Sunday, October 3, 2010

Harvesting Iris and Orris Root

September and October is the time to dig up and divide your Irises.  This would also be the time of year to harvest orris root.  If you grow Iris germanica this is the iris used to make Orris root, which chopped or powdered is used as a fixative in potpourri.  A fixative is that ingredient you add to perfumes and potpourri that helps the scent to last.  Orris root is the most popular fixative, although there are reports that some people can have an allergic reaction to it, so if you use it be clear in your labeling, even with gifts. 
To harvest this ingredient you need the root of the Iris germanica.  When you dig up the Iris plants, from the two or three roots making up each plant, save the largest rhizomes to use as a fixative and replant the smaller ones.  You can use this same technique with your regular Iris as well.  I remove the largest rhizome and use that to take to plant swaps, or mail to plant traders for new Iris.  My trick for this is to place a tongue depressor with the color of the Iris into the ground in the center of the roots during the blooming season, so I know what I am digging up in the fall.
To Prepare Orris Root
Clean and peel the root with a knife or potato peeler.  Chop into course pieces and allow to air dry for a few days before chopping them more finely in a food processor.  Dry completely before using.  Or try this method.  Scrub the freshly dug roots and slice with a potato chipper.  After the chips dry, they will be about the size of rose petals, curve a little and stay white and look very pretty in your potpourri.
Although the Backyard Patch does not market Potpourri, I do collect recipes for potpourri, so here is one to try with your newly preserved Orris Root:
Basic Flower Potpourri

Use 6 cups of partially dried petals such as roses, chamomile, honeysuckle, violets, lilac, lilies of the valley, carnations, white jasmine and nasturtium.

Add 1 1/2 tablespoons of lemon herbs, cinnamon and rosemary.

Add 1/3 cup powdered fixative such as orrisroot and 3 drops of essential oil both available at craft stores.  Just be sure to use 100% essential oil, not perfume oil. Add some citrus peel too.

Mix everything together and place in airtight jars. Let the mixture stand for 4-6 weeks and shake the bottle to mix every week.

Potpourri is beautifully displayed in glass dishes or small decorative baskets. Tie 1-2 cups of potpourri into a sachet of tulle and tie with a cinnamon stick and bow for a sweet way to freshen up a lingerie drawer.

For a simple gift idea, my sister inserted a string of miniature Christmas lights into a small, decorative glass jar. Next poured the potpourri mixture around the lights. Put a crochet doily on top of the jar and secured it to the glass with a decorative ribbon allowing the end of the cord to come down the back of the glass jar. (I think she actually drilled a hole in the canning jar.) When you plug in the arrangement the warmth of the lights will warm the essential oils and release the fragrances. The jar will glow beautifully on a small end table or mantle display. Just remember this does not work with LED lights.

Years ago I added a colorful pine-based potpourri to clear glass Christmas tree ornaments and dressed them up with a fancy gold bow. Because they are stored year around in a dark, dry location the scent and color are still vibrant each year to enjoy.

1 comment:

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