Saturday, January 21, 2017

Queen of Hungary's Water

Queen of Hungary’s Water (Lemon Balm leaves; Sweet Cicely leaves, flowers and seeds; Nootka Rose blossoms; Calendula blossoms (dried and fresh); Comfrey leaf; Rosemary leaves and flowers (dried), Sage (dried), Lemon Peel). This is my version of this legendary recipe, substituting sweet cicely for chamomile, inspired by a similar recipe of the renowned herbalist-gypsy, Juliette de Bairacli Levy. Known as the first herbal ‘product,’ purportedly marketed by Gypsies as a cosmetic beautifier and cure-all, the deeper legend goes something like this: “Some say that it was created for the aging Queen of Hungary by an alchemist in the 1300’s to restore her youthfulness. According to the legend, it reversed her appearance so much that the 25 year old grand-duke of Lithuania asked her for her hand in marriage when she was 70!” Maude Grieve notes a slightly older version of the recipe, “A formula dated 1235, said to be in the handwriting of Elizabeth, Queen of Hungary, is said to be preserved in Vienna.” Whatever the case may be, “the Gypsies used it as a hair rinse, mouthwash, headache remedy aftershave, footbath, and who knows what else!” Some of the ingredients vary from recipe to recipe, but rosemary, a favorite of the Gypsies, seems to always appear as its key ingredient, valued for its astringency, fragrance, and use in beautifying dark hair or thwarting hair loss. Many of the other herbs in this recipe similarly impart both astringency and appealing scents:“there is no doubt that Queen of Hungary’s Water is a wonderful astringent for all skin types and is especially beneficial for oily or acne prone skin. It gently tones, tightens pores, soothes itchy skin, normalizes the skin’s pH, and is a superb hair rinse.” Juliette recommends this preparation as “Excellent applied on cloths wrung out in cold water, and placed over the forehead, to allay headache, soothe fevers. In fevers also apply to the pulse on the wrists.”

Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis). Another key ingredient in this recipe, lemon balm imparts a lemony fragrance and is “antioxidant, antiviral (herpes), antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory,” and is known for its use in “treatments for a wide range of…skin problems, including…sores, bites.” From ancient monastery use as a cologne and in healing salves to Pliny and Dioscordes recommending it as a “‘certain cure for the bites of venomous beasts and the stings of scorpions.’ It is now recognized as a scientific fact that the balsamic oils of aromatic plants make excellent surgical dressings: they give off ozone and thus exercise anti-putrescent effects.” In modern herbalism lemon balm is used particularly as a herpes treatment, “A lemon balm-containing cream is sold in Germany for the treatment of cold sores and related herpes simplex conditions. Studies have shown that it reduces the healing time of herpes lesions and lengthens the time between recurrences of the condition.” It is not surprising that lemon balm is also a great nervine—helping to relax and cool hot conditions of all kinds. 

Sweet Cicely (Osmorhiza spp.). “Referred to as ‘all medicine’ by some tribes,” our local sweet cicely imparts a sweet anise-like aroma to the other infused herbs. As Juliette notes, “The foliage is put into linen closets to impart a pleasant scent to the contents.” Various species of sweet cicely have been used as a wash for head lice and fleas as well as “for treating skin rashes, eye problems, and sore breasts; as a feminine deodorant; and applied to snakebites, cuts, sores, swellings, and bruises.” An antifungal plant medicine, “The tincture can be diluted with two to three pints of water and applied freely to tineas and other fungal conditions”

Nootka Rose (Rosa nutkana.). An ancient nourishing and beautifying skin-healing plant medicine, roses are mildly astringent, toning tissues, including burns, and shrinking “capillary inflammation and redness” according to Michael Moore. Rose is “balancing, cooling, and hydrating to the skin” and helps to soothe sunburns and clarify skin that could use general enhancement. The essence and magic of rose, as in any plant, can be felt and absorbed through the skin, making this preparation an energetic healer in addition to its physical properties. Rich in tannins, roses steeped in apple cider vinegar “is a fine medicine to relieve sunburns….and nourishes your skin to keep it fresh, smooth, and glowing with health.”

Calendula (Calendula officinalis). Calendula is renowned for its skin-healing abilities and has been used for generations and throughout the world in folk healing. Known in the herbal circles as the “‘mother of the skin,’” it is traditionally effective on even the most obstinate skin conditions: “Calendula is truly the miracle worker of the skin, whether a person has lumps, bumps, scabs that won’t heal, eczema, athlete’s foot, acne,” and the list goes on. Calendula is antiviral, antifungal, antibacterial, and anti-inflammatory, among other properties, and it promotes epithelization, or the knitting together of wounded skin tissues. With its nourishing carotenoids and “life force-enhancing properties,” calendula has been known to “speed up healing and counter infection in conditions as diverse as minor burns and sunburn insect bites and stings, sore and pustular blemishes, acne…cuts and abrasions, inflamed rashes such as diaper rash, and hemorrhoids and varicose veins.”

Comfrey (Symphytum officinale). Another skin (and bone)-knitting herb, comfrey “facilitates and activates the healing of damaged tissue. It is one of the best herbs for treating torn ligaments, strains, bruises.” Comfrey’s high allantoin content promotes “healing of bruises, wounds, ulcers, and sore breasts,” while its rich musilage soothes, and eases pain, swelling, and inflammation. As Maude Grieve notes, “Comfrey leaves are of much value as an external remedy, both in the form of fomentations, for sprains, swellings and bruises, and as a poultice, to severe cuts, to promote suppuration of boils and abscesses, and gangrenous and ill-conditioned ulcers.”Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis). The key ingredient in the Queen of Hungary’s Water recipe for its fragrance, antiseptic, and hair-conditioning qualities, “Blended with other herbs in the famous Queen of Hungary’s Water…rosemary makes a bracing astringent cosmetic preparation.” An ancient remedy to strengthen and brighten skin and hair (especially dark hair), rosemary has also been used to discourage dandruff and encourage hair growth, “stimulating the hair-bulbs to renewed activity and preventing premature baldness.” Even today “You’ll often see rosemary used in shampoos and conditioners for dandruff and thinning hair, including alopecia.” Rosemary has been a protective plant of the Gypsies, and “Spanish peasants pound rosemary into common salt and consider this remedy as the finest of all wound cures. The Arabs also extol this wound remedy; they sprinkle the dried powdered herb on the umbilical cord of newborn infants as an astringent and antiseptic treatment.” With its powerfully antiviral, antiseptic, antiinflammatory, and antioxidant rosmarinic acid, rosemary has also been traditionally used as an insecticide and treatment for bites and stings. The scent and flavor of rosemary is a powerful nervine treatment that helps lift the spirits and shift consciousness: “In ancient times, rosemary was used in French churches and cathedrals for perfume, by crushing underfoot.” A rubefacient and “fragrant stimulant” rosemary and its use in “Hungary water was also considered very efficacious against gout in the hands and feet, being rubbed into them vigorously.”
Sage (Salvia apiana). Another protective, cleansing and astringent herb, the Latin “Salvia, derives from the Latin salvus, ‘safe,’ and salvere, ‘to be well.’” Like rosemary, sage is traditionally used “for all forms of wounds, sores, ulcers….An effective hair tonic: to stimulate growth, tone up the color, act as a setting lotion, and remove dandruff.” The minerals in sages “helps keep your hair and scalp healthy” and glossy. Also like rosemary, sage is highly aromatic and high in antiseptic volatile oils—“White sage leaves were used as a deodorant to remove human smells during deer hunting”—and both sage and rosemary contain the antiinflammatory rosmarinic acid. Michael Moore recommends white sage as the best of the sages for “broken skin, rashes, and scratches, applying it to sore gums, and taking it as a first aid for sore throats, skin tineas, urethritis, prostate irritability, and gastritis. Absolutely first-rate stuff.” Sage is also helpful “to warm cold joints, or sinews, troubled with the palsy and cramp, and to comfort and strengthen the parts.

Lemon (Citrus limon). Flavanoid-rich lemon peel is another plant in this blend that is tightening and toning, cooling, and clearing to the hair and skin: “Applied to the skin, it has antibacterial and astringent effects, which helps to clear up blemishes and brighten dull or oily skin and hair….It’s also used in many beauty treatments to help with cellulite.” It is a great plant medicine for healing sunburn. High in fragrant volatile oils, lemon also works on an energetic level to “calm and soothe mental fatigue and insomnia, and lift spirits.”

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