For “Goaty Armpits”; an Aztec Recipe, circa 1552

Regular readers of this blog are already familiar with my research into various remedies for the age-old body odor problem.  I found this recipe last weekend in a new herbal I acquired.  I have wanted to look at it for some time, but the closest existing copy is in the Newbury Library in Chicago and it was not allowed to leave the vault during my last visit because of atmospheric conditions.  However, I found it for free as an e-book at the Apple store.  I still plan on examining a physical copy one day, but for now I have this.

First some background on the source; this Aztec Herbal was written around 1552 during the exploration/conquest of modern day Mexico.  Originally it was written in Nahauti, the Aztec language, then translated into Latin and sent as a gift to the King of Spain.  Martin de la Cruz, a physician, is credited with its authorship.  Allegedly, the original copy sat in the King’s library untouched for centuries, becoming part of the Vatican library in 1902.  An effort was made to translate and revive the manuscript in 1939 by The Maya Society and a more recent translation took place in 1990.  Part of the reason that it was ignored for so many years was that the names of the plants and herbs remained in the Nahauti language.  My edition still has them named as such but I think I know where to go to get that problem fixed.  The group of books known as The Florentine Codex has an entire volume devoted to Aztec medicine and plants.  The author of the codex was a Spanish priest who came to the New World and lived among the people.  He took the time to learn the native language and spent the next 60+ years recording everything he could about Aztec life and customs.  The Florentine Codex is regarded as a  source free from bias and is generally believed to be a highly accurate source.  In the volume I am thinking of there is a list of common Aztec plants, along with their English names and descriptions.  As of November 2012, you can view most of the Florentine Codex online at:   This has been provided free of charge courtesy of the World Digital Library.  I will be updating this post shortly once I have translated the plants.  For now, I will give you the text as I have it and you can explore the Florentine Codex on your own if you want to get a head start on me.

Goaty Armpits of Sick People

This evil smell is removed by anointing the body with the liquor of the herbs ayauh-tonan-yxiuh, papalo-quilitl, (&) xiuhecapatli the leaves being macerated in water.  Also the leaves of the pine and the flowers oco-xochitl, tonaca-xochitl, totoloctzin, and sharp stones.–An Aztec Herbal, Martin de la Cruz, 1552 p604.


Once we know what the herbs are, we just make a simple decoction from them and use it to bathe the underarms.  This is how all but one of my previous underarm recipes is made.  As I said previously, I plan on making this recipe and testing it out; look for an update once I have the herbs named.



de Sahagun, Bernardino.  Le Historia Universal de las Cosas de Neuva Espana (The Universal History of the Things of New Spain).  16th century.  you can find a digital copy at or through interlibrary loan.  The Ohio State University has some if not all of this book available this way.

An Aztec Herbal: The Classic codex of 1552.  Translation and commentary by William Gates; introduction by Bruce Byland.  Dover e-book edit


Sapone con Rosa, or Soap with Roses, circa 1555

A sneak peek at an upcoming entry in the Arts & Sciences Faire.  I am operating on the theory that my soap darkened as a result of the rose petals decaying with the soap.



Sapone con Rosa; A Scented Soap from 1555

This is a scented soap taken from Notandissimi Secreti de L’arte Profumatoria (Notable Secrets on the Art of Perfume), published in 1555 by Gioventura Rosetti. This cosmetics manual includes recipes for scented powders, hair dyes, facial cosmetics, and no less than twenty-seven recipes for scented soaps. This entry uses two recipes from this manual, one for the base soap and another for the scent.

The Base Soap


This recipe is for Sapone da Mettere ne il Bossoli, Overo in Albarelli from this manual. It is the recipe I use for my base soap because it’s a good balance of fats and relatively easy to make. The original text reads :




#95 Sapone da Mettere ne il Bossoli, Overo in Albarelli


Pigliate liscia di sapone, cioe’ de la seconda acqua, et uno secchio overo boccale de la prima canfora soldi doi, et soldi doi di storax liquido, et metteteli ne la ditta liscia; dipoi mettetilo al fuoco in uno paruolo overo in una stagnatella con una lira over due di grasso di manzo, tagliato in pezzetti minuiti, et scolatio, et poi mescolati fino che’l vi place, et se’l vi paresse troppo liquido mettetilli una scutella di sapone granato; dipoi levatilo dal fuoco sempre mescolando fino che sia rifredito; del quale potreti empire li vasi vostri overo alnarellli; o bossoli; et questo fa le carni lustre, molesine, nette, et bianche, et tanto belle quanto si puo pui dire, se con quello vi voleti lavare


This text does not seem to have an English translation. Therefore, I have had to do an amateur one, which is;


Soap to Put in an Albarelli (Medicine Jar)


To make a smooth soap, take water, one soldi worth of camphor, one soldi worth of liquid storax, and melt it on a low fire. Add two pounds of beef fat, cut in pieces, & mix up; Remove from the heat and stir until cool. Store in an alberelli. This will make the skin lustrous, soft & supple. You shall become more beautiful for words, if you wash with it daily.



The footnote for this recipe cleared up a lot of confusion. It suggests that mixing both an animal fat like beef fat, and a vegetable fat, like palm oil, will work together with the lye to create a soap which is able to lather and soften the skin. Armed with this bit of information, I used olive oil and beef fat to create my basic soap recipe. I also use a modern saponification table to come up with a safe ratio of lye. While my fats are melting in a thrift store crock pot, I prepare my lye by mixing it with water. After about a half hour, I add it to my fats and stir. The end result is a basic white soap. I generally leave it in its mold for twenty four hours before slicing it into bars. Once sliced, my bars generally need about four weeks to cure before I can begin scenting them.


Scenting the Base Soap

Using the same recipe book, I found this recipe for a rose-scented soap;




#278b Sapone con Rosa


Pigliate sapone trito, et che sia abroffato con L’acqua rosa, et che’l sia stao al sole, et purgato tanto che non senta piu da l’odore del sapone; et dapoi habbiate rose freesche, et che siano pestate bene, et mescolate insienne, et fatene, ballotte con ditto sapone, et rose, e salvatelo in un vaso di vettro, et questo e il vostro sapone rosato; et cosi potrete fare di ogn’altro odore, questa regola serve a tutti gli ingegnosi, et esperti intelletti che si voleno dilettare di quest’arte.– Notandissim Secreti De L’arte Profumatoria


In English;


#278b, Soap with Roses


Mix soap which has been cut into chunks with rosewater. Leave it in the sun until it has been purged of its foul smell. Next take fresh rose petals and grind them up fine. Add them to a glass vase with the soap. You shall then have a fine soap made with the perfumer’s art.–Notable Secrets on the Art of Perfume


I started this recipe with one pound of my base soap grated finely in an earthenware bowl. I added about 10 ounces of homemade rosewater (recipe follows). Normally, I would have made this according to the recipe, in a covered glass vase set in a sunny window, but I find this difficult to do in winter because of the shortened daylight hours. In order to simulate this solar heating process, I used an old crock pot on low heat to melt my ingredients. After about an hour, I stirred in the petals of one dozen red roses which had been finely ground in my mortar and pestle. The soap mingled for an additional hour in the crock pot and was poured into a mold to set. After about 36 hours, the mold was removed and the newly scented soap was cut into bars. Example 2 is what the soap looked like at this stage. Once cut into bars, the soap was left to cure for an additional four weeks before use. This gives the finished product time to harden and become more effective.




Rosewater Recipe


Stretch a piece of linen across a glass bowl very tightly, like a drum. Place your rose petals on it and then place another glass bowl on top. Leave this out in the sun to steep and create your rose water.–The Good Wife’s Guide, late 14th Century


This is my standard method of making rosewater because it’s pretty straightforward and very easy. You are using both the sun and pressure to to the work.

The Results


This is my first experience with this recipe, though I have made three other scented soaps from the same book. The surprise here was that you actually colored the soap. It did not turn out the color I anticipated, but the rose petals did give the soap a nice even color anyway. In my opinion, the coloring makes it easier to see the details of the mold. Although it does not specifically say so in this recipe, other recipes in this book instruct the maker to either mold the soap or roll it into small balls, so I chose a mold which featured florals as a way to make my soap more attractive.








Albarelli. Italian, sixteenth century. Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland Ohio.


The Good Wife’s Guide (Le Menagier de Paris). Christine M. Rose, trans. Cornell University Press; Ithaca & London.


Rosetti, Gioventura. Notandissimi de L’arte Proformatoria. Neri Pozza, editor. Venice; 1555.Image

The finished Soap, as of March 4, 2014.  I believe the darkening to be the result of the rose petals maturing.











Sapone con il Belzoi, a scented soap for the complexion circa 1555

Since the sausfleme remedy was so popular, I have been trying to keep an eye out for more cosmetics in the same vein.  While looking for possible entries for the upcoming Arts & Sciences Faire, I found this.  I personally love the smell of benzoin, so though it might be a unique scented soap.  Further research into the properties of benzoin have led me to believe that this might be intended for an acne soap.  It comes from Notandissimi Secreti de L’arte Profumatoria (Notable Secrets on the Arts of Perfume) published by Gioventura Rosetti in 1555.  The Italian text reads:

Sapone con il Belzoi–Pigliate sapone che sia al sole, et purgato con un poco di oglio di belzoi, et mescolate, et cosi potrete fare di oglio di storax overo oldamo, overo ogn’ altro odore che vi placera’ et farete le vostre belle’ o saponetti.–Folio 2778a


Soap with Benzoin–Take soap and the sap called benzoin, and mix together.  Leave it in the sun and keep mixing until it has been purged of it’s foul smell.  Then add a small bit of storax.  You are then free to shape it into small balls and use.–Folio  278a


To begin this recipe, I grated about 10 ounces of homemade tallow soap into a large mixing bowl.  You can use any unscented soap for this, but I have a bunch of tallow soap on hand, so I used it.  To the soap I added about 1/3 cup of grated Benzoin (a resinous tree sap often used in incense).  According to the recipe you should place this mixture in the sun and let solar energy do it’s thing, but I had to use a bit of modern technology due to the season.  Winter sunlight is a bit weak, so I used a thrift store crockpot on low to melt the mixture a bit.  Once melted, I added two drops of liquid storax (styrax), a common fixative for perfume.  After the mixture has cooled enough to handle, you can pour it into a mold or just roll it into small balls for ease of use.  I used a strawberry mold and ended up with soap which looked like this.

  The soap has a pleasant scent, similar to vanilla but further research into what benzoin is supposed to do has revealed that this might be intended as an acne soap.  Many modern acne preparations use benzoin as an ingredient because of its anti-inflammatory properties,.  Whether or not this recipe actually does control acne needs to be tested.  As of this writing I am looking for volunteers who are willing to help out.  As the year moves along I will update this post with some results.Image