To dry one or several flower lei -- the Hawaiian language doesn't use pluralization in spellings -- hang them in a well-ventilated dark room with low humidity. While other methods of drying -- a desiccant used with or without a microwave, or air-drying on a flat screen -- work well with individual flowers, they aren't the best way for lei to dry. Lei, like a bouquet or bunch of flowers, dry best by hanging them upside-down in the old-school manner, according to experts at Clemson Cooperative Extension Service and Texas AgriLife Extension Service.
If you have a haku lei -- Hawaiian head wreaths made of leaves and flowers -- wear them dried as hatbands on straw-hats, Hawaiian style. Neck lei can be displayed in your home, and you can also use them to make hatbands.
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Pre-Drying Lei Care
Ideally, flowers to be dried should be cut just before fully opening. Since this won't be the case with many lei, start the drying process as soon as possible, and in the meantime, store them in a refrigerator to maintain freshness.
From the time you receive your lei and through the drying process, handle them with care, especially those with the sweetest-smelling flowers, which are typically the most fragile, such as tuberose, yellow ginger, plumeria and pikake, also known as jasmine. No matter what type of flower, keep your lei fresh before drying them by storing them in the warmest area of the refrigerator on the warmest setting you can use -- and still keep your food fresh.
Setting Up Your Lei-Drying Room
Whether drying your lei in an attic, pantry, basement or spare room, select a space with good ventilation, low humidity, a warm climate and 24/7 darkness. The darkness helps retain colors in the flowers, and the other factors help prevent molding. Even in a dark room, blue and yellow flowers retain their colors better than pink flowers, according to Clemson Cooperative Extension. Also note that greenery may shrink; it if does, very gently nudge it and the flowers to cover any exposed string.
In a humid home climate, use an air conditioner to take the humidity out of the air while providing ventilation. Flowers dry better in mildly warm temperatures, so set the thermostat to around 75 Fahrenheit or its warmest setting. Whether you use an air conditioning or fans for ventilation, set the vents or the direction of the fans so that the air doesn't blow directly on the petals, which can become brittle when dry and shed or shatter.
Hanging the Lei
Hang each lei to dry so the flowers are upside-down. You may need to cut the lei's string to accomplish this; if you do, knot each end, so the flowers don't slide off.
Flowers Strung Front to Back
If the flowers were strung front to back, hang the lei vertically from one end, so all the flowers are facing downward. If you have several lei to hang in this manner, string a clothesline across the room, and secure each strand with a clothespin over the knot.
Support the hanging lei so that the flowers don't bunch up tightly while hanging. This will help because the more air flow the flowers receive between them, the better. One way to accomplish this is by hanging the clothesline in tiers, so, while the flowers still face downward and the lei is mostly vertical, it still has some support.
Flowers Facing Outward
If the flowers were strung facing outward, drape the lei horizontally, so the flowers face downward. To accomplish this, hang them across parallel bars such as a laundry drying rack or parallel clotheslines. You may want to use more than two lines or bars to support the fragile flowers if the lei are heavy.
Gently nudge flowers down from the two spaces you plan to attach to the bars or lines, and use clothespins to attach each of these points on the circular lei.
To prevent flowers from molding and accelerate drying, leave at least 6 inches of air space between the lei and solid surfaces such as the ceiling or floor.
Do not put the lei near a heat source, including lamps, to hurry the drying. Once dried, the lei can catch fire.
As when drying bunches of flowers or flower bouquets, your lei may take one to several weeks to dry. Generally, the less humidity and the more air flow, the more quickly lei dry.
Preserving Your Dried Lei
Once dried, you may want to spray the brittle flowers to preserve them. Use hair spray or an aerosol floral sealer to keep the petals from shedding or shattering.
Your dried lei won't have any fragrance, but before displaying them, you can add a few dabs of plumeria, white ginger, orchid, or another Hawaiian floral essential oil or perfume to enhance the fragrance.