Lovers of dried flowers cook up an easier way -- the microwave

July 30, 1994|By Kraylen Kelly | Kraylen Kelly,Special to The Sun

You can hang them, press them, bury them or stretch them out on racks. But that's for traditionalists. The hip and hurried will simply turn on the microwave oven the next time they want to dry flowers and foliage.

The standard four methods all require days or weeks to execute, and often, the final product isn't true to the original flower in either color or shape.

With silica gel and a microwave oven, dried flowers can be achieved in minutes, and will retain their delicacy and color.

Silica gel -- not a "gel" at all, but a grainy substance resembling fine sand -- is well known to camera and gun enthusiasts as a way to keep their expensive equipment dry. The fine blue granules have the ability to absorb up to 40 percent of their weight in moisture, and can be re-used time and again.

* Choose fresh flowers with simple structures and thin petals (save the more intricate blooms until you have some experience in flower drying). Some flowers fade a little after drying, so choose bright, vivid colors. Flowers should be past the "bud" stage -- the silica gel can't penetrate to the bud's center -- but not yet mature enough to start dropping petals.

* Blossoms should be dry. Pick after the dew has evaporated, and allow to stand in a vase following watering or a rain.

* Each type of flower requires a different drying time, so separate flowers by variety. Using the floral shears, trim the stems to about an inch and a half below the flowers' heads. Insert a wooden toothpick into each flower through the stem.

* Pour an inch of silica gel in the bottom of the cardboard box or casserole. Stand the flowers upright in the granules, spacing them 2 inches from each other and from the box's sides. With the tweezers, gently open each flower's petals and sprinkle silica gel under, among and over them. Add more silica gel carefully until the flowers are covered by about an inch.

* If your microwave oven has a center rack, place the box or casserole on it so air can circulate beneath. Without a rack, put three layers of white paper towels on the oven's bottom to absorb moisture, and set the box on top of them. (Do not use recycled paper, which may have metal flakes from staples, as it can damage your oven.)

* Set your microwave's power at 30 percent ("low" or "defrost" on many microwave ovens). Drying time will depend upon the natural moisture contents of the flowers and how many are dried at one time. Six flowers in 5 pounds of silica gel will take about seven or eight minutes.

* A microwave meat thermometer can make the timing easier. Insert it upright into the center of the granules, and microwave until the temperature of the gel reaches 160 degrees.

* Flowers, like most microwaved items, continue cooking (and drying) for a short time after the oven stops. This "stand time," may vary from 10 to 20 minutes, depending upon the thickness and quantity of blooms -- thinner petals equal shorter stand times.

* When cool, begin to pour the silica gel gently from the box. As the flowers emerge from the shifting granules, carefully lift them out with a slotted spoon or spatula.

* Use the small paint brush to remove granules very gently from between the petals. If some flower centers aren't completely dry, carefully re-cover them with silica gel, and microwave for an additional 30 to 45 seconds each.

* Allow the silica gel to cool completely between batches. As the granules absorb moisture, they will begin to change color -- first to lavender, then to pink. When the silica gel has absorbed all the moisture it can hold, pour the pink granules into a flat glass casserole and microwave uncovered 10 to 12 minutes, stirring twice. As moisture evaporates, the granules will regain their bright blue color. Let them cool, and they're ready to use again.

Greenery gives depth to your floral arrangement, and leaves can be dried by the same method as flowers. Choose leaves and ferns that are full and spread, in a variety of colors and shapes. Layer them in flat tiers in the silica gel, carefully covering each layer with granules. The drying process may cause the leaves to change color slightly, from a bright, leaf-green to a duller olive.

Store your collection of dried flowers and foliage loosely, in large, flat boxes with tight-fitting covers. Cardboard boxes should be placed in plastic bags for protection from moisture. In a damp climate, pour a little silica gel into the bottom of the storage box to absorb any moisture and keep the flowers from wilting.

When you have accumulated enough dried flowers and foliage to create an arrangement, attach floral wire to the toothpick "stems" with stretchy floral tape. Dried flowers are more fragile than their fresh counterparts, so handle them carefully.

Spray your finished creations with hair spray to form a moisture and dust barrier. Your dried creations may not last as long as the pyramids, but if you keep them away from moisture and direct sunlight, you will enjoy their beauty for years to come.

WHAT YOU WILL NEED

Before starting the preservation process, collect the tools you will ne4ed;

* Fine-grained silica gel, at least 5 pounds (from craft shops).

* A large cardboard shoe box or large glass casserole.

* Wooden toothpicks.

* Floral shears.

* A small paint brush.

* A microwave meat theromometer (optional, but will make the job easier).

* Floral wire.

* Floral tape, either green or brown (available by the roll in craft or floral shops).

* Several large flat boxes, with lids )to store the flowers after drying).

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