Mouthwash-art - 6/30/00
"Mint and Myrrh Mouthwash" by Constance de LaRose.
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: http://www.florilegium.org
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.
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).
MINT AND MYRRH MOUTHWASH
by: Constance de LaRose
HOW THIS PROJECT GOT STARTED:
While at the library, I wandered by the French literature section and a title caught my eye. The title of the book was "The Romance of the Rose". When I pulled the book off of the shelf, the cover told me that it was an English translation of a Medieval French poem called "Le Roman de La Rose". Since my chosen SCA surname was "de LaRose", I felt a strong urge to read this book. I checked it out and took it home to read.
The book or poem (for the whole book is one long poem written by two 14th century poets) is allegorical. It concerns a man who falls asleep and dreams that he is in a garden. While in the garden he spies a rose and falls in love with her. The rest of the poem concerns his trials and tribulations in attempting to win (and win through trials to) the rose. Along the way he meets many gods and goddesses who force him to examine his wishes and his love.
In the early portion of the poem, he is allowed to approach the rose (in allegory a beautiful woman) and gives a brief description of her as seen through a lover’s eyes.
In the midst of this description were the words:
"Her breath was sweet and pure
Scented with mint and myrrh"
This piqued my interest because I have done some little work in alchemy and it seemed to me that he could only be talking about some form of a medieval mouthwash.
The search was on.
To begin, I felt that I needed to check the original wording in French in order to insure that there was not a mistake in the translation.
I managed to find a copy of the manuscript at the University of Utah Library in their rare books collection. The same verse in the original language was:
"Son souffle e’tait doux et pur
Lave’ avec la monnaie et la myrrha."
There was indeed an error in translation. Although all of the other words were translated correctly, the word "lave'" is more correctly translated as "washed" rather than "scented". It seemed that I was more on the right track than before. Even though this was a work of fiction, most fiction is based on known life, especially the small details of life.
However, the rare books librarian was able to point me towards information which might serve to confirm or deny my assumptions. It seems that there was some outrage within the century when "Le Roman de La Rose" was written. While the initial author, Guillaume de Lorris, had written most becomingly of the female gender, when he died another author took over the completion of the poem. The second author, Jean de Meun, had a much less lofty view of the distaff and wrote accordingly. In part to respond to the more negative view of women in the second half, a female writer of some renown by the name of Christine de Pizan wrote a rebuttal entitled "Dit de La Rose" or "The word of the Rose".
The librarian managed to find a copy of this work and we searched together for a section which matched the section I had found in "Le Roman de La Rose". What we found translated to:
"I know not why these things about my breath he doth say
It is but a wash I use in wishing to forstall decay"
Again, and in rebuttal even, the writing seems to confirm the use of mouthwash and the combination of mint and myrrh in such washes.
MINT - There were many varieties of mint (mentha) identified in primary sources during the time period we study. The one that I chose to use was peppermint, known in that time as red-mint for the reddish-purple tinge to the leaves of the plant. I picked this mint for two reasons, the first being that I have it growing in my garden. The second reason had to do with the qualities or virtues ascribed to this mint both in medieval and modern sources. In Gerard’s Herbal, he quotes Pliny as saying that "if the juice of the mint be gargified, or the throat washed therewith, being used in (wine), and myrrh withall (it cleanses/freshens)". Culpeper, in his herbal, says of mint "the docoction gargled in the mouth, cures the mouth and gums that are sore and amends an ill-favoured breath". In more modern sources, we learn the scientific reasons behind these uses. "Peppermint has additional anesthetic, antiseptic, antiparasitic, and anti-viral properties".
For this particular use, I prepared a peppermint tincture by placing 2 oz. fresh picked peppermint in a closed glass bottle with 1 cup of 120 proof wheat vodka. I placed the bottle on a shelf for 6 weeks, then opened it and strained the contents through an unbleached muslin bag. The resulting tincture is on display.
MYRRH - An ancient plant resin, myrrh is mentioned as far back as biblical days. The Oxford English Dictionary lists several reference (about a page and a half) including "One kiss from thy myrrh-breathing mouth" (1616) referenced under myrrh wine and "thou hast given us a myrrhate draught … the wine of astonishment" (1659). Myrrh was used as a spice to make cheap wine more palatable. This mixture was offered to convicts just before execution, so their deaths would be less painful. Because it was somewhat rare and expensive, highly ranked persons in the middle ages would wash their clothing in myrrh water and wear pomanders with myrrh to show that they had the wealth to perfume their bodies with myrrh. It is used even today in toothpaste, mouthwash, and gargle for its effect on gingivitis.
I purchased some myrrh resin at a local event. In order to make myrrh tincture, I ground up the resin in a mortar and pestle until it was a fine powder. I then placed 2 oz of it in a sealed glass jar with 1 cup of 120 proof wheat vodka. This jar was placed on a shelf for 6 weeks. I then opened the jar and poured the contents through an unbleached muslin bag to remove the residue. The resultant tincture is on display today.
WINE - In Gerard’s Herbal, he quotes Pliny as mentioned above to say that the mouthwash/gargle mixture should be mint, myrrh, and wine. Since he does not specify type of wine, and since I currently have no wines decanted, I decided to purchase a wine to use as a base for the mouthwash. Owing to the fact that the source which led me on this quest was French, I chose a French Chardonnay.
Chardonnay wine is made from the same white grapes which produce champagne, the difference being the quality of land on which the grapes are grown. The name comes from the region in which these grapes are produced in France. Chardonnay wine has been produced since the early 14th century.
MAKING THE MOUTHWASH:
Even the medieval sources that I was able to find on this did not give amounts by any stretch of the imagination. Therefore, I turned to more modern sources for the combination amounts.
Everything that I could find on myrrh gave the same dosages for the tincture for use in mouthwash. That was 1-4 ml per 8 oz of liquid.
Therefore, I mixed the mouthwash as follows:
1/2 cup myrrh tincture
1/2 cup peppermint tincture
6 cups of wine
Mix the wine and tinctures well, then bottle and cork.
I have used this mouthwash daily since making it about 2 months ago. It has a refreshing taste, which is slightly astringent. In fact, to me, it tastes better than the Listerine that I have used for years. Not to mention that it costs far less even when using a fairly expensive wine as a base.
And besides, I got to practice reading Olde French as well as reading an allegorical poem which would be considered more than somewhat racy in some circles today. Who says research isn’t fun?
Bremness, Lesley. "Herbs", Dorling Kindersley, London 1994
Culpeper, Nicholas. "Culpepers Complete Herbal", W Foulsham & Co., Ltd, London 1638
Culpeper, Nicholas. "The English Physician", W Foulsham & Co., Ltd, London 1653
Gerard, John. "The Herbal or General History of Plants", Dover Publications New York 1975 & 1633
Grieve, Mrs. M. "A Modern Herbal", Tiger Books International, London 1931
Lorris, Guillaume de. Meun, Jean de. "Le Roman de la Rose" 1237
Oxford University. "Oxford English Dictionary", Oxford University Press London 1999 (latest revision)
Pizan, Christine de. "Dit de la Rose", 1412
Robbins, Harry W. "The Romance of the Rose – Translation"
New American Library, New York 1962
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.