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Stefan's Florilegium


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Handcream-art - 6/2/00


"Hand Cream" by Constance de LaRose.


NOTE: See also the files: handcream-msg, cosmetics-msg, hair-msg, mirrors-msg, soap-msg, aphrodisiacs-msg, bathing-msg.





This article was submitted to me by the author for inclusion in this set

of files, called Stefan's Florilegium.


These files are available on the Internet at:



Copyright to the contents of this file remains with the author.


While the author will likely give permission for this work to be

reprinted in SCA type publications, please check with the author first

or check for any permissions granted at the end of this file.


                              Thank you,

                                   Mark S. Harris

                                   AKA:  Stefan li Rous

                                        stefan at florilegium.org                                         



(This is the documentation that Constance submitted for one of her entries

in the Artemisian A&S Contest in May 2000).



by Constance de LaRose




I have an illness called CrohnÕs Disease.  The illness combined with the drugs needed to keep it in remission cause a rather unpleasant side effect.  I have extremely dry skin, to the point that my fingertips often crack and bleed and my elbows can become seriously abraded just by rubbing against a couch arm.  Since my career involves extensive work at a computer terminal, I could not just stop using my fingertips.  I have spent a fortune in various creams and lotions, both prescription and over the counter, over the last few years with little or no relief.  


Since modern medicine could offer me no relief for this Ōside effectĶ, I decided to conduct a bit of research to see if medieval medicine could offer anything better.




I started with GerardÕs Herball and went from there through sources which included CulpeperÕs Herbal  (1638), CulpeperÕs Physicians Booke  (1633), The Recipes of the Physicians College of England (1633), The Writings of Pliny the Elder  (approx. 41 AD), Mrs. Grieves Herbal  (1927), Markhams English Huswife (1537), John Baptista PortaÕs Book of Natural Magick  (1638) and Martha WashingtonÕs Booke of Cookery (approx. 1600?).  All together I found over 100 different recipes for salves, ointments, liniments, unguents and pummatums.


After discarding those recipes which were obviously unsuitable due to either the expense of the ingredients (gold) or all of the ingredients being something I wouldnÕt want to put on my skin (cow urine), I had a list of approximately 100 recipes.  Copies of these recipes are attached in the exhibit section for any that are both brave and curious.


I then proceeded to check all of these recipes for ingredients which were either alike or of similar properties.  I was looking for a common base that these medications might share.  Out of all of the recipes the following ingredients appeared with the following frequency:


      Herbs                                99%

Oil or oils of some kind          98%

      Wax                                  82%

      Water (plain or infused)          80%

      Vinegar                              49%

Urine                                32%

      Lead                                 28%

      Mercury                              25%

      Dung                                 20%


Some of the recipes were nothing more than one or two of the main ingredients.  I must say that I pity the poor fellow whose English physician prescribed an unguent of beeswax and dog urine.  Or perhaps we should pity more the people who had to live and work near him.


I discarded several of these ingredients at this point as either known to be dangerous or just plain unpleasant.  LetÕs face it, if I know there is dung in it I am not going to use it no matter how good it might be for me.  Both lead and mercury were rather common in these types of applications especially in the late middle ages.  They had the benefit of making the skin appear whiter and, in some cases, almost translucent.  However, todayÕs science tells us that both are highly poisonous and not the sort of thing to be rubbing on your skin. Since I already have one skin problem, I did not want to replace it with yet another.


The last ingredient I removed from my list was vinegar.  Though it has some good medicinal qualities in many of the preparations, one of its properties is that it acts as a drying agent.  Since I was seeking a preparation to prevent dry skin, placing a drying ingredient in the mixture would appear to be counter productive.


This left me with a base, common to 93% of the recipes, of herbs, oil, wax and water.


Next I began to study the herbs listed and their properties as described in many of the herbal treatises.  When I first made a list of all the herbs listed in all of the recipes there were over 200.  By researching the uses of the herbs, that list was pared down to 13 whose primary purpose was to heal or improve the moisture, elasticity and softness of the skin.  Of those 13 I chose Comfrey root as a healing agent and Damascene rose as a softening agent which could also serve to give the preparation a pleasant scent.  I chose these two over the others because I happen to have both growing in my garden.





WAX - I visited a local apiary and purchased 5 lbs of uncleaned wax fresh from their honey processing operation. When I got home I cut off 2 oz of the wax and placed it in an iron pot with ½ cup of water.  I then brought the water to a boil.  This had the effect of melting the wax.  The melted wax tends to stay on the bottom of the pan while the boiling water processing through it picked up the lighter dirt particles, bee parts and left over honey and carried it to the top of the water.  As debris gathered on top of the water, I skimmed it away with a wooden spoon. When the water had boiled down to the level of the wax, I checked to see how much debris was left in the wax.  I found it necessary to repeat this process with 3 more times with  ½ cup portions of water before the wax was clean.  When the wax was clean enough, I let the water continue boiling until no more steam rose from the wax.  I then poured the wax into a small dish to cool.  When the wax had cooled, I grated it until I had 1 oz of clean grated wax.  (The grating is to make it easier to melt when being mixed with other oils)  


Information on performing this process was found in a book on life in a medieval castle.(1)


OLIVE OIL:    I chose olive oil because it was mentioned frequently in the recipes.  Due to the fact that I have neither the equipment nor the olives available to make my own olive oil, I chose to purchase this item.  I did purchase organic extra virgin olive oil as it is the lightest oil and organic insures no preservatives were either on the olives or processed into the oil.


LANOLIN:     Approximately 40 of the recipes called for sheep oil, shep oyle, or lamb fat.  We know that product today as lanolin, the oil exuded by sheep for their wool just as we exude oil from our scalp onto our own hair.  One of my friends in Wyoming is married to a sheep rancher.  While I was there for a training meeting she was complaining that too many of their sheep had produced poor quality wool which was not even worth processing if they didnÕt need wool to sell so badly.  I offered to take some of the poor quality shorn wool home with me to process it for her if she would allow me to keep the lanolin produced by the process.  The next day she presented me with 5 lbs of dirty wool.


Information on this process was extrapolated from a book on life in a medieval castle. (2)


I took the wool back to Utah with me and placed it at the bottom of a 15-gallon pot.  I then placed some scrap lace loosely over the wool and anchored it to the bottom of the pot with 4 large stones from the back yard.  I poured 10 gallons of distilled water over the top of this and heated the water to boiling.  As the water boiled, the heat and moving water served to melt and loosen the lanolin which floated through the lace and up to the top of the water.  The lace (which also served to hold the wool in the bottom of the pan) caught the larger particles of dirt and debris. The smaller particles, which floated to the top, gathered at the edge of the pot where they were easily skimmed off with a wooden spoon and thrown away.  The lanolin, from the center of the top water, was dipped out with another spoon and placed in a smaller pot.  In the smaller pot the excess water was allowed to boil away, leaving pure clean lanolin.


When I finished gathering all the lanolin available, I poured the extra water out of the pot.  I then removed the lace and put it in the washing machine.  That lace, when cleaned, had a wonderful softness.  The rocks went back out to the garden.  The wool was hung on a line to dry and then shipped back to Wyoming.  


When my friend received the wool, she called to ask what I had done, as the wool she received back could now be sold as prime quality.


ROSE OIL:     In the Middle Ages, they would have crushed some roses, placed them in water at the bottom of a limbect and distilled the essential oil out of them.  However, since it is illegal to distill in this state, even for oil, I had to resort to an older and more time consuming method first used in Egypt.  Each morning, just after dawn, I got up and went to my small rose garden.  As the light first hits the rose petals, you can see small beads of rose oil resting on the petals.  If you have a small glass bowl and a long steady fingernail, you can push the oil along the petal and into the bowl without damaging the rose petal. It was boring and time consuming but finally, after 5 days of this, I had 1 tsp. of damascene rose oil.   


ROSEWATER:    The most complete information on this process was found in Martha

WashingtonÕs Boke of Cookery.  Although the process is described in several of the primary sources, their directions and amounts were not as clear as the recipe in the source that I used.


I gave the roses about 3 days to recover from the oil scrapings.  Then I harvested 6 of the brightest blooms.  I removed the petals and threw the center and the greenery away.  I then cut the bottom white area away from each petal. The remaining petals I chopped up finely with a knife on a cutting board.  This product (about ½ cup of finely chopped rose petals) was placed in the bottom of a quart sized glass jar and the jar was filled with water.  The jar was placed in a sunny windowsill and shaken twice daily for four weeks.  At the end of that time, the lid was removed from the jar and the contents strained through an unbleached muslin bag twice.  The strained water, now very red and with a softening quality from the roses, was poured into a new clean jar.  The leftover chopped rose petals were place on a tray to dry.  I intend to try my hand at making rose beads with the chopped dried rose petals.


COMFREY ROOT DECOCTION:     I chose comfrey root because I have it growing in my garden and because it was well known in the Middle Ages as a healing agent.  The common name for comfrey is Ōknit-boneĶ because of itÕs ability to speed the healing of broken bones.  Gerard cautions, in his commentaries of the virtues of the herb, that if you use it on an open wound you should make certain that the wound is clean, for comfrey will heal so quickly that dirt may be sealed within the wound.  


The instructions on this process came from GerardÕs Herball section on Comfrey.


I pulled two Comfrey roots from the garden and washed them.  I then cut them into pieces about 1/2 inch long and placed them in a pot with 4 cups of water and brought the water to a boil.  I reduced the heat until the water was just barely boiling and left  the pot on this heat.  When the water had reduced to 1/2 of its previous volume, I removed it from the heat and strained the mixture through an unbleached muslin bag.  After two strainings, I was left with a thick (almost jellylike) substance, which I then poured into a jar.




      Beeswax (grated) 1 oz.

      Lanolin 2 tbsp.

      Olive Oil  1 cup


Heat these ingredients in a brass pan (Gerard p. 356) over low heat until all have melted.  


Remove from heat. Place in a bowl and add:


      Comfrey Root Decoction – 1/2 cup

      Rose Water – 1/2 cup

      Rose Oil – 1 tsp.


Using a wooden spoon, mix these ingredients rapidly until there are no lumps and the mixture takes on a smooth creamy appearance.  Set the mixture aside until it has cooled completely.  Stir the cooled mixture again to remove any remaining lumps.  Pour into jars for future use.



The above recipe is the result of approximately 15 attempts with differing amounts of the various ingredients.  This one gave the best feel, scent, and effect.





The best demonstrations of the results are my own hands and elbows.  My fingertips are no longer dry cracked and bleeding and my elbows are soft and supple.  It is wonderful to be able to face a keyboard without fear of the pain.


The second result was to my bank account.  My costs to make this first batch were:


Olive oil           $2.49

Distilled Water      $5.00

Beeswax            $5.00


However, these materials gave me enough to make many batches as the need arises so the final cost of making two 8-oz. jars of the cream was 78 cents.  A vast improvement over the costs of $4 - $30 for the creams and ointments which I had tried before.  Not to mention that this one really works.


I let several friends try the cream and they liked the results and the scent as well.  


Feel free to sample the cream yourself.  For best immediate results, try rubbing it on your elbows.




(1)  Gies, Joseph & Frances        "Life in a Medieval Castle"

      New York                       Chp 4,5,6,8, & 11


(2)  Gies, Joseph & Frances        "Life in a Medieval Castle"

      New York                       Chp. 4,5, & 11




Bonar, Ann.   "The Macmillan Treasury of Herbs", Nicholas Enterprises Ltd.,   Belgium, 1985


Gerard, John "The Herbal or General History of Plants", Dover Publications          New York, 1975 & 1633


Gies, Joseph & Frances. "Life in a Medieval Castle", Harper & Row                  New York, 1979


Porta, John Baptista. "The Book of Natural Magick",

      Web Page Edition     http://www2.tscnet.com/pages/omard1/jportac9.html



Culpeper, Nicholas. "Culpepers Complete Herbal", W Foulsham & Co., Ltd  London 1638


Culpeper, Nicholas. "The English Physician", W Foulsham & Co., Ltd., London          1653


Rohde, Eleanour Sinclair. "The Old English Herbals", Dover Publications       New York, 1971



Copyright 2000 by Debbie Snyder, 4744 W. Crestmoor Ct, West Jordan, Ut  84088.

<LadyPDC at aol.com>. Permission is granted for republication in SCA-related

publications, provided the author is credited and receives a copy.


If this article is reprinted in a publication, I would appreciate a notice in

the publication that you found this article in the Florilegium. I would also

appreciate an email to myself, so that I can track which articles are being

reprinted. Thanks. -Stefan.


<the end>

Formatting copyright © Mark S. Harris (THLord Stefan li Rous).
All other copyrights are property of the original article and message authors.

Comments to the Editor: stefan at florilegium.org