Orris Root

Appears in

Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

  • About

orris root is the dried and powdered root of the iris (Iris germanica, I. florentina—the heraldic emblem of the city state of Florence—and I. pallida). Its principal use has been medicinal (bad breath, curing the gripes in young children, and so forth), or for its perfume (which is most often likened to raspberries). The decoction orris absolute is one of the most expensive of all natural perfume materials. It has long been a component of pot-pourri. That perfume may be a reason for its being popular with gin distillers, to impart a floral note to the spirit, as well as occasionally featuring in other syrups and potions. Orris’s presence in the kitchen is largely restricted to the 16th, 17th, and early 18th centuries when it sometimes appears as a partner to ambergris, civet, and musk in, for instance, Robert May’s Portugal tarts (1661) or Mary Eaton’s pickled rosebuds (1723). As the new cooking styles of the 18th century gathered momentum, so these spices fell out of favour. It has survived, however, in Morocco where it is one of the many spices in the mixture ras-el-hanout.