Orris root is a term used for the roots Iris pallida. Once important in western herbal medicine, it is now used mainly as a fixative and base note in perfumery, the most widely used fixative for potpourri. Orris is also an ingredient in many brands of gin.
After an initial drying period, which can take five years or more depending on the use, the root is ground. For potpourri, this powder is used without further processing. For other uses, it is dissolved in water and then distilled. One ton of iris root produces two kilos of essential oil, also referred to as orris root butter, making it a highly-prized substance.
Its fragrance has been described as tenaciously flowery, heavy and woody.Typical iris perfumes (where orris prevails over the other components) are: "Orris Noir" by the London-based perfume house contains regular orris root oil, not the oil of Iris nigricans, which is an endangered species.The root is used to make medicine. Orris root is generally used in combination with other herbs and can be found in homeopathic dilutions and tea preparations.
Orris root is used for “blood-purifying,” “gland-stimulating,” increasing kidney activity, stimulating appetite and digestion, and increasing bile flow. It is also used for headache, toothache, muscle and joint pain, migraine, constipation, bloating, diabetes, and skin diseases.
Some people use orris root to treat bronchitis, colds, cancer, back pain caused by the sciatic nerve (sciatica), and swelling (inflammation) of the spleen. It is also used to cause vomiting, empty the bowels, and promote calmness.Orris root is sometimes applied directly to the affected area for bad breath, nasal polyps, teething, tumors, scars, muscle and joint pain, burns, and cuts.
Historically, orris root was highly prized in the perfume industry. The root develops a pleasant violet-like scent when it dries. This scent continues to improve in storage, reaching its peak in about three years. Orris root was widely used in face powders and other cosmetics until people noticed it was causing allergic reactions.
Orris root powder is still used extensively in potpourris, sachets, and pomanders. It even prolongs the scent of the other oils.Superstition has long held that the orris root can be used to find and hold love. Orris root has also been used in tinctures to flavour syrups.Today, powdered orris root is used in cosmetic preparations and as a fixative in herbal sachets and pot pourri.
The whole orris root is carried, the powder is added to sachets, sprinkled on sheets, clothing and the body, and around the house. Orris root powder is sometimes called "Love Drawing Powder".In cuisine, orris root is often included as one of the many ingredients of Ras el hanout, a blend of herbs and spices used across the Middle East and North Africa, particulary in Morocco.