Invisible Ink; Not just for Joke Shops?

In the spirit of Halloween I decided to share a recipe which might be fun for adults and kids to play with at home.  It’s from The Good Wife’s Guide or Le Menagier de Paris, written in late 14th century France.  The author is unknown, although we are supposed to believe it was written by an older Parisian merchant to his fifteen year old bride.  The book has many useful snippets of information, such as how to set tables, hire servants, behave in church, etc.  plus recipes which include sausages, sauces, rosewater, and invisible ink.  That is the recipe I’ll share today.

#323 To write a letter on paper that stays invisible to everyone unless the paper is heated, moisten and dissolve some ammonium salt in water, write with it, and let dry.  It will last about eight days.”–Le Menagier de Paris (Good Wife’s Guide)

This recipe might sound familiar to those of us who did a similar trick in junior high science class.  The principal is the same, although we used lemon juice & water back then.  For those of you who wish to try this recipe at home, you can use baking powder, which has ammonium salt as an active ingredient.  In Canada, you can purchase a bottle of Buckley’s cough syrup (which uses ammonium salt as an active ingredient and play around with it.

I mixed about a teaspoon of baking powder in some water and painted my image onto a sheet of paper, waited for it to dry, and got this result;


Source;The Good Wife’s Guide (Le Menagier de Paris).  Greco, Gina L. & Christine M. Rose, trans.  Cornell University Press; Ithaca, New York, 2009.  ISBN 978-0-4738-9

Getting Whites White Before Chlorine Bleach; a Stuart Era Spot Remover

It’s long past time for another post, so here is a recipe I’ve been traveling around and sharing with folks during my summer laundry demonstrations.  I was at an SCA event two weeks ago and the topic of getting stains out of our garb was a hot topic.  This recipe will greatly improve the brightness of your whites and I have managed to remove blood, perspiration and cosmetic stains from my own laundry using these.

The Tiolet of Flora, published in 1697 by Pierre-Joseph Buc’hoz is a collection of recipes for soaps, perfumes, baths, and balms.  I have tried many of them and find them to be more effective than most recipe books from this era generally are.  If you’ve been reading this blog for awhile you will be familiar with the process of making these wonderful wash-balls.

#252 Bologna Wash-Balls

Take a pound of Italian Soap cut into small bits, and a quarter pound of Lime, pour on them two quarts of Brandy, let them ferment together twenty-four hours.  Then spread the mas onto a sheet of filtering paper to dry.  When quite dry, beat it in a marble mortar, with half an ounce of St. Lucia Wood, an ounce and a half of Yellow sanders, half an ounce of Orrice-root, and as much Calamus Aromaticus, all finely powdered.  Knead the whole into a paste with the Whites of Eggs, and a quarter of a pound of Gum Tragacanth dissolved in Rose-water, and then form it into wash-balls according to the usual method.

Using the original text, I redacted it to this;

2 bars of finely grated, white, unscented soap (homemade or castile are fine)

inexpensive brandy or red wine

bamboo (optional)

Yellow Sanders wood

powdered orris root

powdered Calamus root

egg white

Gum Tragacanth (a pigment fixative usually found in art supply stores)

pickling lime (from the canning section of your grocery store)

In a large pottery bowl, mix the soap with just enough brandy to make a mush, then let it sit overnight.  The soap will absorb the liquid during this time, so don’t be concerned if it looks a bit soupy.  After twenty-four hours have passed add about 1/4 cup of canning/pickling lime (DO NOT USE THE LYE USED IN SOAPMAKING).  Next add the small bits of the bamboo and yellow sanders, then 1 tbsp. of Orris root,1 tbsp.  Calamus root, and the egg white.  Finally after you have mixed all of these well, add 1 tbsp. of the Gum Tragacanth.  Form your mixture into balls about the size of a golf-ball and let dry completely before using.  How to use them follows.

To use your wash-ball, take your thoroughly wet garment and begin rubbing the wash-ball vigorously over the spot.  I have a wash beadle at home which give me a firm surface to work on.  After I have lathered my stain and rinsed it thoroughly, I usually give it another good rub and rinse before hanging it in the sunlight to dry.  To help boost the power of the wash-ball, you can pre-soak your garment in a mixture of cool water and 3 tbsp. of canning lime.

How does this work?  You would think that rubbing something with red wine in it would only worsen the stain, but in reality it seems to work with the other ingredients (all mild bleaches) to power out tough stains, especially the yellowish perspiration ones.  The bamboo and sanders wood gives you some gentle abrasives, and the canning lime is a mild bleach.  Hanging your garment in the sunlight allows the UV rays of the sun to work with the solution to brighten your garments, particularly if those garments are linen.

Me on “16th Century Wash Day”, at the Lake Augusta Renaissance Faire & SCA Demo in Sunbury, PA.  The demonstration seemed to be a big hit with visitors and the Bologna Wash-Balls got a wonderful real world test.

Maling the Sheets Smell Sweetly, a Linen Freshener from 1562

Life has finally calmed down enough to get back to regular postings.  While unpacking from a long trip  and cleaning the house this morning I sprinkled a bit of this on the guest room sheets.  I have yet to share it with you, so today seems like a good day.   It is a recipe from an English herbal with a very long title,  Bulwarke of defence against all sicknesse, soarenesse, and vvoundes that doe dayly assaulte mankinde: which bulwarke is kept with Hilarius the gardener, [and] Health the phisicion, with the chirurgian, to helpe the wounded soldiours. Gathered and practised from the most worthy learned, both olde and new: to the great comfort of mankind, often referred to as simply Bullein’s Bulwarke, writen by William Bullein, Doctor of Physicke.

3 lbs of rosewater

cloves (to taste)

cinnamon (to taste)

sandalwood (to taste)

2 handfuls of lavender flowers

Place all of your ingredients in a glass vessel with a snug fitting lid.  Let the ingredients steep for one month.  Strain the mixture and retain the liquid for your linens to keep them smelling sweet

Naturally you do not have to make the recipe in its original quantity for your own personal use.  I did make it in the original amount because I plan on giving some away during the rest of summer.  Note that you can adjust the amount of cloves, cinnamon, and sandalwood you use to suit your personal taste as well.  If you have been following my posts about perfume, the process of this recipe should be familiar.  The end result of your efforts is a spicy, sweet, non-staining perfume perfect for bedding, towels, and curtains.

Next week–a Knights’ 14th century Medicinal Bath

Guest Post; a Recipe for Kyphi (Kapet), Ancient Egyptian Temple Incense

​This post was researched, written, and redacted by a fellow herbal enthusiast and SCA member from the kingdom of Trimaris ( Florida), Amenhotep ne Waset.  He has very generously agreed to share this recipe with us.  I get asked about incense quite often and thought this might satisfy those who wish to make their own.

Being several millennia-old, there are many extant recipes for the preparation of kapet spanning different time periods and cultures, from the works of the 12th century Alexandrian perfume-maker Nicolaus (Manniche, 1999, p. 56), to the papyri of the pharaohs. As such, the exact ingredients and techniques used in producing kapet can be quite varied.
​Since my sphere of interest lies primarily in the religion and magic of pharaonic Egypt, I sought to use a recipe as close to that source as possible; however, finding complete or near-complete extant recipes from such an early time was somewhat difficult. The earliest mention of kapet can be found in the Pyramid Texts, though it is named only and no recipe is given (Manniche, 1999, p. 55). In the Papyrus Ebers (1500 BCE) a recipe is given (Manniche, 1999, p. 55), though it is intended purely for medicinal uses and thus outside the scope of this particular project. In the Papyrus Harris I, dating to the reign of Ramesses IV (1145-1141 BCE), there is recorded a number of ingredients donated to the temples specifically for the manufacture of kapet during the reign of Ramesses III (1182-1151 BCE). These ingredients include mastic, pine resin, camel grass, mint, sweet flag, and cinnamon (Manniche, 1999, p. 54). Although these ingredients may be involved in the preparation of kapet, comparing this list to later sources revealed that they are almost-certainly not the sole ingredients used.
​One such source – ultimately the one I based my kapet on – is the recipe recorded on the walls of the temple Philae (Manniche, 1999, p. 51). I chose this source for several reasons: first and foremost, it is the source that is closest to the original culture, time, and intended setting that is also the most-complete. The recipe of Philae contains a complete list of ingredients used (including exact amounts) as well as methods of production; it is also specifically stated to be used for temple rituals. Another reason was that this recipe had the benefit of centuries-worth of prior research, study, and experimentation as compared with earlier recipes, such as the recipe recorded in the Papyrus Harris I. Finally, I considered the great historical importance of the temple at Philae. A sacred place to the Egyptians, Philae was the site of a Ptolemaic-period temple dedicated to the goddess Aset (Isis) which became the last bastion of pharaonic religion in history; the temple was not closed by the Christians until well after their rise to power

​The Philae recipe lists the following ingredients (in addition to those mentioned in the Papyrus Harris I) as being used in the preparation of kapet: raisins, wine, ‘oasis wine’, honey, frankincense, myrrh, ‘aspalathos’, cyperus, juniper, pine kernels, and ‘peker’ (Manniche, 1999, p. 51). To ensure the utmost historical authenticity of my kapet, I cross-referenced the Philae ingredient list with the ingredient lists of other sources. I examined the recipes of Dioscorides and Manetho as recorded by Plutarch; both of these recipes describe kapet as temple incense, and list raisins, wine, and honey as being ingredients (Manniche, 1999, p. 49) (Plutarch, 2012). It has been suggested that the absence of raisins, wine, and honey in the Papyrus Harris I can be explained in that the temples would easily have had access to these ingredients – their use is assumed, and they would not have been donated with the other, rarer ingredients listed (Manniche, 1999, p. 54).

To make Kyphi or Kapet:

Start by mixing the following ingredients together in a large bowl, in order:
8 tbsp ground frankincense
8 tbsp ground myrrh
4 tsp ground mastic
4 tsp dried & ground calamus root
4 tsp dried lemon grass
4 tsp dried mint leaves
4 tsp dried & ground juniper berries
4 tsp ground cinnamon
This dry mixture is then set aside for later use. Next, mix the following ingredients together in a bowl or other container with an airtight lid:
½ cup raisins
1 cup wine (or enough to just cover the raisins completely)
1 tbsp honey
This wet mixture is then set aside to steep for 5-7 days. While the wet mixture is steeping, be sure to check it periodically, stirring it and adding enough wine to keep the raisins covered since they will absorb the wine as they steep.

When the wet mixture is finished steeping, pour it into a food processor (or mortar) and macerate until well-blended into a smooth fruit paste. When the fruit paste is suitably blended, stir in 6 tbsp honey and pour the mix into a pot, setting it to a low simmer and stirring every so often. Once the mixture reduces by about half, remove it from the heat and leave it to cool to just above room temperature.

When the wet mix is cooled enough, pour it over the dry mix prepared earlier. Work the wet and dry mixes together until they form a consistent dough. If you need to add extra moisture to help form the dough, add a little extra honey; be careful not to add too much moisture, as doing so will prevent the dough from curing and thus ruin the batch!

Once the dough is mixed evenly, you can begin rolling it into small pellets, placing them onto parchment- or wax paper-lined trays to cure. Pellets should be about the size of a fingertip, and no bigger than your thumbtip. When all the dough has been rolled into pellets, place the trays in a warm, dry place to cure – this can take anywhere from 2-6 weeks, depending on your location and climate.

After the pellets have finished curing, store them in an airtight container with a light dusting of powdered benzoin to keep them from sticking to each other. The pellets should be good for 6-12 months. Be aware that the incense is made of all-natural materials and thus can grow mold if not properly stored.

To burn the incense, use charcoal disks (obtainable from most New Age, herbalist, or hookah shops) in a heat-safe container half-filled with salt or sand. This incense produces a good deal of smoke, and should not be used in enclosed spaces with poor ventilation, or around smoke alarms. An average household fan should be enough to disperse the smoke if necessary.

Sources Used

Sacred Luxuries: Fragrance, Aromatherapy, and Cosmetics in Ancient Egypt
By Lise Manniche
​An in-depth, scholarly treatise on the perfumes, unguents, and incenses produced by the ancient Egyptians and their successors, this source was, by far, the most useful and the one I relied most-heavily upon. I chose to use it for several reasons, the primary one being that the book is incredibly comprehensive; it is written in a technical yet easy to understand manner, presents information in an organized fashion, includes excellent period documentation, and allows for quick and easy cross-reference among the different kapet recipes. Another reason is the august credentials of its author. Although actually researching Lise Manniche was somewhat difficult (her entire website is in Danish), I managed to discover that she has a PhD in Egyptology with an extensive background and knowledge in the subject. She has written numerous books on pharaonic culture ranging in topic from music to statuary to sex & love. She is also a member of the board of the Danish Egyptological Society, and editor of Papyrus – the society’s magazine. Most importantly however, the information in Sacred Luxuries is drawn directly from translations of period sources (as cited in its bibliography) and in many cases is one of the few ways one can access that information without being fluent in other languages beyond English.

Poll Results: Cucumber Complexion Cream, 16th Century


Last week I couldn’t decide which recipe to share.  I have been working on three recently and they all seem equally interesting to me.  My solution to this dilemma was to create a poll and ask you what you would like me to share.  The choices were a perfume to scent clothing from the 16th century, a soap from the Viking age made with conkers (horse chestnuts), or a cucumber complexion treatment from the 16th century.  In the end the 16th century recipes tied with 43% of the votes each.  That means that you get two recipes this week, the first of which I will share right now.

#185  A more simple cucumber pomatum can be made by simmering together hog”s lard and pared cucumbers cut into thin slices.  With respect to the rest of the process, follow the method laid down for preparing lip-salve; and keep this pomatum in the same manner as the former.–The Toilet of Flora, London, late 16th century

The fancier recipe adds a slice of melon and ground cloves and mace to the mixture, but otherwise the process is the same.  I ended up mashing my cucumbers in the blender to improve the texture.  The result is pictured at the beginning of the entry.  I went to the grocery store and picked up two fresh cucumbers and lard (found in the Hispanic food section).  This batch is roughly equal parts of lard and puree cucumber, 1/2 cup of each.  First i melted the lard in a small saucepan over low heat.  Next I added the puree and stirred slowly until combined.  I poured the mixture into a bowl and let it cool.  You could do this same process with the fancier version, just make sure you only use the inside flesh of the melon.  After the pomatum cooled, I got to test it.  I put it on like a facial moisturizer (which is one meaning of the word pomatum) on one half of my face and went about the rest of my day.  Before bedtime, i compared the two halves.  The untreated side of my face felt much rougher and unrefined.  I also liked what it did to my hands after I rubbed a bit on them after doing the dishes.  I liked the smell too, which I wasn’t too sure of when I read the recipe initially.  I think that this might be a good recipe to keep in mind as the weather gets colder, particularly if you live in a windy climate.  Since i have oily skin, I was concerned about using lard on my face, but found the pomatum to be lightweight and comfortable.  As a final note, you might want to store your pomatum in a cool place to prolong its shelf life.

Later this week I will share the other winning recipe for scenting clothes.  I have also made arrangements with another historic herbcrafter from the SCA Kingdom of Trimaris (Florida) to share a wonderful recipe for Early Egyptian Temple incense with us.  His recipe should appear here beginning October 27th.

What Do I Share Next?

As you can see from the poll, I could not decide what to share this week. I’ve been wondering about this all day long and finally decided that it might be best to let the readers choose. I have all of these recipes in the works right now while my long term hair dye experiments take shape. I am still collecting hair samples so we can see what the recipes look like on human hair. Meanwhile, here are the choices for my next post.

A 16th century Recipe to Protect Woolens from Moths


This recipe is another experiment which we did at our last Herbal Afternoon.   All the guests are sitting around the dining room table, sipping herbal drinks and looking through my herbal recipe books.  We had just finished up the recipe from the previous post when we found this.  I had planted wormwood earlier in the year and was wondering what to do with it anyway, the rue was sitting on the table, so…

Take wormwood and rue and boil it well in spring water and brush your clothes well with the same water to prevent moth damage.– Pepys MS 1046, late 15th century

I stepped out the back door, cut two stalks of wormwood out of my garden and put them in a saucepan along with 2 tablespoons of dried rue.  I added 2 cups of distilled water and let it boil for 10 minutes on high heat.  Once this was cool enough to handle, I strained out the herbs and poured the liquid into a glass measuring cup.  It looked a bit like urine and had a very distinctive odor.   I do not wear wool myself, so I bottled it up and sent a bit home with some of the guests and also passed it around to friends.  So far most people find that the smell is a definite improvement over traditional mothballs but we have no long term test results at this time.  As the colder weather approaches I thought it might be nice to share a recipe which might come in handy.  I have included a picture of the resulting liquid, plus the two herbs you need.  It was very common to grow these herbs in your garden in the 16th century for pest control and they both appear in Thomas Tusser’s list of strewing herbs in 500 Points of Good Husbanderie.  They are mentioned as good for controlling mice, fleas, and other vermin.  Once I get some results back from my volunteers, this entry will be updated with the findings.  You are of course, welcome to mix up some yourself and conduct your own test.  I’d love to hear how it turns out.

A Recipe That Will Curl Your Hair, 11th century Anglo-Saxon Style

imageAt a recent Herbal Afterrnoon, we finally got around to trying a recipe I’ve been wanting to make for over a year.   I found two recipes which claim to curl the hair.  One is from the 11th century Anglo-Saxon text, The Leechbook of Bald, considered by many to be the holiest English herbal text.  The second is from one of my standbys, The Trotula.. Using 100% human hair extensions as our test pieces we made for the recipes and curled them as follows.  The picture above shows the results.  The two pieces on the left are from the Anglo-Saxon text and the ones on the right are from the Trotula.  Here are the two recipes;

Take  mustard seed and rue and make a paste.  This will make the hair wyrck (curl)–Leechbook of Bald, 11th century

This recipe concerned me from the beginning which is why we tested this on hair extensions.  Both of these herbs can cause a skin burn if left on too long.  Another concern about this recipe was whether the effect was temporary or permanent.  We took 2tbsp. Of ground mustard seed and 2tbsp of rue and ground them in a mortar.  We also added a bit of water to get a pasty concoction.  Next we combed the paste through each hair extension and used a fresh leaf as a curl paper for the end.  Once we had the end secure, we wound up the entire 10″ of hair and secured it in place with string.  Finally, we put these two extensions aside to dry overnight.

Take danewort and grind it well with oil.  Anoint the head all over with this oil and secure the                                  curls with leaves and string–The Trotula, 12th century

For this recipe, we took 2 tbsp of danewort (also called dwarf elder root) and ground it in the mortar.  We added just enough olive oil to make a paste.  Just as we did with the other recipe, we combed a bit of paste thought the extension and curled them using a fresh leaf and string.  Finally we put them aside to dry overnight.


Now for the results; neither recipe makes the hair fall out.  The Anglo-Saxon recipe makes the hair very curly, as you can see from the photo above.  Also neither recipes makes the hair permanently curly.  They work more like setting lotions do.  The curls come out smooth and shiny with just enough hold to last until they are shampooed out.  The second photo in this entry is the hair after it has been shampooed.  The top two pieces are the Anglo-Saxon curls and the bottom two are the Trotula curls.  

Bingen’ s Calming Water, an Original Composition

image  To finish off the end of the summer perfume series, I came up with an original composition based on the works of St. Hildegarde of Bingen.  For those not familiar with her, St. Hildegarde was a 12th century German mystic who wrote prolifically on a variety of subjects.  She also has musical works attributed to her.  Pope John Paul II named her a Father of the Church.  One of her books, Physica, recommends a potpourri of rose and sage to “calm and quiet a troubled mind and soul”.  You can just make a potpourri and keep it on your desk, (a recommendation from a friend of mine who swears it helps office tension) or you could wear this lovely fragrance.  I came up with this recipe.


I put two fresh roses from my garden (I grow knock-out roses) along with two fresh sage leaves in a clean glass jar.  I filled the jar with aqua vitae (cheap vodka is my choice).  I use 4oz. jelly jars for my perfume making by the way.   Next, I sealed up the jar and let it steep for two weeks (like most of my perfumes).  After two weeks, I strained out the solids, reserving the scented liquid.  To finish off this perfume, I added 3 parts of distilled water to the alcohol solution and stirred a bit.  I find the resulting scent to be a slightly spicy floral.  Like all of perfumes we’ve talked about this summer, you can use this to scent just about everything.


Hopefully, you have found the summer of perfume enjoyable, but with the changing of the seasons comes the changing of topics.  Next week, I will be trying a recipe from the 9th century Leechbook of Bald for “wyrcking” or curling the hair.



Hungary Waters: comparing a perfume across centuries

A photo I took last winter at the Chicago Art Institute.  These are Byzantine cosmetics bottles, 10th-12th centuries.

A photo I took last winter at the Chicago Art Institute. These are Byzantine cosmetics bottles, 10th-12th centuries.

This entire summer started with a simple, distilled perfume made from dried rosemary (see previous post) As I mentioned earlier in my blog, Queen of Hungary water started as a simple perfume in the 13th century and it eventually ended up as a complex Victorian scent with dozens of ingredients.  Last week I shared the recipe for a Queen of Hungary water from 1570 (see previous post).  I assembled the ingredients and did the waiting.  Tonight I opened up the jar and finished the perfume.  

The result was heavenly.  You can smell the spicy scent of the rosemary, with hints of cinnamon, mace, and sage.  I think this is my new favorite.  

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