Would you like to know how to cure “wagging teeth,” remove “freckles of the visage” and “botches of the face”? Medieval herbals are full of advice on these and other subjects.
Herbalists of the Middle Ages claimed that just to smell the delicate scents of fresh green herbs would “make a man merry” and preserve youth. Herbalists of today may not make such claims, but many of their modern recipes originated from ancient herbals.
Herbal beauty treatments are fun to create, and it’s comforting to know they are pure. Consider the difference between synthetic drugstore preparations and the fresh ingredients of homemade concoctions. I’d rather make my own, thanks.
Here are some recipes which are easy to prepare and lovely to use. When you are making herbal treatments of any kind avoid using metal utensils. Metals such as aluminum leave residues in water that is boiled in them. Enameled pots and wooden spoons are best. Use glass containers, and store your herbs out of the sun’s rays. Many herbs, especially mints, lose their volatile oil content when left in the sun.
Collect rose petals by picking the buds just before they bloom. Remove the green calyx, or outer covering of the petals, after the bud has been pulled from the flower base. Cut off the white petal bases while holding the petals together.
Red petals are used to make rose waters. Pink ones are used in cold creams.
From the fourteenth century Goodman of Paris (translated from the French by Eileen Power) we learn that rose water is “good for eyes and in ointments of the face, for it taketh away wems (blemishes).”
Fill a stoppered glass bottle with red rose petals. Cover these with distilled vinegar. Steep this mixture for a few days. Keep it in the fridge. When you need a refreshing astringent, soak a cloth with the vinegar and apply it to the forehead and face.
This was made especially for Queen Elizabeth of Hungary around 1235. It “ensures beauty and makes age a mere flight of time.”
Banckes’ Herbal says to “Boyle the leaves in white wine and wash thy face therewith, and thou shalt have a faire face.”
Place 6 oz. fresh rosemary tops in a large glass jar. Add 1 qt. white wine. Cover and allow to stand for 4 days. Strain and refrigerate.
Elder Flower Water
Another pleasant smelling water which is good for the complexion.
Fill a large glass jar with Elder blossoms, press down. Pour on 2 qts. boiling water. Then add 1 ½ oz. pure distilled alcohol. Cover the jar with folded linen and let it sit in the sun for a day. When it has thoroughly cooled, strain it through muslin. Pour the flower water into small bottles and cover them tightly.
8 oz. cocoa butter
1 oz. lanolin
Melt the above ingredients in the top of a double boiler. Then add as many flowers or leaves as the mixture will hold. Cook this on a low heat for one hour. Strain and pour into small jars.
Herbs that can be used for making face cream include: calendula flowers, elder flowers, chamomile flowers, rose petals, honeysuckle, and even strawberries.
Cucumber Sunburn Lotion
Chop up one peeled cuke. Squeeze out the juice with a lemon squeezer. Mix it with equal parts of glycerine and rose water. Store this concoction in the fridge.
Uncle Phil’s Tooth Powder
(not quite medieval)
3 parts charred eggplant
1 part sea salt
Peel the eggplant, slice it very thin. Place it in the broiler without any oil. Char. Watch the eggplant closely, since it will char in no time. Make sure it is charred through and through. Remove from the broiler, crumble and add salt. This is a truly unique toothbrushing experience. Try it at your next party, brush with a friend, and give your mouth sex appeal.
Fresh strawberries and apples are excellent tooth whiteners and breath fresheners. Oils of wintergreen, spearmint, and peppermint are common in toothpaste formulas.
Lavender Chamomile Poultice
“To take away kernals that come in the face, seethe green chamomile with honey and annoint the face therewith” — from The Grete Herbal by Peter Treveris, 1526.
This is a fragrant and soothing poultice for the face and body, excellent for swollen eyes and the like.
4 parts lavender
4 parts chamomile
1 part thyme
½ part cloves
Wrap the mixture in a cloth and tie it. Soak it in freshly boiled water for two to three minutes, apply to the skin while still warm. You may want to apply some sweet smelling oil to the skin before applying the poultice.
Corny Face Pack
Mix together one beaten egg, some honey, and enough coarse-ground cornmeal so that the mixture sticks together. Apply a thick layer on the face. Let dry. Remove with a wet face cloth. Follow this treatment with one of the scented waters such as Hungary water.
There are several different ways to prepare an herbal bath. The method I like best is to fill a washcloth with a mixture of herbs, tie it and let it soak in just-boiled water for 10 minutes Then I add the tied washcloth full of herbs to the bathwater. Another even simpler way is to run very hot water in the bath, and drop the tied washcloth under the faucet.
Rose and spearmint leaves make a relaxing and fragrant bath. A catnip bath soothes cross and cranky babies.
(from The Compleat Herbal,
1 oz. each of peppermint, chamomile, thyme, sage and rosemary. Moisten herbs with 5 oz. of rubbing alcohol. Let the alcohol evaporate, and place the herbs in a washcloth. Tie it securely, and drop it in the tub.
Marigold Hair Rinse
“. . . of marygold we learn that summe use to make theyr here yellow with the floure of this herbe, not being contet with the naturall colour which God hath geven the.” (from an old English herbal)
Cover one ounce of dried calendula, or pot marigold flowers, with one pint of boiling water. Steep until it is a deep yellow. Use as a rinse after shampooing. Blondes can substitute chamomile blossoms for the calendula. Brunettes may want to use black walnut bark or sage leaves to darken their hair.
You will need a glass jar with a tight-fitting lid, some absorbent cotton, and some sweet oil, which can be purchased at the druggist.
Fill the jar with whatever flowers or material you wish to extract the fragrance from. Pack it down until it is almost full. Cover the flowers with cotton that has been soaked in sweet oil to the point of saturation. Put a lid on it, and leave it in the sun all day. Next day, remove the flowers and replace them with fresh ones. Use the same soaked cotton. Cover and repeat the process. Continue this procedure throughout the blooming season. At the end of the season, squeeze out the cotton and save the perfumed oil in a stoppered jar. Keep it in the fridge so it doesn’t go rancid. Experiment with your favorite smelling flowers, and be creative.