Medieval Aromatherapy Revisited
As Europe blossomed from the Dark Ages, many aromatic herbs and their essential oils were rediscovered. Much of the knowledge of distillation, extraction and medicinal properties taught by Greek and Roman physicians was lost, only to be reintroduced by Islamic physicians and alchemists linking their ancient art to the modern world of science.
Herb gardens flourished in the later 1500’s at every commoner’s home. Aromatic herbs were grown for strewing, cooking, home remedies and many household uses. These herbs and their fragrant waters were often worn to cover the smell of unwashed bodies. Bathing was considered unhealthy for the skin and general condition of the body. Incense and strewing herbs helped during church and public gatherings, but very intimate encounters required special considerations. Soon lovers developed a language of flowering herbs from the heavenly scents masking their personal odors.
A particular favorite was sweet Marjoram, Marjorana hortensis, believed to enhance marital bliss. It was worn in nosegays, sweet powders and washing waters to perfume clothing. Sprigs were hung outside a maiden’s window to attract a good husband….or announce availability. Finger bowls were scented with marjoram and other sweet smelling herbs from the garden by floating them in the water bowls. Guests would dip their fingers at the end of the meal, having used their fingers as utensils. The following medieval recipe can be modified today for an aromatic sweet washing water for rinsing linens or fingers after a picnic. Soapwort is used as a safe detergent.
Medieval Sweet Marjoram Water
Simmer 2 ounces of Soapwort, Saponaria officinalis, roots, stems and fresh leaves in 2 cups of pure water for 5 minutes. Add 4 ounces of fresh marjoram, cover, remove from heat. Allow the herbs to steep until cool, 20 to 30 minutes. Strain, squeezing the liquid from the plant materials. Use to wash linens or undergarments. This recipe can be used on a picnic to clean fingers and hands before and after eating.
Alternate recipe: Prepare and simmer soapwort. Cover and allow to cool. Strain liquid. Add 4 drops of marjoram essential oil. Use for clothes or a body wash.
The aroma of marjoram essential oil is slightly spicy and warming. The scent is relaxing and calming, useful for anxiety, insomnia and crankiness. Medieval Europeans often ground dried marjoram with a talc powder. The following recipe is safe on the body or dusted on clothes in Medieval manner. Cornstarch and/or arrowroot can be substituted for orris and calamus root. Marjoram essential oil can be substituted for ground marjoram.
Medieval Talc Powder
1 pound ground orris root, Florentine Iris root
1 pound ground calamus root
1 ounce ground, dried marjoram
¼ pound dried lavender flowers or rose petals
1/8 teaspoon of ground clove buds is optional
Combine in an airtight container. Allow the aromas to combine for 1 week before using. Stores up to 1 year in an airtight container.
Substitute 10 drops of marjoram essential oil for dried marjoram; 6 drops of rose absolute or 18 drops of lavender absolute or essential oil.
Marjoram is a native of Mediterranean cultures, used medicinally for many centuries. The essential oil is steam distilled from soft woody branches in bloom. In Texas, marjoram and its cousin, oregano vulgare, bloom profusing in mid summer. Mine is blooming now, a mid-summer treat! The calming aroma has been used to treat grief and sorrow in Medieval times, and illnesses of nervous distress. Modern aromatherapists use sweet marjoram to reduce hypertension in a relaxing aroma blend. Vasodilating properties also help relieve narrowing of arteries and enhance blood flow.
Relaxing Hypertension Blend
In 4 ounces of carrier oil, add the following essential oils:
20 drops Sweet Marjoram
20 drops Bergamot
10 drops Geranium
14 drops Rosewood
10 drops Lavendula
Bottle in dark glass with a tight fitting screw cap. Allow to cure overnight. Massage the back, chest, abdomen, and limbs with long, relaxing strokes every evening or as desired.
Marjoram, of every variety, was enjoyed and used medicinally by the ancient Greeks. Sweet marjoram was employed to prevent and combat sinusitis, headaches and migraines. By enhancing cardiovascular flow, it is especially beneficial for stimulating the parasympathetic response and unblocking sympathetic nerve response. Marjoram has the ability to remove blockages and pain in the most nonoffensive ways. I like to add a drop or two of lemon, or lemongrass, to accentuate the power of this favorite Medieval herb. Cold pressed lemon essential oil will give the blend a more tart flavor without the stimulation of the energy in lemongrass. This blend can also be used to expel mucus from the sinuses and lung, reduce bronchitis and asthma. Use cautiously if low blood pressure is present. A few drops daily is safe.
Sinusitis, Bronchitis, Headache and Migraine Blend!
In 2 ounces of carrier oil, add the following essential oils:
20 drops Sweet Marjoram
5 drops Lemon
3 drops Rosemary
Bottle in dark glass with a screw cap. Allow to cure 3 hours or overnight. Refrigerate until ready to use. Apply a few drops to affected area and massage gently. Allow marjoram to relax and expand your vital organs and energy pathways.
One effect marjoram has which is notable. Marjoram is so calming it reduces sexual excitement. It is known as anti-anaphrodesiac. Save a blend to use after physical exertion. Marjoram is a subtle, but powerful muscle relaxer. Marjoram is not used for infants. Use sparingly during pregnancy.
References: Mother Nature’s Herbal, Judy Griffin
Medieval Gardens of the Cloisters, NYC