Heavenly pomanders

December 30, 2002|by Dorry Baird Norris

The original pomander was a mixture of aromatic substances rolled into a ball and carried in the hand or in a bag. It was deemed a sovereign protection against all manner of pestilence. During the Middle Ages this glob of scent was elevated to a new status when artisans created beautifully crafted hollow, perforated globes of gold silver, ivory, wood or crystal.

These were filled with an astounding assortment of fragrant and precious spices and oils. Whenever the well-to-do deigned to go out among the common people they carried these fragrant balls to mask the odor of those who, in truth, could be charitably called the "great unwashed." Many regarded these fragrant balls as a defense from disease. They were very fashionable during the plague.

During the reign of Queen Elizabeth it became the custom to give these decorative and costly pomanders, filled with appropriate scents, as New Year's gifts. This fad was far too expensive for the common folk - instead they offered an orange studded with cloves, tied with ribbon and a sprig of rosemary as a fragrant substitute.


Today when we think of pomanders we are more inclined to think of the home-made fruit and spice variety than the more sumptuous sort.

Creating a pomander can be a tedious business when you use large oranges. I prefer a quicker version utilizing smaller limes or lemons. Recently I have even made them with the new citrus kid on the block, Father Clement Rodier's clementines. Give them away if you want or pile them on top of greens to fill your home with fragrance.

It goes without mentioning that these clove studded fruits are no longer edible.

  • Supplies

  • Lemons, lime or clementines. Select ones with a firm, thin skin.

  • Whole cloves. It takes a lot of cloves to do even one lemon so it's less expensive to buy large container at a discount store.

  • Bamboo skewer

  • Spice mixture:

  • 1 jar Five Heavenly Spices

  • 2 tablespoons powdered allspice

  • 3 tablespoons powdered cloves

  • 2 tablespoons of fixative (optional)

It is traditional to add orris root as a fixative to this mixture but we have left it out since many people are allergic to it. Fixatives add their own fragrance to the compound, "marry" the fragrances into a harmonious blend and act to release the fragrance over a long period of time.

Instead, you might try powdered oak or reindeer moss or cedar sawdust. All three have insect repellent qualities and are available in craft stores.

Combine spices in a low bowl. Press whole cloves into fruit, covering it completely. If the skin of the fruit is thick or tough you may have to punch holes for the cloves with the skewer. When you've finished the fruit may be juicy, which is fine. This helps the spice mixture adhere to the fruit.

Roll the cloved fruit in the spice mixture. Shake off the excess. Any spice mix that remains can be stored in a covered jar in the refrigerator for later use. If you find your pomanders are losing their aroma, mist lightly with water and roll again in the spice mixture.

Place pomanders in a paper bag and allow to dry thoroughly in a warm dry place for several weeks.

If you would like to hang your pomanders - they are wonderful to freshen a closet - push a skewer through the center of the fruit. Run ribbon through the eye of a large needle. Pull the ends of the ribbon even and tie in a knot.

We lay no claim to the curative or disease prevention qualities of your pomanders, but we're sure they will lift your winter weary spirits.

Herbarist, lecturer and Hagerstown resident Dorry Baird Norris is a member of the International Herb Association, a member-at-large of the Herb Society of America and author of "The Sage Cottage Herb Garden Cookbook." She welcomes questions about the non-medical use of herbs. E-mail her at or write in care of The Herald-Mail Co., P.O. Box 439, Hagerstown, Md. 21741.

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