Working with pressed flowers is a dark art when you think about it. You capture a plant at its absolute prime, squeeze its essence out of it as it slowly withers and dies, and you then end up with a much less beautiful, squashed version. But it’s cheap, fun and allows you to preserve memories in a different way than just a selfie.
Pressing the flowers freezes them in time, allowing you to keep flowers from rituals such as marriage and death and preserve leaves from trees planted for significant reasons like births and anniversaries. You can send these in some form (cards, resin ornaments) to loved ones who cannot physically be at a site or keep them for yourself as a memento.
On a more practical level, pressed flowers have a soft, old fashioned aesthetic that lends itself to gifts (candles, pictures) and home decorations with a feminine essence.
Preserving foliage in this way can also be quite powerful magically. One of the ways I utilise pressed flowers is to make amulets from the flowers I collect from specific power sites or from foliage that has particular magical properties. I then use these as necklaces for myself and others who need them.
Pressing flowers is something I have done since I was a child. I would gather a few of my World Encyclopedias together in a pile with newspaper, hunt down some plants from the garden and then press them for a few weeks in between articles about Maple Trees and Mayans. (M was a nice fat volume.) I used them to make little plant identification cards to remember all the New Zealand native ferns, for example. (Hopefully, I didn’t pick too many rare ones!)
The process for pressing flowers is straightforward.
So here’s what you do
- Pick good quality plant material on a dry day (and after the dampness of morning has subsided). Make sure you have permission and you aren’t taking a rare specimen or too many items from the same plant. Be mindful.
- Choose plants that dry well. For example fleshy plants and flowers that are bulbous or full of moisture don’t dry well and you can have trouble pressing them evenly. There are some great books that steer you well as to what dries well and what doesn’t (including which flowers keep their colours better).
I personally love Jennie Ashmore’s (2019) book, “The Art of Pressed Flowers and Leaves: Contemporary Techniques and Designs. It provides tables on what works and what doesn’t for selection and has inspiring examples that don’t look like an old lady created them in 1892. (I don’t get a kick back for recommending her book by the way – its just a good book)
- Place the material into heavy books (e.g old phone books), old placemats, or an actual flower press. I use all three because I press and use a lot of flowers. They all work equally well but books and old cork placements stack better to save space.
Place newspaper on each side of the plant. I also use blank printer paper (the kind that the printer spits out when you don’t want it to because you had an extra blank page in the document you forgot to remove). I’ve also used left over plain white tissue paper from presents and the odd bits from an old roll of greaseproof paper. Use paper without ink or colouring or it will transfer to the plant.
- Wait at least 2 weeks (ideally a month) to check on the plants and make sure they are completely dry with use. Peel off the paper carefully and use tweezers to handle the plants. I’m lazy and use a finger sometimes but it can increase the chance of damage.
- Store the plants in a book that’s what I do. Or find a way that works for you that doesn’t physically damage the plants, keeps them out of sunlight and dry. I like this video from Emily Witherspoon of ‘emsplace’ where she used old magazines and post it notes. In another video, Karly from Hearts and Minds at Home uses photo cases, tissue and plastic bags.
You can increase your chance of having a successful result (i.e. not mouldy, discoloured or unusable) by doing more research and being a bit more considered in the way you pick and pack the material. If it has an oddly shaped, uneven centre, for example, make sure to pack around the flower or plant so that everything is evenly weighted when pressed.
And think carefully about shapes. You may need to arrange the plant before drying it to get the desired shape at the end and pack around it to make sure this happens.
I work with plants a lot in my spiritual practice, and there are a few posts about preserving them, including this one on harvesting and drying herbs. So, take a look around, leave a comment and enjoy!