What is a Pomander?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Pomander has several definitions, some much more used at present than long ago. Two types of pomanders existed in earlier times, especially the middle ages and the Renaissance. The first was a small case that held aromatic elements or even scented ingredients. It might be an elaborate silver ball or “apple,” hence the name which references the French term pomme with a clear crystal vase that would hold liquid scents. Many people thought that carrying such scents would protect from disease, and also given infrequent bathing and the odors of public places, pomanders might have had a very welcome and practical use.

A pomander could be a tangerine that has been dried out and spiced with cloves.
A pomander could be a tangerine that has been dried out and spiced with cloves.

In addition to carrying liquid scents, some pomander types were small containers into which fresh or fragrant smelling herbs could be added. Women and men, mostly of the upper classes, carried decorative cases that held either liquids or collections of scented items, and metals used were typically silver or gold. These decorative and fragrant balls could be attached to necklaces or to the waist, depending upon style and preference.

Pomanders are often placed in clear glass bowls.
Pomanders are often placed in clear glass bowls.

Another item called a pomander are various fruits, especially citrus fruits that are dried whole and studded with spices like cloves. These can help freshen the air, and they’re very easy to make given some whole cloves and a few oranges, lemons or tangerines. When the fruit is dried, the pomander can be hung from a ribbon and provides a natural and healthy way to make a home or a room smell sweet. Some people also make this type of pomander as a Christmas ornament.

For modern folk, pomander may conjure a completely different picture. Pomanders may refer to balls of flower arrangements, which can be hung from ceilings, carried as bouquets with a ribbon, or be a round ball floral centerpiece when attached to the appropriate base. All three are frequently used at weddings. Centerpieces of this type can be incredibly elaborate containing hundreds of flowers.

With artificial or dried flowers you can make these decorative pomanders at home too, as more than a temporary centerpiece. They can be lovely placed in clear glass bowls, and again you can make small ones to hang on Christmas trees or just for year round scent. If you use aromatic dried flowers, they may freshen a room just as effectively as the clove orange pomander does. Alternately you can keep an aromatic pomander in a drawer, especially in one dedicated to delicates, to keep clothing smelling fresh.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments


@SZapper - That sounds like fun.

I definitely had the modern version of a pomander in my house when I was growing up. From the description, it seems like pomander and potpourri are pretty much the same thing.

When I was younger, we had both a family room and a living room in our house. The living room was more formal, and we didn't really use it too much on a day to day basis except to play the piano. The room was decorated a little bit more than the rest of the house, too. My mom had a few bowl of potpourri around the room for decoration and scent.

It worked well in the room, but I usually prefer a scented candle or something like that.


When I was younger I went on a school trip to visit a "colonial farm." It was really fun! The house was from that era, and everything was pretty much original.

We learned how people used to live, what they ate, what they wore and how they didn't have plumbing! Then at the end, we got to do a craft project.

It was a fabric pomander! When we took our tour, they told us how pomanders were thought to keep disease away, but also smelled good. We were excited to make our pomanders with the dried herbs and flowers they set out for us. I kept mine hanging in my bedroom for quite awhile after that.


I was at a wedding last month where the attendants carried floral pomander balls instead of the traditional posy. Having never seen this before it was quite something.

Someone told me afterwards that there's a bridal pomander version, and some are decorated with all sorts of things such as crystals. That sounds like something to consider if you want to make your day a little bit different.


An elderly aunt died recently and my family helped clear out her house. One of the boxes in her attic had a British royal wedding pomander, sold to celebrate Prince Charles and Lady Diana's special day all those years ago.

It was a poignant find for sure, and something I will keep to remember my aunt by. I had no idea she was a particular fan of the royal family. Someone said that it may be worth some money, but I don't want to sell it.

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