HEALTH & HYGIENE
CARE & DENTISTRY
Grooming Tools, Treatments & Colouring
BRUSHES, COMBS & GRAVOURS - HAIR BALMS &
TONICS - HEADLICE & DANDRUFF TREATMENTS - COLOURING THE
as we know them today do not appear to be mentioned during the
middle ages. Combs are widely depicted and written about, not
only as a grooming tool, but as a suitable gift from a lover to
his beloved lady.
Such combs were often very elaborately carved or painted with
scenes of courtly love or birds and animals and could be a part
of a toiletries set.
Some folded out to form a kind of X whilst others were rigid and
flat like the combs of today. Many show a high degree of fine
Archaeologists have uncovered some
very beautiful examples of boxwood, bone and ivory combs, like
the 1320 ivory comb depicted above at right. It is believed to
be of Parisian workmanship. The design is typical of those of
the period and it is likely to have been owned by a woman in the
Another hairdressing aide widely used in the middle ages was the
The gravour was a long, slender instrument which looked like an
oversized hairpin. used for parting the hair and probably also
used for partitioning the hair whilst plaiting or styling some
of the more elaborate hairstyles.
Some gravours had beautifully carved handles, as seen here at
the left in this handle dated at 1330 and made in Paris. It shows
a man and a women. The carved tip shown here is 7cm in length.
A French Royal account from 1316
describes a set of four grooming instruments: mirror, comb,
gravour and leather case purchased for the sum of 74 shillings,
which was an astronomical amount of money in the start of the
14th century. .
balms and tonics
Medieval women were just as concerned with beauty products for
their skin and hair as women are today.
Many herbal preparations were used to cleanse, protect, lighten
or dye the hair.
Hair loss was also a concern which was attended to with herbal
balms and tinctures. These recipes were found in manuscripts like
the Tacuinum Sanitatus, which were copied and recopied.
Most recipes were herbal, but some had more exotic ingrediants.
tonic remedies for hair loss included:
vera, when mixed with wine will assist with hair loss.
- Hound's Tongue leaves bruised
or the juice boiled in hog's lard and applied to the head is
- Juice of Onion, Allium cepa,
rubbed on the head then laid in the sun will help.
- Peach tree kernels should be bruised
and boiled in vinegar until they become thick and then applied
to the head is a restorative and causes hair to grow upon bald
places or where it is thinning.
- Quince Tree cotton or down of
quinces boiled and laid as a plaster made up with wax, brings
hair to them that are bald or assists with hair loss.
- Ashes of Southernwood or Old Man
Tree, Artemesia abrotanum, mingled with salad oil causes
hair to grow again whether on head or beard.
- Walnut, Juglans regia kernels,
shown at right, burnt and taken in red wine stay the falling
of hair on the head and make it fair, being anointed with oil
- White Maidenhair, the lee made
thereof is singularly good for the skurf, and stays the falling
of the hair, causing it to grow thick, fair and well-coloured.
Boil it in wine, put smallage seed and afterwards, some oil.
Headlice was as much an issue to the medieval woman as her modern
counterpart and herbal remedies were used to help combat them.
The detail at right is a detail taken from a 15th century French
manuscript by Boccaccio, the de Claris Mulieribus. It shows
a woman using a medieval comb with close set teeth on one side
not unlike our modern headlice combs.
Herbal headlice remedies were the most popular with many suggestions
The juice of the young branches of Broom-Rape made into an ointment
with hog's grease and heated as oil was one remedy to kill both
body and head lice. Parsley, Petroselinum crispum, repelled
head lice, as did the oil from the seeds of Spurge or Garden Spurge.
Staves-Acre seeds coarsely powdered and strewed in the hair was
also an option.
To treat dandruff or a dry, flaky scalp, an infusion of Cleavers,
Galium aparine, not only helped clear the skin but made
a wash for dandruff.
It was also believed that the leaves or bark of the Willow tree
in wine would take away dandruff by washing with it and a wash
of the juice of beets with water and vinegar cleansed the head
of dandruff and was warded off the shedding of hair. As would
the head washed with Lesser Field Scabious.
According to treatises which contain herbal remedies, medieval
women did indeed dye their hair. Although blonde was the often
preferred and most fashionable colour, recipes for darker hair
were known, perhaps to disguise grey hairs as they are today.
One assumes that these recipes were intended only for townswomen
who had access to such ingredients or the funds to purchase them.
The advice from the Old Women in the popular medieval manuscript
the Roman de la Rose offers this advice for colouring the
..and if they need colour, she
should dye them with many different plant-extracts, for fruit,
wood, leaves, bark and roots have powerful medicinal properties.
or Saffon or Saf-Flower crocus sativus, shown at right,
was a popularly used hair dye, although to produce which colour
is uncertain. Possibly blonde.
Recipes to turn the hair yellow include-
- The hair when washed with the
lie made of ashes of the Barberry tree and water, will make
it turn yellow.
- To dye the hair yellow, honey
and white wine left overnight on the hair then a mixture of
calendine roots, olive-madder, oil of cumin seed, box shavings
and saffron was recommended. Wash off after 24 hours.
Recipes to turn the hair black include-
- Gall Oak omphacitis coals of burned
galls being quenched in wine or vinegar;
- the leaves of bramble boiled in
rye, a recipe which was perhaps available to poorer women who
lived in the countryside and did not have the stuffs of the
towns freely available to them.
- a mixture of iron, gall nuts and
alum boiled in vinegar and left on the head for two days was
- Both Hortus Sanitatis and
Dioscorides claimed that sage tea, Salvia officinalis
dyes the hair black, although the Tacuinum Sanitatis
indicated that Sage removes dark colour from the hair..
- Schroeder says women
in Germany use the buds of Black Poplar to make their hair grow
thick and ornamental, although
he does not state how.
According to Trotula, opal necklaces
were a favourite with blonde ladies as it was considered that
opals protected fair hair from fading or darkening. Where they
got opals from, is not mentioned.