Pressing plants, leaves, herbs and flowers is an ancient tradition across almost every culture to preserve their beauty for keepsakes, crafts and gifts.
There are two most often used methods of pressing to preserve plants: between the pages of an old heavy book (I once bought a second hand copy of Alice in Wonderland and found a pansy in the leaves – which was very sweet), but the most convenient and useful is a proper flower press.
You can actually also iron plants (carefully!) although I only employ this technique for a quick ‘set’ to start off with rather than for full drying myself. There are also some ways use a microwave (I’ve no intention to try this, so I can’t comment on whether it is effective). I like that flower pressing takes thought, time and patience. The rush of doing it in minutes detracts from its inherent gentle nature and seems an anathema to me. However, if you needed dried flowers as part of a business, such as hand making paper, I understand the speedy results appeal.
I’ve given you some ideas here on how to get the most out of a traditional style flower press, but most of these suggestions are relevant to using the weighted book method too.
This article includes helpful hints and tips on:
- Blotting material choices
- Preparing the plants
- Placing plants in the press
- When is it ready?
- Ideas for using pressed plants and flowers (craft and project suggestions)
To make your own proper flower press very easily and cheaply, please see my post on Making a flower and herb press
Blotting material choices
You’ll need to press your flowers and plants between two sheets of a type of paper to help wick away any moisture and dry them out. There are a number of options, some of which need to be chosen carefully dependent on which plants you are pressing:
- Blotting paper – this is ideal and not as hard to get hold as you’d think online or in stationery stores. The advantage of proper blotting paper is that it usually comes in larger sheets so you can cut the perfect size out for your press. It’s also quite thick and can normally be used multiple times before it needs replacement. I’ve also successfully dried used blotting paper out in the sun and continued to extend its useful life
- Kitchen tissue paper – while this does the job of drying plants out well and has the advantage of being cheap and easy to obtain, it normally comes with an imprinted pattern on. This is fine for more robust leaves or waxy petals, but will leave the pattern on delicate plants. Also go for a plain white kitchen tissue if you do use it – and colour might transfer to the plant. Best to experiment on something not so important first. Alternatively, this can be used in conjunction with a thinner paper (such as tissue paper) as a wadding layer for thicker plants
- Acid free tissue paper – a great option, but it’s not always easy to find the acid free version though. Use a number of sheets to provide a thick layer (one or two layers won’t work). Needs replacing in the press more often than other materials
- Toilet tissue – don’t use the imprinted kind (see the note about kitchen paper). Useful as an emergency find! Bear in mind not to put the perforation line over a plant – it’s best used for smaller items that are covered entirely by the size of one sheet. As per kitchen tissue, use plain white
- Printer paper – most printing paper is quite smooth and doesn’t work that well. Can be used at a pinch but may not dry out the plant that well and may need frequent changing
- Newsprint, magazine paper etc – to be avoided. The print technique for newspapers does not set the ink with heat and it’s very transferable (how many times have you read a newspaper and got the ink on your fingers?). Magazine printing is heat set but the paper is glossy and flimsy and basically useless. Avoid
- Watercolour paper and handmade paper – the flat type works brilliantly but this is difficult to come by (most papers of these type are textured). A rather expensive paper just for pressing flowers!
- Hand tissues – these can work OK, but stick to white and un-embossed ones
Preparing the plants
- Take the most perfect flowers and leaves you can find
- Flowers, leaves and plants that are naturally flattish or are delicate work best of all
- For bigger blooms or large flower heads consider picking off all the petals and pressing these flat, rather than the whole flower head
- Large, thick items can be sliced and dried – such as half a flower head, or a slice out of a rose or poppy head (such things make an interesting scientific-botanical style dried specimen)
- Pick flowers and plants ideally when they are dry (without dew or rain on) but still plump and glossy and not starting to fade or go limp from water loss
- If you can’t avoid picking when wet, dab off what you can gently and hang them up or stand upside down on tissue (see below) for an hour or two till bone dry
- Don’t put any plants in a press (or book) which are at all damp (note that you won’t be able to avoid any wetness from the end of cut stems completely)
- Give the specimen a good look-over – imagine how do you want it to appear when dry. Pick off any leaves that will stop it from pressing flat or buds, smaller leaves etc that you don’t want or that are damaged. Often you can arrange the petals or leaves a little to make the finished specimen look its best
- Thick flower heads and thick waxy leaves don’t press that well and may take a very long time to dry. This means they are susceptible to going brown at the edges or encouraging the growth of mould. That said, do experiment with specimens that aren’t precious (in case you have to discard them) to find what works (I’ve had some good successes with whole rose heads for example)
- While not necessary as a step when using a press, you can give the flowers a ‘head start’ into the position you want by giving them a quick iron! Place them between two sheets of your blotting material and put the iron on its lowest setting. Press down for a few seconds, let go for a few moments to cool, then repeat two or three times. This is particularly helpful when you want to put a thicker flower in a press (I used this technique with the roses mentioned above) or want a stem or leaf stalk to dry in a particular position
- Some flowers and leaves fade after pressing, while a few seem to become more intensified in colour (pansies and violas are great for this). The best thing is to experiment and jot down your own notes about what works for you
Placing plants in the press
- Try and press as quickly after picking as you can (bearing in mind any drying off you need to do) to capture the plant at that moment
- If pressing multiple items in one leaf of your press (for example you might be able to fit a number of leaves or pansy heads in one leaf) make sure they don’t touch each other
- Make sure no part of a plant hangs outside the blotting paper/press
- Prepare each ‘leaf’ of your press like a sandwich: you should have the cardboard inner, then a sheet of blotting material, then the plant(s), then another sheet of blotting material, then the next cardboard inner (which is then used as the base for the next flower sandwich)
- Put all your weight on the press while tightening the wingnuts/screws to ensure it’s as tight as possible
- Place your filled and clamped flower press somewhere dry
- Check periodically during the drying period that the press hasn’t loosened. Tighten the screws up accordingly
When is it ready?
- Thinner specimens may only need up to a couple of weeks, for example gysopfila, viola, borage flowers, calendula petals, dill or fennel, coriander leaves, nasturtium petals or similar
- Larger or thicker items may take up to a month (especially any plants that are designed to hold on to water in a dryer climate). For these, peek at them after two weeks to check they’re not browning or going mouldy and that the blotting paper doesn’t need changing. Discard anything – including the blotting material it is in – that is going brown or shows mould and start again
- Change the blotting paper only if it appears damp or very discoloured from the plant. I have seen other instructions that say replace often, but I’ve found it’s not necessary to worry too much about changing this. After all, if you were pressing using a book, you’d just leave it in there. Only change if you think the drying process would benefit from new blotting material
- The plants will be ready when they look and feel ‘crisp’. But be gentle! They’re now very brittle and stems, leaves and petals can snap or tear and destroy those precious weeks of waiting
Ideas for using pressed plants and flowers (crafts and projects)
- Birthday and other cards
- Wedding invites and place cards
- Gift tags
- Decorating journals
- Pressed into wax candles or soaps
- Arranged in glass frames
- Edible plants that have been pressed can be stored and used for cake, bread and other food decorations or ingredients. A few words of caution: please be careful and consult a recognised list of edible plants. Also, bear in mind only some parts of a flower might be edible – for instance tulip petals can be edible, but other parts of a tulip are toxic. Also, even though a plant or flower is edible it may just be a dusty, dry old piece of paper to eat after pressing and only worth using as a decoration!
Don’t forget to visit my post on making your own flower press!