Memories of those we have loved and lost are always with us. With time, hopefully, we smile instead of cry when a particularly poignant memory is triggered. And sometimes we intentionally evoke memories with special objects that remind us of those who have passed on to the Summerland. This special remembrance potpourri is one such object. Made from dried flowers from the funeral of a loved one, as well as special herbs and flowers that have ages-old connections to death, bereavement, and funerals, it serves to help one not only remember the deceased but also to honor their life and hopefully ease the grief that comes with such loss.
This project came about as a special way to honor my father. As is often the case, there were plenty of beautiful flower arrangements present at the funeral, including those from us — his immediate family. In some families, like mine, it is acceptable, even expected, that those close to the deceased will remove some of the flowers in the arrangements present at graveside. Some are placed on the graves of other family members in the cemetery and others are taken home and dried as mementos. While not everyone present will engage in such a practice, for some of us it helps with the healing. Other flower arrangements are sent to hospitals, nursing homes, or special places of worship, and what is left goes home with close family members. While plants are easy to deal with, finding something to do with all the beautiful cut flowers presented a little bit of a challenge. These were, understandably, too special to simply pitch in the compost, and leaving them in a box somewhere seemed to serve no particular purpose either. A special potpourri, tailored to both my father’s personality and memory, seemed the obvious answer.
I think, if you aren’t lucky enough to have dried flowers from the funeral of the person you wish to honor, it is perfectly acceptable to buy or collect flowers special to that person and dry them just for this purpose. Perhaps you can even find and dry flowers that were particularly loved by the deceased.
Begin with an ivy bowl, available in many craft stores and departments. Any size will work, except for perhaps the really large ones. While you are there, pick up a lovely crocheted doily big enough to cover the top of your ivy bowl, as well as some narrow ribbon in a color you think appropriate to the person you are honoring. Leave the bowl plain or decorate it as you wish. Other symbols that would be appropriate include ivy or grape leaves, or a symbol of something that makes you think of the departed. You could also paint the bowl or decorate it in dozens of other ways.
What To Do
After you have your container, the rest is pretty easy. Here are some basic potpourri-making guidelines to get you started. Try to mix your ingredients together in any kind of bowl but a metal one. Most potpourris have a base of rosebuds or petals. Simply using the dried ingredients will usually yield a subtle scent. If you desire a stronger scent use scented oil. To help the scent last even longer, mix about ¼ teaspoon oil with either grated or chopped orris root (which is a species of the iris) or cellulose fiber fixative, available at most craft stores.
Now simply mix together the ingredients for your potpourri, perhaps retaining a few of the nicer looking flowers for the top and place them in the bowl. If you kept out any flowers, now is the time to put them on top of the mixture, arranging them as you see fit. Lace the ribbon through the edges of the doily, place the doily over the opening of the bowl, and tie it shut with a bow.
It is a pretty simple project, although what you choose to include in the potpourri may involve some difficult decisions. What follows is a list of several herbs, flowers, and other plants that one might find in a potpourri, as well as their connection to death, remembrance, and bereavement. While these plants have some sort of traditional meaning behind them, please, feel free to use whatever your heart or intuition indicates. This is a very personal project meant to be of use to you. Only you can decide what is best to include.
Herbs Associated with Death and the Spirit World
Acorns are a symbol of life and immortality itself, quite appropriate for a powerful personality who lived life to its fullest. It is also a very masculine symbol.
Almonds symbolized hope to the Greeks. Medieval Christians viewed it as an herb signifying divine approval. According to the Victorian French, almonds were a symbol of a happy marriage.
Amaranth was considered unfading and non-withering by the Greeks. It was also a symbol of immortality, probably for the same reasons. Poets later used it as a symbol of constancy and fidelity, as well as, yet again, immortality.
Birch is the first tree to leaf out in the forest in Spring. It is associated with driving out evil and symbolizes purity. Celtic dead were covered in birch boughs, perhaps indicating that the birch was a guardian spirit who helped prepare the soul for its new life and assisted in guiding it to the land of the dead. If you are lucky, the tree will have already left bits of its beautiful bark for you to find, if not, take only as much as you need and be gentle in harvesting it from the tree.
Camellias symbolize steadfastness and a love that will be there always, regardless of what life throws in the way. To the Japanese it serves to symbolize a sudden death, making their petals appropriate in potpourri for someone dying suddenly or in the prime of life.
Carnations have been associated with motherhood and Mother’s Day for nearly a century, particularly the pink colored ones. Carnations are also a popular funeral flower, making the inclusion of their dried flowers in the potpourri arrangement more than suitable in commemorating either a mother or a young child.
Chrysanthemum’s ray-like petals symbolized the rays of the sun to those in the Orient, bringing to mind the union of heaven and earth, fullness, completeness, and immortality. It is also a fitting memorial to a person with a bright and shining personality who has lived a long and full life. It is the flower of optimism and cheerfulness, as well as rest and ease after long travails.
Cypress branches are symbols of the immortal soul and the finality of death. To Greeks and Romans, the cypress symbolized their gods of the Underworld. It was also a symbol of those with connections to the nether gods such as the Fates, who foretold the time of death, and the Furies, goddesses of vengeance not to be crossed. Egyptians used the wood for mummy cases and the Greeks to make coffins for their heroes. In a nice juxtaposition, the Cypress is a symbol of joy and grace in the Far East.
Daisies represent purity, innocence, and loyal love. Interestingly enough, the flower was also considered an emblem of Aphrodite, Venus, and Freyja. Use their petals to represent a gentlewoman.
Everlastings help create a never-ceasing remembrance for your loved one.
Forget-me-nots should be obvious as a symbol of remembrance. They also represent faithful love and undying memory.
Hawthorn is representative of sweet hopes and marriage. Use hawthorn berries to represent a woman you consider a queen.
Irises were planted on women’s graves to lead their souls to the Elysian Fields. Egyptians saw the flower as a symbol of life and resurrection, associating it with Osiris and Horus. It can also signify faith, wisdom, and valor, hope, light, and power.
Lavender was added to incense in order to see ghosts, but it also soothes the soul. It can signify devotion and undying love. To the Victorians, lavender sent a message of sweet, undying love.
Lemon Balm provides comfort, either to the bereaved or to the deceased after a particularly difficult time. It is an herb of sympathy.
Lotus flowers represent many different characteristics, all of which makes their inclusion in a Remembrance Potpourri all the more appropriate. Many cultures see it as representing great mysteries and truths. The Persians saw in it the sun, not unlike the Egyptians, who considered it a symbol of creation and resurrection. To the Buddhists, it is a symbol of heaven and the Chinese use it to symbolize perfection and purity, as well as summer (another sun reference). And finally, the Japanese see the past, present, and future within the symbol of a lotus.
Maize, the food of life, was placed in the mouth of a deceased Mayan commoner.
Marigolds are flowers of grief.
Marjoram comforts and consoles. According to the Greeks, when planted on graves it helps the dead sleep in peace. Add a pinch to your mixture for the same purpose.
Oak is symbolic of strength, masculinity, stability, and longevity.
Poppies bring eternal sleep and oblivion, allowing the dead to sleep in great peace.
Roses have always been associated with love, perfection, and the transient nature of things. Perfect blossoms were equated with love, beauty, youth, perfection, and immortality. A rose’s thorns remind us of the pain of love and quilt, while the fading flowers represent the fading nature of beauty and youth. A pink bloom represents simplicity and happy love. White is the color of purity and innocence. Yellow signifies perfect achievement, courage, and occasionally jealousy. Red roses are the color of passion, sensual desire, shame, and occasionally blood and sacrifice. They are the color of lovers, young and old alike.
Rosemary means the “dew of the sea”. It has long been associated with friendship and remembrance. It is an herb of Christmas, weddings, and funerals, representing happy memories, fidelity, and love. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, mourners began bringing sprigs of rosemary to funerals, dropping them into the grave.
Sandalwood was used by Hindus and Buddhists for incense, embalming ingredients, and as wood for funeral pyres. It’s still used by Hindus today.
Sunflower petals or seeds would be a nice way to pay homage to some Native American Plains tribes who valued the flower’s seeds as a primary food source. The sunflower was so important to some Native American tribes that bowls of sunflower seeds were placed on graves to serve as sustenance on their journey to the Happy Hunting Ground.
Sweet Peas symbolize departures, making them an excellent healing flower to add in a memorial mixture.
Vervain is said to be the tears Isis wept over her dead husband
Yew has long been associated with death, immortality, and resilience. It was often planted in graveyards. It is a plant of grief, sorrow, faith, and resurrection.
The following ingredients obviously aren’t even plants, but they have uses and connotations in common with our subject of death, remembrance, and burial. Any of these stones would make nice add-ins to your potpourri.
Amethyst is such a peaceful, healing stone. It would be excellent to include in such a special potpourri.
Copal was burned as funerary incense by the Maya. It would make a nice, scentful addition.
Jade was used by the Maya in a death ritual where jade beads were placed in the mouth of the deceased, possibly to symbolize life or breath. It was included among Chinese grave goods for similar reasons.
Jet, a stone of protection, is also found among old grave goods. Victorians used the stone extensively in mourning jewelry, often incorporating locks of the deceased’s hair into specially designed mountings.
Turquoise, one of my favorite stones, was used by some Native American tribes to guard their dead.
Remember this project is supposed to help you. It isn’t just to keep your departed loved one’s memory but to help you continue on the path of healing. The loss of someone we care deeply for is never an easy thing. Neither is healing from such a trauma; it takes time. Be patient. Take what I’ve written here and make it your own. Add whatever trinkets, herbs, flowers, and doo-dads you see fit to add. And remember, things do get easier with time. Someday you’ll look upon your ivy bowl of potpourri and mementos and a smile will cross your face.