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February 15, 2012

Sweet Honey Water : Perfume Recipe from the 17th Century


Despite the name George Wilson gave to his book, The Complete Course of Chemistry, he was not a chemist by training. Instead, the volume first published in London in 1691 and subsequently reprinted contained an impressive collection of recipes for herbal preparations, elixirs and alchemy experiments. Glancing through this fascinating compilation, I came across a recipe for Sweet Honey Water that Wilson used on King James II. He describes it as having many wondrous effects on one's well-being, but it was his remark that this water "gives one of the most agreeable scents that can be smelt" that finally caught my attention. Honey, vanilla, coriander, cloves, and musk certainly sound wonderful together, don't you think?

"Take of good French brandy, a gallon, of the best virgin honey and coriander seeds, each a pound; cloves, an ounce and a half; nutmegs, an ounce; gum benjamin and storax, of each an ounce; benilloes [vanilla beans] number four; the yellow rind of three large lemons. Bruise the cloves, nutmegs, coriander seeds, and benjamin, cut the benilloes into small pieces, put all into a curcurbit (a still), and pour the brandy on to them. After they have digested forty-eight hours, distill off the spirit in Balneo-Mariae [double boiler].

"To a gallon of this water, add of damask rose and orange flower water, of each a pint and a half; of China musk and ambergrise, of each five grains; first grind the musk and ambergrise with some of the water, and afterwards put all into a large matrass (a vessel for digesting and distilling), shake them well together, and let them circulate three days and nights in a gentle heat. Then letting the water cool, filter and keep it for use in a bottle well stopped.

"It is anti-paralytic, smooths the skin and gives one of the most agreeable scents that can be smelt. Forty or sixty drops put into a pint of clear water, are sufficient to wash the hands and face, and with the same proportion to punch or any other cordial-water gives a most pleasant flavor." From The Complete Course of Chemistry by George Wilson published in London in 1691 (1721 edition).

Image: Honey and Chamomile from 123rfstock images, some rights reserved.



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