Productive Plant – Orris Root
by Debbie Bassingthwaighte
Botanical Name: Iris germanica var. florentina
Common Names: Orris Root, Florentine Iris, White Iris
Description: Orris Root is a hardy, rhizomatous perennial with stiff, veined, blue-green, sword-like leaves that grow in a fan shape. It grows to a height of approximately 50 cm and in a clump up to 40 cm wide. The large, white, attractive flowers appear in spring and early summer and are tinged with pale lavender with a yellow centre. Flowers have the typical iris appearance with three drooping petals and three outer sepals. Apart from the display of flowers, the plant is grown primarily for its bulbous rhizome which is creamy white beneath the wrinkled brown skin.
Orris Root requires full sun and deep, rich, neutral to alkaline, very well-drained soil. It prefers cooler conditions and doesn’t like to be excessively hot, humid or over-watered during summer. The plant takes at least 2 to 3 years to mature and rhizomes can be harvested from this stage onwards. Individual plants will live for 10 years if undisturbed but thrive if divided to prevent over-crowding.
Culinary Uses: Orris Root is often included as one of the many ingredients of Ras el hanout, a complex and distinctive mix of more than 20 herbs and spices which is associated with Moroccan cuisine. The roots also provide a bitter flavouring used in liqueurs and Orris is an ingredient that adds depth of flavour in many brands of gin.
Other Uses: Orris Root powder is pale cream-white with a very fine-texture like talcum powder and a distinctive aroma similar to violets. It’s invaluable for its ability to impart a violet scent to other dried plant material where it acts as a preservative, fixative and stabiliser. When used in potpourris and scented pillows or satchels, it intensifies, enhances and binds the scents of the other.