Friday, February 26, 2010

Perfume Illuminated: Rosemary

"There's rosemary, that's for remembrance."
(Hamlet, iv. 5.)

Rosmarinus, meaning "dew of the sea" in Latin, is the first binomial name for Rosemary. The full botanical name is Rosmarinus officinalis. Part of the Lamiaceae (previously known as Labiatae) family, this evergreen flowering shrub has it's origins in the Mediterranean, specifically Spain and Morroco.

At today's installment of the Perfume Illuminated Project we will visit this fresh, herbaceous plant that features prominently in dishes of the Mediterranean region and perfume formulas of the past.


Right now, along the back hillside the rosemary is in full bloom with tiny delicate, pungent, and camphorous blue flowers. The European honey bees and sweet little golden finches have been frequenting the slope covered Rosemary shrub frequently lately.

The needle like leaves are where the pale yellow essential oil is stored. For the aromatherapist and natural perfumer the steam distilled essential oil is available in different chemotypes. The chemotype (ct) is determined by the conditions of where the plant is grown and/or where the plant is within it's cycle. The chemotype of Rosemary found in Tunisia is Rosemary ct 1.8 Cineole Rosemary ct Verbenone tends to grow near the coast as in France and California. Each of the different chemotypes has a distinct quality to the aroma and varying therapeutic actions on the body.

The culinary odor of rosemary falls primarily within the herbaceous family of notes in perfumery with others such as Lavender and Sage. A fine quality oil will also impart woody, resinous and balsamic notes depending on the chemotype.

Rosemary in perfume has it's history as a main ingredient in "Hungary Water" a revitalizing preparation created for the Queen of Hungary during the late 1300's. Reputed as the first alcohol based European perfume, "Hungary Water", was the precursor to Eau de Cologne (EDC).

The original "Hungary Water" appears to have been a very simple tincture of Rosemary twigs steeped in wine for several days. Over the formula evolved with more herbaceous and some floral elements added in.

In Section III of the book "The Art of Perfumery" by Septimus Piesse the following formula is found for his interpretation of "Hungary Water":


By distilling the Rosmarinus officinalis a thin limpid otto is procured, having the characteristic odor of the plant, which is more aromatic than sweet. One cwt. of the fresh herb yields about twenty-four ounces of oil. Otto of rosemary is very extensively used in perfumery, especially in combination with other ottos for scenting soap. Eau de Cologne cannot be made without it, and in the once famous "Hungary water" it is the leading ingredient. The following is the composition of

Hungary Water.

Rectified alcohol,1 gallon.
Otto of English rosemary,2 oz.
" lemon-peel,1 oz.
" balm (Melissa),1 oz.
" mint,1/2 drachm.
Esprit de rose,1 pint.
Extract of fleur d'orange,1 "

It is put up for sale in a similar way to eau de Cologne, and is said to take its name from one of the queens of Hungary, who is reported to have derived great benefit from a bath containing it, at the age of seventy-five years. There is no doubt that clergymen and orators, while speaking for any time, would derive great benefit from perfuming their handkerchief with Hungary water or eau de Cologne, as the rosemary they contain excites the mind to vigorous action, sufficient of the stimulant being inhaled by occasionally wiping the face with the handkerchief wetted with these "waters." Shakspeare giving us the key, we can understand how it is that such perfumes containing rosemary are universally said to be "so refreshing!"


FLAVOR: Beth Schreibman Gehring
Please continue reading about Rosemary at the Windesphere Witch blog

1 comment:

Bethane said...

Thank you for outlining the more authentic composition of "Hungary Water". I am more familiar with Rosemary Gladstar's rendition of which I was introduced about 10 yrs. back.
Our very youthful looking elderly neighbors asked me about it a while ago and I recognized then, that they were on to something!