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.



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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. 



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