The Wonderful History of Perfume II: Pomanders, Silly Hats and the first Euro Perfume.

It’s time for another history lesson! If you missed the first part you can find it right here!

Last time we talked about the origins of fragrances and the use of perfume in ancient lands. This time we will be getting closer to home as we’re about to delve into the origins of European perfumery!

As you might recall, Europe had been introduced to the wonders of fragrance through trading with eastern cultures. It wasn’t very long before crafty individuals started to learn the techniques and soon the seeds of the mighty European perfume industry had been planted.

One popular way to enjoy fragrances in Medieval Europe was the pomander, a little metal ball in which you could put amber, musk or perfume oils. This little thing could be hung around your neck or from your belt and spread a cloud of fragrance wherever you went.

A Dutch painting showing a man with a pomander attached to rosary beads. Also: a very silly hat!

The Middle Ages was probably not a very nice-smelling era, what with all the plagues, wars and other unpleasantries going on, so you can absolutely understand the need for one of these. The Pomander, however, wasn’t just used to chase the stink away. It had religious, mystical origins and was often used to protect its wearer from disease.


Pomanders on display at Museo del Perfume.Well worth a visit if you’re in Barcelona!

The Europeans were quite into fragrant goods at this time; pomanders, perfumed gloves, scented handkerchiefs and so on, but it wasn’t until the year 1370 that the first modern perfume liquid based on alcohol became popular on the European continent. Finally you didn’t have to drag around some piece of clothing or a weird ball on a chain if you wanted to smell nice!

The concoction is said to have been blended up in Hungary at the bequest of their Queen Elżbieta. According to the legend, the aptly named Hungary Water was created by alchemist monks at the Hungarian court and mainly consisted of rosemary, lavender, mint, sage, lemon, marjoram and other spices, as well as strong brandy!

The water quickly gained a reputation as a great remedy for all kinds of diseases and afflictions and users were advised to not just dab it on their bodies but to drink it and even bathe in it as well! Isn’t it interesting how the ingredients of perfume hasn’t changed that much? Don’t drink perfume though, it’s just not a very good idea.

In the late 1300’s, Hungary Water had spread to France, where it was well received by scent-lover (and king) Charles V The Wise. This first alcohol-based perfume, the grandmother of all the fragrances you see on the market today, remained popular in Europe as a scent and as a medial remedy for hundreds of years and the basic concept of herbs and spices mixed with alcohol became the blueprint for all the great scents we have today, from Old Spice to Amouage Opus VII.

Sadly, the original perfume is no longer in production, although you can find some reproductions. Here’s a handy recipe if you want to make your own Hungary Water – don’t forget to add some strong brandy if you want to make it authentic! That’s it for this instalment, next time we’ll talk Eau de Cologne!

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