How to preserve autumn leaves

Collect autumn leaves and preserve them in glycerine to create the perfect focal point for creative winter projects

Preserving autumn leaves

In autumn and early winter, chlorophyll, the green pigment within leaves, is absorbed back into the plant, and the red and yellow pigments, present all year round, are unmasked. 

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The leaves of maples, Boston ivy and cherry are jewel-like, and I always have a strong urge to collect them. But then they dry up quickly and begin to decay. I’ve often wondered about putting them into suspended animation.

Last year, I tried preserving leaves and berries in glycerine for the first time. They remained pliable and shiny and didn’t fade or dry: leafy joy!  

Close-up of a woman's hand holding a bunch of vibrantly-coloured autumn leaves in shades of yellow, red and orange.
Collecting autumn leaves ©Getty

You will need

  • Your chosen leaves, berries or flowers
  • Glycerine (found in the baking aisle or at the chemist)
  • Water
  • Baking trays, roasting tins or a tall jug
1

Gather your leaves

Preserving autumn leaves
Gather your autumn leaves ©Emma Mitchell

Lay out your leaves; birch, maple, Boston ivy, cotoneaster and cherries work well. Make a solution of one-part glycerine, two-parts water. The glycerine replaces some of the water molecules in the leaf cells, preventing the loss of colour and halting decay. Pour the glycerine solution into a large roasting tray. 

2

Soak in glycerine

Preserving Autumn Leaves
Soak your autumn leaves in glycerine ©Emma Mitchell

Place the stems and/or leaves into the tray and find a way to keep them submerged within the solution; placing a baking tray on top of the leaves works well. Keep them in the solution for at least two days but no more than four, then remove them, rinse briefly in water and blot dry with kitchen towel.

3

Creative projects

And that’s it! The method may take several days to complete but the effort is minimal. Put your leaves in a vase (don’t add water) or use them in creative projects such as making an autumn wreath for Christmas. They last an incredibly long time; mine are still going strong from last year. 

Woodland Wreath
You can use your leaves to create a woodland wreath ©Emma Mitchell
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Main image ©Emma Mitchell