Decorating with nature is a lovely thing. Forced blooms and pine sprigs in the winter, wildflowers in the spring and summer, fall leaves in the autumn -- they bring the outside in without relying on the florist industry or plastic facsimiles of the plant world. But fall leaves are tricky. Not long after you pick up a leaf or find a branch of spectacular color as a souvenir of the season, it fades and disintegrates like a piece of ancient tattered newspaper.
But if you'd like to preserve the colors and texture of fall leaves, there's a simple trick that comes in the form of vegetable glycerin, an organic emollient, which can be purchased at any craft or art supplies store. Here's the how-to:
1. Find a bunch of small branches full of leaves at the peak of their color, yet that haven't yet experienced a frost; this method won't work on branches that have seen a frost. (Branches and sprigs that have fallen to the ground are best if you, like me, feel mean tearing things off of trees.) The glycerin will change the color a bit so keep that in mind when hunting: Yellow intensifies, reds and oranges turn a vibrant ruddy, green magnolia leaves become russet with a deep glossy veneer.
2. Pound the end of each branch with a hammer to open it and allow it to soak up the glycerin.
3. Fill a bucket with a half-gallon of water. Add 17 ounces (2 cups plus 2 tablespoons) of glycerin and 4 to 5 drops of liquid dish soap to the water, which will help the glycerin.
4. Stand the branches in the bucket and store them in a shaded place for three to five days for the glycerin to be absorbed into the leaves -- the branches are ready when the leaves are vibrant and feel supple (magnolia branches may take up to three to six weeks).
You can use the leaves in floral arrangements, crafts, wreaths, scrap books, cards...or wherever you would like a vibrant pop of color to remind you of the season.