Pomanders, in their various forms, have been used to add delightful scents to people’s lives since the middle ages. The word “pomander” actually comes from a French phrase, pomme d’ambre, which translates to “apple of amber.” Originally filled with perfumes, early pomanders were wooden, metal or porcelain balls that were either placed around a room or carried on one’s person. These early pomanders included various herbs, spices, and even ambergris that were ground up into a fine powder and placed in a ball or even a pouch. There are paintings of Queen Elizabeth I holding her pomander ball.
Remember, folks didn’t have air fresheners or deodorant back then, so if you lived in a particularly aromatic place, carrying a ball of perfume around was a pretty good idea. During times of plague in Europe, it was believed that the unpleasant smells caused by lack of sanitation could carry the disease - therefore, carrying something nice to sniff should keep you safe from illness.
Around the eighteenth century, many well-to-do Europeans latched onto the idea of studding an orange -- which was certainly hard to come by -- with cloves. This could be given to friends or family as a gift for Christmas or New Year’s.
Today, people use pomanders primarily as a room freshener or decorative item - after all, we’re not usually trying to avoid the plague anymore. They can be placed in drawers to keep clothing smelling nice, left in decorative bowls to freshen a room, or even used in aromatherapy.
- An orange
- Whole cloves
- Small pins
Wrap the orange in ribbon - usually a quick cross design is simple and easy. You can use the pins to hold the ribbon on place. Use the cloves to stud the skin of the orange in any design you like -- you can do them in rows, spirals, or even a pentacle on either side! Be sure that the cloves don’t touch one another. If they do, as the orange dries, you may notice cloves falling out. Try to include a lot of cloves, whichever pattern you choose to use - less empty space is better as the orange dries out.
Some people like to roll their studded pomander in a blend of spices. To do this, mix equal parts cinnamon, nutmeg, or your other favorite scents into a bowl, and roll the orange in the mix until it’s completely coated.
The orange will last longer if you “cure” it, or dry it out. To do this quickly, you can place it in the oven at a low temperature (around 150 degrees) for an hour or two - the bonus to this is that it makes your house smell spectacular.
If you’ve got a little more time, you can place your clove-studded orange in a paper bag, and let it sit in a cool, dry place for four to six weeks. Be sure to check your orange periodically to make sure it hasn’t begun to mold - if it does, it mean that cool dry place has moisture in it, and you’ll need to throw your orange away.
A cured pomander will last a very long time. Once it’s done drying out, add decorative ribbon so you can hang it up for all to see - you may want to use decorative pins to hold the ribbon in place. If you make a bunch of pomanders, place them in a bowl where they’ll look pretty through the Yule holiday season.
The orange is associated, like many fruits, with abundance, fertility and prosperity. As you’re making pomanders with oranges, you can incorporate them into magical practice. As you poke the cloves through the skin, focus your intent on bringing abundance your way.