For The Medieval Woman
SKINCARE - OINTMENTS - HERBAL REMEDIES FOR CLEAR SKIN
- ODD REMEDIES
the 12th century, cosmetics appeared to be in regular use in medieval
Europe. Because of the nature of their ingredients, cosmetics and many
skin care preparations were dispensed by apocatharies and doctors. A
late 13th century treatise from France, L'Ornament des Dames
includes information on hair colouring as well as long-favoured facial
enhancements. Aldobrandino of Siena produced a work Regime du Corps
which also included advice on skin care.
Many creams and ointments were used to soften and preserve the skin,
mostly fat-based. An archaeological find in Southwark, England of a
round, tin box still had soft ointment in it which was presumed to be
a face cream. The ingredients were animal fat, tin oxide and starch-
all basic ingredient still used today!
Smooth white skin was highly regarded in the medieval period as the
most beautiful of all kinds. Paleness indicated a woman of superior
breeding and the tanned look that many associate with health today was
associated with outdoor work and therefore a low birth. Women were often
called fair regardless of their actual skin colouring because of their
smooth, unblemished skin: thus a woman with olive, Italian heritage
and a woman of pale English heritage could both accurately be described
as fair although their skin tones were not similar in the least. Clear
skin was particularly held in high esteem because frequent smallpox
epidemics left many of the population with unattractive pockmarks. Shown
above is a detail dated 1350s from Memmi's Madonna Of The Recommended
which shows the desired ideas of beauty.
Shown at left is a cosmetic mirror from
the late 13th century. It is made of brass and was found in England.
Mirrors like this had silvered glass inside were hinged to fold close.
As well as herbal remedies, gemstones were
used to make potions and unguents for promoting fair skin and removing
pimples. Amethyst was the gem of choice in this matter. A person so
afflicted must dampen an amethyst with saliva and rub it over the spots.
Also, heat water over a fire and hold the stone until it sweats. Use
the sweat mixed with water and wash the face. How effective the gemstone
remedies were is anyone guess, although it is unlikely that they were
of any real medicinal value.
The Old Woman from the manuscript the Roman
de la Rose also offers advice on skincare:
If her complexion loses colour and
her heart is tormented as a result, she should arrange always to have
aqueous ointments hidden in boxes in her chamber, for the purpose
of painting her face. But she must take care that none of her guests
can smell or see them: otherwise she could be in great trouble...
If her hands are not fair and unblemished but marred by spots and
pimples, she ought not to leave these alone but use a needle to remove
them; or else she should hide her hand in her gloves so that the spots
and scabs are not visible.
Herbal remedies for clear skin
One herbal remedy recommended by Hildegard Von Bingham in the 12th century
Pulverize ginger with twice as much
galingale and a half portion of zedoary. Place in a tied cloth in
vinegar and then in wine so it doesn't become too dark. Smear the
skin where eruptions are, and he will be cured.
The following are herbal remedies for clear
skin gathered from historic texts. Please DO NOT try these at
home as they may be injurious or harmful.
Mixers- things mixed with other things
rosmarinus officinalis, shown at right, mixed with white wine
made the face beautiful. Dragons artemisia dracunculus (known
now as tarragon, dragon's-wort, French tarragon, Russian tarragon, silky
wormwood or wild tarragon) mixed with vinegar and applied externally,
cleareth mightily freckles and sun-burning. A meal of Oats boiled with
vinegar takes away freckles and spots on the face and other parts of
the body. Used with vinegar, onion allium cepa takes away all
blemishes and spots. Southernwood or Old Man Tree artemesia abrotanum
boiled with barley-meal takes away pimples that arise on the face. Wheat
flour mixed with vinegar and boiled together heals all freckles, spots
and pimples on the face. Plantain plantago major added to the
juice of the house leek is profitable for eruptions of the skin. Least
Water Parsnep with bran or malt is good for eruptions of the skin. Lesser
Field Scabious juice made up with a powder of borax and samphire cleanses
the skin of the face from freckles and pimples, morphew and scurvy.
juices all widely believed to clear skin blemishes include: Aloe vera,
Small Century, Horse-Radish Scurvy Grass cochlearis armoracia,
Sheep's Rampion and Greenland Scurvy-Grass clears the skin from pimples
when the juice is expressed or made into a concoction by boiling. Cucumber
juice cleanses the skin and helps the skin to not be red and aid the
complexion with freckles and morphew. Strawberry juice or water takes
away the redness in the face or spots or deformities of the skin and
make it clear and smooth. Sun Dew juice mixed with milk removes freckles
or sunburn or other discolourations of the skin. Garlic allium sativum,
shown at right, takes away blemishes of the skin.
The distilled water or juice of the Water Pimpernel is esteemed by French
ladies to cleanse the skin of roughness or deformity. The distilled
water of the leaves and roots together of Elecampane to cleanse the
skin from morphew, spots and blemishes. Water
Betony leaves betonia officinalis distilled in water to bathe
the face and hands sun-blemished or spotted. Dwarf Elder sambucus
nigra water distilled banishes freckles. The entire plant, roots
and all, of Figwort takes away all redness of the face, spots, freckles
and skurf. Feverfew tanecetum parthenium, shown at left, takes
away freckles. Marsh Sow-Thistle Tree clears the skin and gives it a
lustre. Solomon's Seal, the whole plant, used on the face cleanses it
from morphew, freckles, spots leaving in place a fresh, fair and lovely
skin- much used by Italian dames. Tansy cleanses the skin of all discolouration
and also pimples and freckles. The bruised leaves or juice of Water
Cress applied to the face helps with freckles, pimples or spots. Water
Lily flowers takes away freckles, spots, sunburn and morphew of the
face. The water found standing in the hollow of the leaves of Wild Teasel
is said to render the face fair. Elderflower water was used as a popular
The powder of the root of Butter-Burtakes away blemishes of the skin
and spots. The fresh roots of Century or Ordinary Small Century, Cuckow-Point
or Alron or Janus or Starch-wort or Clave's foot bruised and added to
distilled milk make a cleanser to remove from the skin, skurf, freckles,
spots or blemishes. Madder roots and leaves beaten and applied to any
part discoloured with freckles or morphew or white skurf, it cleanseth
thoroughly. The juice of the roots of Avens geum urbanum takes
away spots or marks in the face. The root of Briony spread on a sheeps
leather in form of a plaster takes away all manner of scars and deformities
of the skin.
Seeds, leaves and flowers
The seeds of Devil's Bit disolved in a little vitriol assists with pimples,
freckles and morphew. Ivy Leaved Scurvy Grass leaves bruised and laid
to the face take off freckles and spots or sunburn. Beware if you have
a delicate complexions that you may be injured. Lovage levisticum
officinale, shown at right, takes away spots and freckles of the
face. Wild Rocket Mixed seed with honey, cleanses the skin, and used
with vinegar takes away freckles and redness of the face. An infusion
of the tops of the stalks and flowers of Broom-Rape cleanses the skin
and removes marks and freckles
The ointment of the flowers of Cowslips added to hog's grease or distilled
water adds beauty or restores it when it is lost. An ointment made of
Cowslip flowers takes away spots and wrinkles and adds beauty exceedingly.
Pennyroyal mentha pulegium made into a paste helps with blotches
of the face. Rue ruta graveolens when bruised and added to myrtle
leaves and being made up with wax, helps with pimples.
The treatise Liber de Diversis Medicinis from 14th century England
gives several herbal remedies to banish unsightly freckles. Many of
these seem odd today:
- Anoint the face with the blood of the bull or hare.
- The juice of Greater Celandine mixed with the powder of brimstone
takes away the discolourations of the skin.
- Flax-Weed applied alone or with some powder of lupine helps with all
form of deformity, pimples, spots, or leprosy.
- Willow Tree Water that is gathered from the willow tree when the bark
being slit when it flowers, being drank, clears the face and skin from
spots and discolouration. You may boil it in wine and drink as much
as you want.