Scented Water

If you've had a disappointing summer in the garden, you're not alone. Brutal heat, patchy rain and insects of all descriptions descending on backyard gardens in record numbers have conspired to make this season one for the record books. If you stuck it out, (water hose in one hand and organic pesticide in the other) you deserve a T-shirt that reads: "Garden Guru - My landscape survived the summer of 2012."

Before you start lamenting your losses and planning next year's more invincible garden, I have a few fall projects that are worth an afternoon's effort harvesting any stalwart herbs or flowers that still call your flowerbeds home. First up is a simple recipe for scented water. The beauty of this project is that it's easy, very flexible and produces a mild but attractive fragrance you can use in lots of ways around the house.

Commercial Scents May Not Be That Healthy

It turns out the air fresheners and colognes you're probably used to may not be very good for your indoor environment or your family's health, either. Many room deodorizers and perfume products contain complex chemical compounds that may smell good but could pose a health risk. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has identified four basic ingredients used in most air fresheners:

  • Formaldehyde
  • Petroleum distillates
  • P- dichlorobenzene
  • Propellants

Commercial fragrance recipes are also proprietary. It's almost impossible to know everything that's in them. Some use hundreds of ingredients in a single preparation, many of which have probably never been tested for safety.

Back in the days when energy was cheap and people weren't as diligent about insulating their homes, there was better natural air flow in and out of indoor environments. Today the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) you introduce into your home hang around longer and have more time to cause problems like allergic reactions. The four ingredients above have been linked to eye irritation, skin problems, sore throat, respiratory problems and headaches.

When you create a nice rose, lavender or other flower water, you have control over the entire process. The fragrance may not be complex and hauntingly . . . well, whatever the marketers are using as an enticement this season. The preparation will be your own creation, safe and easy to produce with simple ingredients and plants from your garden.

Making Scented Water

We're working with the simplest water based preparation today. You can use just about any non-toxic scented flower or plant for this recipe. I like using rose petals or lavender blossoms. There are many other options, though. Mixing flower varieties offers plenty of room for creative experimentation, too.

I've been making scented water for years, and it's always fun and surprising. Even using flowers from the same plants year after year can yield different results. Sometimes my rose water smells amazing and strong.  Other years the scent is more subtle and delicate.  Making rose or lavender water is a chance to capture a little bit of garden magic to tide me over until next spring.  I think you'll like it too.
Flower Scented Water Recipe

2 cups tightly packed flower petals (avoid using leaves or stems)
2 cups distilled water (available at most grocery stores)


  1. Wash flower petals in cold water. Swish them around and let them soak for a half-hour or so to coax out any dirt or freeloaders (bugs).
  2. Drain the petals completely using a colander or salad spinner.
  3. Place distilled water in a medium sized pan.
  4. Add the petals.
  5. Bring the water to a slight simmer. (Watch for tiny bubbles to form.)
  6. Simmer uncovered for two to two and a half hours. (Keep simmering for about a half hour after the petals become translucent.) Never let the water reach a full boil. Check periodically and dial back the heat if necessary. Boiling the contents will cook the petals and destroy the fragrance.
  7. Cool the mixture and strain it through cheesecloth or a coffee filter, pressing the roses to extract all the liquid.
  8. Discard the petals.
  9. Pour the mixture into a glass jar and refrigerate. (I like using a glass spray bottle.)

Flower Water Ingredient Options

Here are some garden or grocery ingredients you may not have considered for their scent potential:

  • Citrus peel
  • Citrus blossoms
  • Myrtle
  • Rosemary
  • Sage
  • Peppermint
  • Vanilla bean
  • Cinnamon sticks
  • Allspice berries

Tips and Tricks for Making Scented Water

If you're making rose water, prefer very aromatic roses.

If you have flowers but not in the necessary quantities, freeze flowers as they blossom until you have enough for the recipe. Then defrost the lot.

Use flowers that haven't been sprayed with pesticides. (I actually have a little insecticide free zone filled with rose bushes grown specifically for herbal preparations.)

Write down your recipe experiments. (It's half the fun.)  I made a wonderful scented water a few years ago using jasmine as a base. It was light and sweet. I didn't write down the recipe, though, and have never been able to recreate it.

Depending on the flowers you use, scented water can come out tinted blue, purple, pink, red, yellow or orange.  Usually, the shading is faint and doesn't cause a problem.  If you have a white couch, carpet, or drapes, be sure to test a small area before spraying to avoid potential problems with stains.

Uses for Scented Water

Scented water is useful around the house and as a personal scent. It doesn't have the heavy, chemical or alcohol smell of commercial fresheners or other fragrance products:

Place scented water in the rinse when you wash clothes. This works particularly well with linens and bath towels.

Put a little on your clothes as you iron. This one actually works best when spritzed on using a pump sprayer instead of the water reservoir in your iron. Irons can be persnickety.

Freshen the carpeting. Spray the scented water evenly on the carpet until it feels just slightly moist to the touch. Open the windows to increase air flow, and avoid foot traffic for a couple of hours.

Freshen upholstery and pillows with an occasional spritz. (I like spraying homemade fragrance on floor pillows -- the kind that always look so big and inviting. The kids love it.)

Scent stationery with it.

Add it to your bath water for a relaxing soak that smells as good as it feels.

Place a little in your humidifier. If you use an antibacterial flower as a base, like lavender, it will even help sanitize your humidifier.

Spray it on a musty mattress. Vacuum and air the mattress first, and let it dry completely before making up the bed after spraying.

Spritz a little on your wrists as a cologne substitute.

Spray a little on your drapes and then open the windows. The circulating air will distribute fragrance all through your house.


EPA. "Air Fresheners." 5/9/12. (9/1/12).

Science Daily. "Chemical In Many Air Fresheners May Reduce Lung Function." 7/27/06. (9/1/12).

Masters, Coco. "How 'Fresh' Is Air Freshener?" TIME. 9/24/07. (9/1/12). http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1664954,00.html


RosePetals_Wiki.jpg: By Flickr: Marc Smith (http://www.flickr.com/photos/marc_smith/386159896/) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

RosePetals1MF.jpg: http://morguefile.com/archive/display/65122


  1. Could you steep these in a crockpot rather than stovetop? I'm notorious for walking away and forgetting or getting distracted somehow. Just wondering...

    1. Mama Peck,

      That is a inspired idea! I going to try that today. Thanks!


  2. Love this! I've been trying to think of a way to use the rosemary we have. Would the ratio be the same for all the plants suggested? Also, formaldehyde?! Are these people freaking crazy?

    1. Hi Kristina,

      Choosing the right proportions can be challenging, particularly if you're using delicately scented flowers. With rosemary, you should be fine with the recipe above.

      When you use other plant varieties though, experiment a little. I've found that more is usually better than less. If your scented water isn't as strong as you'd like, you can also add more petals and simmer it longer -- or add a couple of drops of essential oil.

      They're both cheats, but I've found that scented water does lose some of it's strength over time, and a power booster is a sure fix.

      Hope this helps,



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