Desiccants

Here is a really great method that preserves flowers shape, size and bright colours and so and is a favourite way for preserving wedding bouquets. The flowers last a very long time - as long as they are always kept airtight and out of direct sunlight. The technique is suitable for most flowers and foliage but not succulents or plants with fleshy leaves.

What are Desiccants?

Desiccants are chemical agents that absorb moisture. They always need to be kept in an airtight container. Desiccants that are suitable for drying and preserving flowers are:

- Silica gel
- Borax
- Mixture e.g. mix 1 part silica gel to 4 parts borax (sieve any lumps out of borax first).
- Silver Sand
- and believe it or not some people use cat litter! (though this doesn't work very well for delicate flowers as they tend to get broken).

Silica Gel:

This desiccant is reputed to have the best and quickest results. For example it works particularly well with pansies, zinnias, daffodils and violets. Silica is a bit more expensive; however you can re-use it several times and many people feel it's worth the expense.

Though it's called gel it's actually more like fine crystals than a gel. You'll find silica sold in many garden or craft shops or florists. There are several different brands. The best gel to get is one with a colour indicator - for example the silica crystals start blue but then turn pink when they absorb moisture. When they are all pink you know that the moisture has been absorbed from your flowers and that you need to dry the crystals out again before re-using. To dry them out you spread the silica on a shallow baking tray and then put it in an oven for one hour at 250C until the crystals turn blue again.

Method:

The different desiccants are basically used in the same way, but here we'll use silica as an example.

Treat your flowers immediately after picking. Find an air-tight lidded container that is 6" deeper than your flowers, and any leaves, that you want to dry. Fill the bottom of the container with 2-3 cm of silica. Lay your flowers, petals or leaves in the silica. Make sure the petals or leaves don't overlap. Carefully spoon the silica all around the flowers. Make sure you cover all the gaps so there is no air but don't bruise or crush the petals. You can do more than one layer, but then it can be a good idea to do only one type of flower so that they are ready about the same time. Fill the container so that there is no air at the top. Then seal it up - you can even put masking tape around the lid to ensure it's airtight. Leave it somewhere dry and label it with date and type of flower.

Drying times vary (and silica is the quickest desiccant). Many flowers may be dry in 1-2 days. However, a rose may need 10 days, or an orchid may take 2 weeks. You'll know when they are ready because the silica crystals will have gone pink, and the flowers will feel dry and papery.

Carefully tip out the flowers and shake off excess silica. Use a small paintbrush to remove any crystals or powder left on the flowers.

Remember: Now the dried flowers need to be kept airtight or they will attract moisture again and go limp. You also need to keep them out of direct sun or their colours will bleach.

It may be a good idea to practice a little before trying to dry an absolutely treasured flower (e.g. your wedding bouquet). Good luck with this pastime of nature & art and special memories.

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