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Home » Uncategorized » Redaction of perfume from ‘Trois Livres de l’embellissement et ornement du corps humain’ by Jean Liébault from edition printed in Paris in 1582.

Redaction of perfume from ‘Trois Livres de l’embellissement et ornement du corps humain’ by Jean Liébault from edition printed in Paris in 1582.

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This is a fragment of the original work (scan made available by  Bibliothèque Interuniversitaire de Médecine (Paris). Adresse permanente : http://www.bium.univ-paris5.fr/histmed/medica/cote?88095).

The original recipe found on page 381 can be translated as:

Take cloves, cassia and yellow sandalwood, each 5 drachms, lavender flowers – 2 handfuls, 5 drachms of Siam benzoin, 3 ounces of Malvasia wine, the same of the aqua vitae and 4 pounds of rose water.  Mix all in a class bottle and expose to sun for a whole month or as long it is needed to bake a bread.  After infused, distilled in bain marie. Add to the distilled fragrant water half drachm of musk and expose to sun for 10 days.

This redaction I am proposing below is the version without distillation where the final product has around 40% alcohol content which means it does not need to be stored in fridge to preserve the freshness and prevent spoilage.

I start with making rose water by infusion. I mix dried ¾ cup of each dried petals of damask rose (Rosa damascena) and French rose (Rosa gallica), and infuded them overnight in 3 cups of distilled water with addition of 3 cloves (Syzygium aromaticum). Next day, I heat the petals gently in the double boiler for 45 minutes and then filter the rose water through several layers of unbleached paper coffee filters into containers cleaned with 70% grain alcohol (I am constantly out of good linen pieces for filtering hence the use of paper filters).


The rose petal infusion heating in the double boiler

I also use a modern trick of adding 10 g of food grade citric acid to preserve the color (period recipes used lemon juice to preserve color of rose petal preserves).  I store the rose water in the fridge.


The rose water ready for storing.

For a convenient batch, I take the following (as powder or crushed):

8.2 g cloves (Syzygium aromaticum)

7.2 g cassia (Cinnamomum cassia)

7.2 g Siam benzoin (Styrax tonkinensis)

7.2 g white sandalwood (here I use a darker variety from Southern India) (Santalum album)

3 g lavender flowers (Lavandula angustifolia)

2 g musk mallow seeds (Abelmoschus moschatus)

96 mL Everclear (98% grain alcohol)

95 mL rose water (previously made)

52 mL Malvasia (very fragrant Greek wine)

15 mL brandy (aqua vitae being really a twice distilled wine)

10 drops white sandalwood essential oil (Santalum album)

10 drops damask rose absolute (Rosa damascena)

6 drops French lavender absolute (it is impossible to buy flowers of this species) (Lavandula stoechas)

I mix everything in a 500 mL Florence flask (with round bottom), close it well and infuse for 11 days. My apartment is on the warm side so it is like balmy southern France! Every day, I mix the infusion thoroughly at least twice.


The aromatics ready to infuse.

On the last day, I heat the infusion gently in bain marie (double boiler) for 8 hours, using 2 tea lights as heat source. They allow the water to reach around 50o C, enough to release the musky-smelling macrocyclic lactone compounds (muscone) from musk mallow seeds, but not high enough to destroy the aromatics.


I forgot to take a picture of the infusion, but the set up for the gentle bain marie looks like this. The bowl has another smaller bowl built in to hold the round bottom flask (a special order made by a potter in Poland).

When the infusion cools down, I filter it through a densely woven linen cloth and several paper coffee filters.


Final filtering.

Then I add 7 drops of Tonquitone Musk Essence (IFF) and 30 drops of musk mallow seeds absolute (Abelmoschus moschatus).  I store the perfume in a dark glass boston bottle, away from light. It usually needs around 10 days for the musk tones to diffuse. The longer it matures, the scent will more mallow and pleasant.

The use of dried aromatics, including rose petals, is well documented in 16th century medical and book of secrets texts. Even Monsieur Liébaut mentioned it in a few of his recipes. Fresh rose petals were even salted in summer to preserve them for winter use.

Use of essential oils and absolutes is a modern but necessary step where availability of raw fresh ingredients is limited or non-existent.

Examples of period use for scented water include the following:
–a few drops on handkerchief, tucked underneath doublet or placed on the bosom,
–a few drops on a scrap of cloth placed in a pomander
–a dilution (in rosewater, orange water or melilot water) used to wash hands and refresh body, or added to last rinse during the wash of hair or body linens, etc.


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