Pumpkin Water Update

Last week I translated and redacted what appears to be a wrinkle treatment made from pumpkins.  I am happy to report that after a week of testing it my skin showed signs of improvement.  It seems to lose some of the blotchiness and uneven skin tone.  I applied it twice daily with a cotton ball (see prior post for recipe) and really did see noticeable results by the end of the week.  My skin also seemed to be less oily and was much softer.  Today at my hairdresser’s, someone actually mistook me for being in my late twenties ( I am 36).  That last part may not be entirely due to pumImagepkin water, but then again maybe it is.

*This photo shows the pumpkin water during its week long soak.  The liquid in the measuring cup is the third recipe for deodorant (nutmeg & musk) that I have redacted from the Middle Ages.


Medieval People Hated BO as Much as We Do; New Recipes Discovered

Ways that you may carefully remove the smell of armpits & things to induce you to smell good


In the present work, not only to you, Women,  is this convenient but to men also; one thing I find that deprives men of pleasant company, both from others & oneself is the putrefication of the breath from the mouth, nose, & the armpits, or other part of the person due to sweat or corrupt humors.  These are remedies against them.

Take myrtle leaves in white wine & cook gently, and when reduced a third part, discard the leaves.  This is good not only for underarms, but for the whole person.–Gli Ornamente Delle Donne, Folio 297

As you can see from the second page of this blog, I am translating a cosmetics manual from the original Italian into English because one does not seem to exist  and I want to see what’s in it.  However, I find that progress is slowing down because of other research projects which I am doing (gearing up for another Pentathlon entry for A & S next year).  My solution to this is to try and keep my redacting to recipes from this text from now until sometime after Christmas.  That way my translation gets done and I can keep having new posts every week.  This week I discovered new remedies for body odor as a result of this translation.


To start with, i took a small handful of dried myrtle leaves and put them together with some really cheap white wine.  I brought them to a slow boil and simmered for about ten minutes.  I let the pot cool with the leaves in it.  Once it was cool, I strained off all the leaves and bottled it so i could begin my test.  Like the Trotula recipe for foul smelling sweat (see previous post) I replaced my usual stick antiperspirant/deodorant with this and kept track of the results for one week. 


Like the earlier recipe, it did a great job of preventing body odor.  I never had a moment of “phew, I stink” all week long.  I have a physically demanding job where I lift heavy things a lot, so sweat happens.  The myrtle leaf solution did not do as well as the bilberry solution when it came to keep my underarms dry, but it was not unbearable.  I don’t mind a little dampness, but i really despise smelling bad.


*PS–I forgot to mention that this recipe seems to be more beneficial if you let it age.  When you first cook it, it looks like boiled white wine.  However, i noticed that the deodorant seemed to darken after a few days (3) and ended up working much better once it turned a muddy brown color.  if you make this it home, try letting it sit in the bottle for 2-3 days before using.



/* Style Definitions */
{mso-style-name:”Table Normal”;
mso-padding-alt:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt;
font-family:”Times New Roman”;}

If you wash your armpits frequently in wine in which is boiled nutmeg, mace or, if you desire, grains of musk, you will stop the smell, releasing a gentle scent.–Gli Ornamente Delle donne, Folio 297


Here is another recipe I discovered on the page I translated this week.  I made my first try at it this afternoon and will be testing it beginning tomorrow.  I roughly ground about three whole nutmegs and boiled them gently with cheap white wine for ten minutes.  I strained off the nutmeg pieces and added two drops of musk oil.  I have no idea if it will be effective yet, but i can tell you that it smells really good.  This could be my favorite if it proves effective.


The text I translated lists other recipes, though I noticed that two use white lead and one seems to be more a feminine odor product than a deodorant.  Needless to say I will not be redacting the white lead recipes.  The feminine odor one is tempting, though I would not really use it; it would be more to prove i can do it.

My conclusion from doing all this translating is that we may have been mislead about medieval people and smell.  We often get the impression that the Middle Ages were dirty and disgusting and that people never bathed or cared much for their appearance.  I am reasonably certain that this is greatly exaggerated.  True, the Middle Ages might have been more earthy, and it was an era before modern germ theory but people still tried to keep themselves as clean as possible.  They cared about grey hair and wrinkles just like us.  They wanted clean teeth and nice smelling breath.  They also apparently wanted to present themselves to the world free of body odor.  So far, I have found six recipes for deodorants in two separate sources.  I would also point out that one dates from the twelfth century and the other from the sixteenth, so this leads me to conclude that humans have wanted to be free of body odor for a very long time.  The fact that they seem to be effective is great news for us, especially those who wish to free themselves of man made chemicals and live more naturally. 


Pumpkin Water for the Face, Gli Ornamente Delle Donne, 255

I saw this recipe in the index that I am translating and though it might be fun.  Pumpkins are in season right now and the recipe looked short and simple.  In addition, I have not redacted any recipes for wrinkle treatments though they abound in period cosmetic manuals.  Funny how little things change over time, huh?

Acqua di Zucca, che fa Bianco

Similente tagliate una zucca in quatro parti; a piu secondo il capo del vase, & sopra quello spargete zuccharo candido quanto vi piace stillatene acqua, l’acquale tenuta otto di al Sole vi rendera bagnandovi il viso bianco & morbido moiro.–Gli Ornamente Delle Donne, p 255

Pumpkin Water for the Face

Similarly, cut a pumpkin into four parts, or more according to the head of the vase, & sprinkle over the pumpkin pieces as much rosewater as you like, & within eight days the sun will make you a fine water for white, soft skin.–On the Ornaments of Women, p 255

To make this recipe, I started with a small pumpkin (2-3 pounds) I bought at my local market.  I opened it and removed the membrane and seeds, then cut it into large chunks.  My vase was just a simple glass one I saved from my younger days when suitors brought me flowers.  I put as many pieces as would comfortably fit in it.  It is important not to pack the vase too tightly because you want the rosewater to be able to circulate.   Next I put in 10 oz. of rosewater and 2.5 oz. of witch hazel.  This is a slight deviation which I will explain later.  Once the ingredients were assembled, it was time to let the sun go to work.  I put it in the sunniest spot in our apartment and mostly ignored it for eight days.  I would occasionally shake the vase up a bit, but I really did forget it was there until this morning.  Thankfully I set my calendar.  After eight days, I opened the vase (I covered mine with foil while it steeped) and removed the chunks of pumpkin.  I was left with 2 1/2 cups of citrus smelling orange liquid, which I bottled and am now testing for the next week to measure results.

Now for the modern science part.  My initial reaction to reading this recipe was “why pumpkin?’.  As it turns out pumpkin contains a large amount of antioxidants and has enzymes which dissolve dead skins and reduce the appearance of wrinkles.  Rosewater is a wonderful mild astringent for all skin types.  Witch hazel is a great inflammatory agent, though it is a New World herb.  I decided to add an ingredient which is effective for blemishes, a problem i still struggle with at 36.  Witch hazel was decocted by the Native American tribes for centuries before the Spanish arrived in the New World, so it is possible that the Europeans noticed its effectiveness and decided to bring it back with them.  The fact that witch hazel came from this exotic far-off land would only enhance its cache as a must have beauty ingredient.  However, you can leave it out if you choose when you recreate this recipe for yourself.  You can find witch hazel, already decocted and ready for use, in the first aid section of your local drugstore.  The process has changed very little over the centuries, and it is very inexpensive.

So, does it work?  That it was we will test over the course of the next week.  I can tell you that I put some on a cotton ball and thoroughly wiped my face with it just before I sat down to write this.  My skin feels freshened, and much smoother than before.  Unlike some harsher chemical astringents I have used, my skin does not feel uncomfortably tight.  Hopefully, next week’s post will have more positive results to report.

Renaissance Body Hair Removal: a Sticky Subject

I have been experimenting with this concept for a month or two and finally feel confident enough to offer an opinion on the subject.  Let me begin by saying that there are many recipes for hair removal in the various cosmetics manuals.  Here is just one example from the Trotula;

In order that a woman might become soft and smooth and without hairs from her head down,  first of all let her go to the baths, …Afterward let her also anoint herself  all over with this depilatory, which is made from well-sifted quicklime.  Place three ounces of it in a potter’s vase and cook it in the manner of a porridge.  Then take one ounce of orpiment and cook it again, and test it with a feather to see if it is sufficiently cooked.  Take care, however, that it is not cooked too much and that it not stay too long on the skin, because it causes intense heat….

I have looked at dozens of these recipes and they all contain quicklime.  Quicklime is the substance produced from heating limestone until it turns red hot.  IT IS VERY CAUSTIC TO THE SKIN, PLEASE DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME.  Because of this very dangerous ingredient, I was left with the problem of coming up with a plausible, safe recipe which one could use to remove body hair. 

My solution led me to the concept of body sugaring.  This is a home remedy borrowed from Eastern folk medicine which does effectively remove body hair.  The ingredients existed  in the Renaissance, so if you want to recreate this as part of your SCA beauty routine, you have to ask yourself if your persona could afford the ingredients and if your persona had contact with Eastern or Italian culture.  Even the method for applying the recipe is mentioned in period sources. After trying about a dozen different combinations, here is the recipe which worked the best for me.

1 cup sugar (any kind of granulated sugar will work)

1/4 cup of honey

1/4 cup of lemon juice (or apple cider vinegar, orange juice, or lime juice)

You will also need cloth strips about 1 1/2 inches wide, (an old sheet works great)


Combine the ingredients in a sauce pan and stir well.  Bring the mixture to a boil on medium heat, stirring constantly.  Remove the mixture from the heat and allow it to cool to room temperature.  You can also microwave this for 2-3 minutes if you don’t want to use the stove.  When the mixture is cool enough you can use a Popsicle stick or spatula to spread a thin layer on the area in the direction of the hair growth.  Then place strips of cloth on top of the area you spread the mixture on.  Rub the strip a few times and remove it in a quick motion starting with the end opposite the hair growth. 


You can store unused portions in an airtight container.  To reuse, place the container in hot water to warm the product.  If you find that the mixture is too hard to spread, you can add water and microwave to thin it out.


Of all the recipes I tried I like this one the best because it cools quickly and spreads nicely.  It does a great job of effectively removing your hair (from any area you choose).  Because body sugar is water soluble, you can throw the strips in the wash and reuse them.  The sauce pan can be effectively cleaned (even if you burn it a little).  It lasts about six to eight weeks, plus there is little risk of ingrown hairs.  The main trick is to keep trying it.  You are basically making a simple type of hard candy, and results can vary due to humidity and heat.  I managed to find this one after a dozen tries, so my best advice is to keep at it.  You can find several good videos and recipes on Youtube if you need extra help.

Despite the existence of recipes and the notes in the Trotula there is no written evidence of women using depilatories.  What this means is that no one has found something in a journal or letter which says, “I used this recipe today and it worked” yet.  Additionally, the only razors available are straight razors, which would not be effective on areas such as underarms, legs, or bikini zones.  However, if you examine portraits or nudes from the period, you will find that most of them have little to no body hair.  There are even examples of extreme facial hair removal.  Lack of body hair is also healthier because it discourages fleas, bacteria, and other vermin.  It also makes my previous recipe for antiperspirant/deodorant more effective.  Armed with this evidence, I have come to the conclusion that women with the means to do so probably did remove their body hair.  I will continue to explore a few other recipes I have come across, but for now I am offering this as a viable option.


Tallow Soap

Recently I got a large quantity of suet from my butcher.  I decided to use some of it to make my own soap.  here is a basic recipe that I found online (eHow);

3lbs tallow (rendered suet)

12 oz. of lye

3 cups water


After you have renderd your suet (straining the melted suet through a screen to filter out meat scraps and waste) pour them into glass containers to solidify.  Measure out 12 oz. of lye for every 3lbs.  of tallow.  used mask and gloves because the fumes are poisonous and lye is caustic.  Pour three cups of water into a glass container and then carefully add the lye.  Stir with a wooden or plastic spoon.  Let this mixture sit for about an hour.    Combine the softened tallow with the lye mixture in a glass pan and stir until smooth.  You will need to set this aside and allow to harden for about twelve hours.  Then you can shape into bars with a kitchen knife.

I was very thankful for the mask and gloves.  This stuff is kind of stinky, but the smell goes away as the soap sets.  Ventilation would not be amiss here either.

Sweet Smelling Soap, 1555

     This recipe interested me because it seems to encourage recycling and seemed pretty easy despite the length of time it took to make.

Take one pound of white soap, the older the better.  Cut very fine, put in a basin, & splash with rosewater.  Mix & incorporate well.  Then steep in the sun with rosewater for two weeks.  Ten days will suffice in the months of July and August.  Mix and sprinkle with rosewater until the soap is thoroughly purged and loses its foul smell.  Next take 1/2 ounce of mahaleb (Prumus maheleb) and make sure that it is ground to a fine powder.  Sprinkle with rosewater in a mortar until immersed.  Add six drams of spike(nard) oil, 1/2 ounces of liquid storax, one carat of musk.  Mix and incorporate well together.   Form into little soaps with a mold or form into little balls.  Dry them in the shade, wrap them in cotton, and keep them in a little box.–Notandissimi Secreti de L’arte Performatoria, 1555.  The author of this book is Gioventura Rosetti.


I started with Castile soap for this one.  I diligently did what the recipe says, for about 12 days.  One the final day I added in the other scents plus the storax (sometimes written styrax).  This is a type of tree sap which is traditionally and modernly used as a base scent for perfumes and incense.  You can buy it in dried chunks or liquid.  I pressed my mushy soap mix into a purchased soap mold (buttercups and thistles) and let it dry–and dry and dry as it turns out.  Although it had set up in the mold within a matter of hours the soap was not firm enough to  package or handle for about three days.  The end result is pictured below.  They smell great and will be used despite their fancy appearance.  I have just completed a batch of tallow soap, which means I will be remaking this and the barber soap (see previous posts) to compare results.  I would like to use this in conjunction with my hair conditioner from Gli Ornamente Delle Donne.  Why?  I have found recipes for hair cleansers which used similar ingredients, which means that our ancestors most likely washed their hair with soap.  Modern shampoo is not a soap, it is a detergent which means it strips away things which really shouldn’t be stripped from your hair.  The trick with washing your hair with soap or even baking soda & vinegar, as I know some people do, is that they are both alkaline.  That puts your hair slightly out of balance, which is why rinsing with vinegar afterwards is recommended.  The herbs which are mentioned in the Gli Ornamente Delle Donne recipe are noted for being astringent (mildly acidic).  I think the two would work well together to keep the hair fragrant and nice looking, but would need some further real life testing to safely conclude this.


Barber’s Soap from the Dificio de Ricette, 1525

Let us not forget the gentlemen in our lives.  This soap is a precursor of modern shave cream and it will make him smell heavenly all day.  No kidding, my husband smells really great when I convince him to use one of these.  Others who have tried it report that it works just as well as shave cream and even makes the tough hair a little softer.

Take as much white soap as you like and cut it into shavings.  Steep in rosewater (or francincense oil).  Then take powdered orris root and finely ground cloves, form into little balls, and let dry.


For this one I started with a bar of Castile soap and used my grater to shave it down.  I happened to be out of rosewater that day, so I added three drops of francincense essential oil to 1/4 cup warm water and steeped my shavings in that.  Then I sprinkled 1 teaspoon of powdered orris root and 1 teaspoon of the cloves.  Be careful here because I found that you can’t really tell how strongly this smells until the soap is formed and dried.  I just used my hands to mix the whole slightly gooey mess around until everything was incorporated well.  Judging from the instructions to form into balls, I assumed that one ball = one shave.  I rolled out about thirty small  (teaspoon) sized balls and let them dry overnight.  Next,  I wrapped each one in a rough linen square, but you could also put them in a glass jar for storage.

To use them, you take one ball and get it wet in order to work up a lather.  The lather is what you put on your face and use like shave cream.  Because I used Castile soap, made from plant/ vegetable fats, it might not yield quite as much lather as an animal-fat based soap.  I am currently making a batch of tallow soap as we speak.  I intend to try this recipe again with tallow soap instead so that we can compare results.

Previous Older Entries