Maybe you think potpourri is boring. For oldsters. Something your grandma keeps in the guest rooms. Maybe you think it would be more interesting if it involved, like, thirty-million obscure ingredients, a long period of fermentation and possibly mold. Well buckle up, grandad, because I’ve got news that’s gonna blow your mind all over your face.

“Moist” potpourri. Yes. Because it turns out “pourri” is actually French for “rotten.” (Oh, you knew that, M. Smartie-pantalons? Well why don’t you write a blog if you’re so clever.)

As it turns out, “pot-pourri” was once a mix of fresh herbs, which were salted and kept in a crock until they fermented. Incroyable! For a first hand recipe, take a look at this letter to the editor, from The Monthly Magazine, published 1804:

Moist Pot-Pourri AMoist Pot-Pourri B

To the Editor of the Monthly Magazine.

SIR, it appears, that your Correspondent Rosalba, following the directions given in your number for July, p. 550, has failed in her attempts to make the pot pourri : and permit me to add, Sir, that whoever follows those directions must fail ; for the genuine pot-pourri never was and never can be made according to that recipe. To prevent future failures, and furnish a proper answer to Rosalba question, have the goodness to publish the following, and you will oblige your’s, &c.

Manchester Sept. 8, 1804.


A RECIPE for making the famous PERFUME, termed by the FRENCH POT-POURRI.

Orange-flowers, and common rose-leaves of each one pound.
Leaves of red pinks, half a pound.
Leaves of marjoram and myrtle, care- fully picked, each half a pound.
Leaves of musk roses, thyme, lavender, rosemary, sage, camomile, melilot [sweet clover], hyssop, sweet basil, and balm, of each two ounces.
Jessamine flowers, two or three handfuls.
Laurel leaves, fifteen or twenty.
Exterior rind of lemons, a large handful.
Small green oranges, about the same quantity.
Salt, half a pound.

Put all into a well-leaded earthen jar, and stir the whole carefully with a wooden spatula or spoon twice a day for a month.

Afterwards add,
Florentine white iris, and benzoine, of each twelve ounces.
Cloves and cinnamon powdered, of each two ounces.
Mace, storax, calamus aromaticus, and Cyprus (bois de Rhodes) of each one ounce.
Lemon-coloured sandal, and long sweet cyprus. of each six drachms. [A drachm (dram) is 1/8 of an ounce.]

Stir all together, as before directed, and the issue will be the complete genuine delightful perfume, termed pot-pourri. The proportions specified above must be care fully attended to ; as on this much of the perfection of this elegant composition depends; the quantities being so adjusted that in the combination of all these fine odours not one is found to predominate beyond another.

The Monthly Magazine or British Review, vol. XVIII part II 1804: 312. (With many thanks to Google Books.)

Is it just me, or is that letter awfully sassy? Actually, the whole magazine is like that. I’ve been paging through it, and it’s mostly been people writing in to correct previous letters and bitch about the roads in foreign countries. The more things change…