Deck the Halls with Orange-Clove Pomander Balls

These old-fashioned favorites can be made easily by hand.

Before technicolor string lights, glittery garlands, and artificial flocked trees, Christmas decorations were made from materials we found around the house. In early America, fruits, foraged greenery, and other natural supplies were used for decking the halls. Before the days of electricity and big-box stores selling shiny ornaments by the dozen, do-it-yourself decorating was the go-to way for dressing up a home for the holidays.

Clove-studded oranges (also called pomanders) are one of our favorite old-fashioned Christmas traditions. They add color, fragrance, and natural beauty to the holiday season. Here's how to make, preserve, and use these aromatic pomander balls.

Make Pomanders

Photo: Ralph Anderson

A Fragrant History

Back in the day, these fragrant balls were placed in drawers to freshen up clothing and linens, and some people also carried them to ward off infections. They naturally became aromatic pieces of holiday décor. Citrus fruits adorned with cloves were hung from tree branches or arranged in bowls as festive centerpieces.

Pomanders have been so popular they've remained from colonial times to the present day. Creating these natural, sustainable pieces of holiday décor is an easy DIY project the whole family can enjoy. Bonus points for the sweet scent these fruits emit as they dry out.

Making Pomander Balls

Gather cloves and the fruits of your choice; stick with oranges or branch out with lemons, limes, and grapefruits. Spread newspapers or paper towels over your work surface (in case juice from the fruits escapes as you're decorating). Use a pen to draw your designs on the fruit before adding the cloves. We suggest punching holes in the skin with a toothpick, pushpin, or another sharp object because the rind can be tough to pierce. Add cloves to the holes.

Decorating Ideas

Arrange pomanders in a bowl for a festive centerpiece, add them to a holiday arrangement with florist picks, or hang them from the tree with pieces of ribbon or twine. The pomanders will become more aromatic throughout the season as they dry out.

Drying Pomander Balls

Fresh pomander balls will last a few days at room temperature. Refrigerate at night to ward off any mold. To extend their life, hang them up to dry before using them as decorations. Cloves will also help the pomanders dry out. For even longer-lasting pomanders, dust them with cinnamon or cure them with orris root, available at health food stores. Place them in a bag with powdered orris root and shake to cover. Preserved pomanders will last long past the holiday season.

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