Few hobbies are more quietly harmonious and beautiful than the art of pressing and creating with dried, pressed flowers. A practice that’s endured for thousands of years, pressing buds, petals, blooms, and leaves is a sure way to slow down, become more conscious of the nature available to you, and be mindful of the precious moments of everyday life.
As long as you can get close enough to a few plants to pluck a leaf or two and maybe a flower on the way, you can enjoy this technique. It’s not cost prohibitive, and it’s generally accessible to all. As long as you have a heavy book and a park nearby, you’re on your way. You may be surprised at some of the early uses and practices. Read on to discover the origins and how you too can create this enduring art.
From Japan, to Europe, to your backyard
The art of pressing flowers originated in Japan during the 16th century. Oshibana is the art of using pressed flowers and other botanical elements to create an entire picture from these natural materials. It consists of drying flower petals and leaves in a flower press to flatten and exclude light and moisture.
These pressed flowers are then used to “paint” an artistic composition. Samurai warriors in Japan were said to have created Oshibana as one of their disciplines to promote patience, harmony with nature and powers of concentration.
As trade with Japan increased in the mid-1800s, western countries became fascinated with the use of pressed flowers as an art form. By the late 1800s, flower pressing had taken hold as a favorite pastime in England and the U.S. There were many reasons that an individual might collect flowers during this time, from the sentimental (preserving a flower given as a gift from a loved one) to the scientific (keeping a botanical scrapbook to aid in identifying native blooms).
Flowers of the time were often found framed behind glass in elaborate arrangements, sometimes with pieces of ribbon to complement the blooms, or meticulously organized in scrapbooks with their taxonomic descriptor written next to them. Specimens were housed in researchers’ personal collections, and extra specimens were traded with other botanists.
This convergence of art and science deftly wove together cultures and gardens from across the globe. The preservation of pressing has allowed plant life to be admired, studied, shared, and loved by people from different places, with different specialties, and even, from different centuries.
How to press flowers
- Choosing your flowers:
- Pick your flower right when it blooms to preserve the best color. The color of the flower is prone to fading when pressed.
- The best flowers for pressing include ones with a single layer of petals and flat faces. Some examples: violets, pansies, single-petal shrub roses, ferns, single daisies, cosmos, larkspur, small herbs, California poppies, queen anne's lace or other wildflowers with flattened blooms.
- Make sure the flower is in its best condition, meaning no blemishes or tears.
- Avoid using wet flowers, since they are prone to mold.
- Pick a flower that has a flat bud. If the bud is globe shaped, try cutting it in half, that way it is easier to press.
- What to use to press:
- You can use a heavy book or a standard flower press.
- To absorb the moisture of the flowers, use an absorbent paper such as parchment paper in between the page/paper and the flower.
- Flower presses have screws that tighten the press to flatten the flowers.
- When using a book, depending on the weight, you may need more books to stack on top to better press the flower.
- Extracting the flowers:
- After letting the flowers press for about 3 to 4 weeks, they should be ready to be removed and used.
- We recommend using tweezers when removing the flowers since they are delicate.
Simply wait, then decorate
There are many creative and simple uses for your pressed florals. Some of our favorites are arranging them in a frame or ornament, decorating bookmarks and greeting cards, or making herbarium sheets for study and identification. It can also be a lovely way to preserve flowers from a special occasion or memory.
There’s no training needed to get started. So next time you’re on a walk, collect a nice leaf or little bloom, tuck it in a book when you get home, and imagine perhaps someone, someday finding your collection of preserved flowers and daydreaming about who you may have been. You, the best kind of person: a person who paused to notice and celebrate nature.
Gabriela Rodríguez Cortés
Floral Designer and Contributing Writer
Contributing Writer and Poet