potpourri. Orris root powder is one material that does this, but there are many others. Suitable fixative may be particular tree resins, flowers, roots, leaves or seeds as well as less volatile essential oils. Here are some you could try:

  • Gum benzoin, myrrh and frankincense
  • Cinnamon powder and sticks
  • Cloves and nutmeg
  • Cumin, coriander and angelica seeds
  • Vanilla pods
  • Oakmoss
  • Chamomile flowers
  • Geranium roots
  • Leaves of cistus and lemon verbena
  • Oils of sandalwood, cedarwood, patchouli and ylang ylang

The list goes on, but a few of these items might be available in your kitchen or garden or aromatherapy box, without the need for a shopping trip.

dried flower potpourri

Dried flower popourri

Try using a different potpourri making method

I’ve already written quite a detailed article about potpourri making, so I won’t repeat it here. But personally I find potpourri dusted in powder slightly unattractive and there are ways round it, so here are three alternatives:

  • If you would like to use a traditional method, choose a fixative from the list above that is not in powder form.
  • If you are open to modern methods, try making potpourri using modern home fragrance oils. Just use fragrance oil instead of essential oil in your chosen recipe and omit the fixative and waiting time. Just leave in a sealed container for a couple of hours to permeate before displaying. Modern fragrance oils are very realistic, but you may lose any aromatherapy effects of the potpourri.
  • Display your dried petals and herbs in a bowl and drip on a little essential oil whenever you feel like it. This way, you keep any aromatherapy benefits of the essential oils, but with none of the waiting time or dust. However, the fragrance achieved will not be as complex as the one obtained using the traditional method.
fragrance dried flowers

Adding home fragrance oil to dried flowers to make potpourri the modern way.

[Avoid contact of fragrance oils and essential oils with the skin as well as polished, painted and synthetic surfaces and textiles, and keep out of reach of children and pets.]

Links to related posts on potpourri making

See how I made the bowl of potpourri in the image above.
More articles on potpourri making

Shopping links for potpourri fixatives

Well if you still insist on buying orris root powder, we do sell it at daisyshop!
Buy fragrance oil   |   Cinnamon sticks   |   Cloves
Buy oakmoss   |   Dried chamomile flowers

32 responses so far.

  1. Di Mancino says:

    Hi, i didnt realise I could use other things, thanks.
    I am making some embroidered lavender sachets for my friends underwear drawers. Do I need to put orris powder in with the lavender buds or is there no beed? I thought it stopped it going off?

    • Ruth says:

      Thanks for commenting, I appreciate it.
      You don’t need to add orris root powder if you’re using lavender buds. If the fragrance fades, just tell your friend to give the bags a sharp squeeze to release more of the natural essential oils from the lavender. I’ve had bags for years that I’ve kept going this way.
      Best wishes, Ruth.

  2. Teresa Slevin says:

    Hi, I have just been flicking through your website and reading about fixatives. I have often thought that if I could use something ie wood chips to absorb oils, is this possible. It seems so to me and would be a lot cheaper than orris root. I recently dried some Hydranga bark and wondered if I could use this. Its nice to experiment. Teresa

    • Ruth says:

      Hi, Yes it sounds like it’s worth a try. I’ve never tried bark but it’s possible – it doesn’t hurt to experiment! Just see how absorbent it looks when you drop the oil on, and how quickly it releases it again. Take care not to try it with anything poisonous! Ruth.

  3. Linda Hutchison says:

    I would like to purchase from your company at a wholesale price so that I can make my own potpourri to sell in my shop. I am not required to have a tax ID number or business license where I sale. I have a booth in an antique store and therefore all of the taxes etc are paid by the owner. Is there any way that I can purchase wholesale without the tax ID number.

    • Ruth says:

      Hello Linda, Yes you are most welcome to purchase from our shop at daisyshop.co.uk! We don’t have a separate wholesale list, but the larger the pack size the better the price. Tax ID is not required at the checkout. Thanks, Ruth.

  4. Lyndsie says:

    Last Xmas I made my own room fragrance by putting slices of lemon, some cinnamon, cloves, bay leaves and some vanilla flavouring in a pan of water, with a bit of vodka added, and letting it gently simmer away for a few hours. The smell was gorgeous and filled the whole house, but didn’t last long after the pan was switched off. The mixture lasted a while, just needing to be kept topped up with water. This year, I would like to do this again, but I want to improve on it. Is there anything that I can add to it that will help the fragrance to last? I want to be able to use the liquid in three ways – one is to put the mix into a jar, which when the lid is removed will give off a noticeable aroma. The jar will look decorative and will also be able to be used to fragrance a room.; – one is to be able to use a cupful of the liquid in an oil burner or something similar; and finally I would like to be able to use the liquid in a spray bottle, to spray the fragrance in a room. Is there anything that you can suggest?

    • Ruth says:

      Hi Lyndsie, Thanks for commenting! It sounds like your house smells fab at Christmas! Have you tried a USB mug warmer? You could heat the mixture up to boiling on the stove, then put some in a mug, which will stay warm and continue to give off the fragrance all the time your computer is switched on. Yes you could use the mixture in a spray bottle, but don’t keep it more than a couple of days because you could get a bacteria build up. You could try making a gel fragrance jar, but this would require the addition of extra essential oils to boost the scent (I haven’t tried this yet, but there are various how-to’s available online). Good luck with your projects! Ruth x

  5. Hello Ruth. Nice post, but orris root (kibbled and powdered)is prepared from the roots of iris germanica, i pallida and i florentina, none of which are sweet flag. Sweet flag(or bitter root)is acorus calamus which is not an iris at all, though very useful. I grow and use both.

    • Ruth says:

      Thanks Roger – I have now had a look into it and it’s a bit of a minefield. In the UK the word “sweet” is used for both Acorus calamus and Iris pallida. I was referring to Iris pallida, so have removed the word “flag” from the post to avoid confusion. Thanks for your help!

  6. Valerie carter says:

    I am making a clove orange can I roll this in another spice powder as I cannot find oris powder on sale in Australia where I live. Thank you Val Carter

    • Ruth says:

      Hi Val, Yes you can use any powdered spice – it’s just the high surface area you need to absorb the oil. Good luck with your project! Ruth

  7. […] oil can evaporate over hours or day. To preserve and bind the scent you need a fixative. There are a host binder options, from ingredients that require a trip to the store to your kitchen spices to less volatile […]

  8. Sue says:

    I bought some powdered gum benzoin which I hate to not use in my potpourri if I’m going to be putting them in like a cellophane tape bag with all kinds of goodies in it is there any way that I could wrap up the gum benzoin but make a small sachet of it and put my essential oil on it and add it to my potpourri

    • Ruth says:

      Hello Sue, thanks for commenting! If you are using traditional potpourri making methods, it is the way the whole combination of fragrances from the essential oils develop with the plant material you choose which makes it interesting, so if you just add the oils to the gum benzoin and keep them separate from everything else, that won’t happen. But yes, I imagine you could just add the oil to the gum benzoin in some sort of sachet – perhaps that is something you could experiment with. Good luck! Ruth x

  9. Soph says:

    I want to make a relaxing sleep pot pouri
    Using total of 50 grams
    Ingredients must be
    Lavender buds dried
    Marjoram dried and frankincense essential oil. What proportions do you suggest.?
    Would be great to have an ideal I have to stick
    To ingredients above,

  10. Cheryl says:

    Have you ever tried pulling a vacuum on some wood shavings, sweetgum balls, Lilac buds, etc. using essential oils and carrier oils? Have a small vacuum and thinking of trying it.

    • Ruth says:

      Hello Cheryl, Yes do try it if you can do it safely! It’s not something I’ve done, perhaps it might provide a better dispersion of the oil. Good luck! Ruth x

  11. Daniel morgan says:

    Hi Ruth. I am make potpourri for the 1st time and it is dried french lavender rosemary and dianthus for bright colors. Do i need to add orris root powder in the mix??? Or could i substitute on the orris root powder. Yes i have got wild lavender oil to go through the mix. Thanks.

    • Ruth says:

      Hello Daniel, Thanks for commenting. I would say be careful using the lavender oil as it is quite strong, just a drop or two should do it. No, I wouldn’t bother with orris root, as the dried lavender will hold the oil, and you can always add another drop or two if it fades. Good luck! Ruth

  12. Tiffiny says:

    In making Potpourri for the first time really all I have are white & pink roses I’m drying them. I can go get some fresh rosemary from a neighbor’s yard & I have ground cinnamon. Would that work well?

    • Ruth says:

      Hello Tiffany, That sounds like a good start! All these things will smell nice up close, but they won’t fragrance a room as these flowers and leaves lose a lot of fragrance on drying. Have you got any essential oils you could add? A few drops of rose or rosemary would work well. Good luck! Ruth x

  13. Juhani says:

    I can’t find orris root in my area and am unsure about the other scents in your list. First, I’m not familiar with half of them and second, would like a neutral smelling fixative.
    I want to make a potpourri gift for a friend (using her wedding flowers which I dried and kept). So I want a sweet rose scent in the final product. I have the roses and the essential oil, but want a neutral fixative. The health shop in our area had no idea what orris root is, but the lady recommended baking soda. In your opinion would that work?

    • Ruth says:

      Hello, Thanks for your comment. Personally, I think baking soda is likely to react with your fragrances and possibly degrade them, which might make the scent deteriorate. Orris root powder is easily available online. If you would prefer not to try that, then try making potpourri without it: this will do no harm, you just might need to refresh it more frequently with the essential oil. Good luck! Ruth x

  14. Somaya says:

    Hi in India I do not get orris root powder… can licorice powder be used as substitute..
    I love reading your articles.

    • Ruth says:

      Hello Somaya, Most ground spices can be used – just choose one that compliments the fragrance you are trying to create. I’m afraid I’ve never tried licorice powder though! I’d recommend trying it with a small amount and see how you get on.

  15. Teresa says:

    What about orris root powder for pomanders? Can I use something else or is orris root better?

  16. Connie Austin says:

    Hi Ruth:
    I inherited my mother’s old potpourri started at least 3 generations ago. While she was alive, she would add petals from fragrant roses and lavender buds grown in our yard. A few times a year she would add vodka to refresh the scent.
    I’m wondering if you are familiar with this earlier method of freshening up the fragrance and, do you know if I could substitute gin or vermouth? Thank you for you assistance. Connie Austin

    • Ruth says:

      Hi Connie,
      Thanks for getting in touch, sorry about the delay! Your potpourri sounds like the fragrance version of sourdough bread! Yes I have heard about using vodka as it takes some of the natural fragrances out of the botanicals and makes them more free to evaporate and provide a scent. Gin would work, but it may add too much of its own scent as it’s not as neutral smelling as vodka. Also I think vermouth is not as strong as gin and vodka, so the potpourri might go mouldy in that case.
      Hope it’s going well. Best wishes, Ruth

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