Queen of Hungary water is a distillation that is mentioned repeatedly in general herb and perfume books as one of the first alcohol-based perfumes. These works generally date the water to the late 1300s. This delicious-smelling concoction presents a number of problems for the re-creator.
Because it is traditionally associated with Elizabeth, Queen of
Hungary, sister of Casimir the Great of Poland, Hungary water is
to have been created within her lifetime, 13?? -1370. The lady had
a reputation. (In the mid 1300's, the Holy Roman Emperor used certain
epithets to describe her to embassadors from the King of Hungary-- the
brouhaha almost plunged all of central and Northern Europe into war,
only by the 1364 conference of rulers at Cracow.) There is also
possibility that the water is really associated with her
Elizabeth, Queen of Hungary, wife and widow of Louis the Great.
to various traditions, the water was created as either a treatment for
or gout which the queen suffered in her old age as Viceroy of Poland,
as a beauty treatment which was so successful it led a king of 25 to
propose marriage to her near the end of her life, making her a sort of
Polish Ninon de Lenclos.
The water may have been used as a face and hand wash, as a rubbing alcohol for palsied or 'withered limbs' and/or even consumed. The Household Cyclopedia, a nineteenth century source that claims to quote the original recipe, calls for a glassful a day, half to be drunk and half to be rubbed on the affected part. (I've tried making a Hungary Water cordial. It tastes, as you would imagine, like perfume. However, many period and near-period mead recipes call for rosemary as one of the spice/herb ingredients.)
Certain postperiod books, such as the Household Cyclopedia (circa 1880), give recipes for Hungary Water that are simple rosemary water, which the English distilling treatises do mention, but not by the name 'Hungary Water'.
Original Receipt for Hungary Water.
The original receipt for preparing this invaluable lotion is written in letters of gold in the hand-writing of Elizabeth, queen of Hungary. Take of aqua vitae, four times distilled, 3 parts, the tops and flowers of rosemary, 2 parts. To be put together in a close-stopped vessel, And allowed to stand in a warm place during 50 hours, then to be distilled in an alembic, and of this, once every week, 1 dr. to be taken in the morning,either in the food or drink, and every morning the face and the diseased limb to be washed with it.From The Household Encyclopedia, By Henry Hartshorn
Other recipes, more complicated, call for rosemary, orange,
mint, and/or orange flower water [a conconction generally only
associated with Spain
in period], etc.
Sophie Hodorwicz Knab writes of a Polish perfume called Lavendogra,
supposedly a corruption of the name Queen of Hungary water, which is a
distilled 'water' (hydrosol) of lavender and rosemary, and claims that
it was known in the middle
ages. Hildegarde of Bingen (12th century German Abbess) is said to have
fond of using lavender water. On the other hand, distilled spirits are
mentioned her Physica, and lavender is given only a short entry.
Nancy M. Booth gives a modern recipe for the water in Perfumes,
Splashes and Colognes, which includes lemon or orange peel,
orangeflower water, glycerin [a modern ingredient, a by-product of the
soap production process), vodka, essential oil of lemon,
essential oil of bergamot, essential oil of rosemary, and chopped fresh
Rosemary Gladstar published a version of Queen of Hungary water using vinegar instead of alcohol, but this recipe seems to originate with her, despite her claim to a connection with the 'Vinegar of the Four Thieves' which was apparently known in the 18th century. (All citations to a vinegar-based Queen of Hungary water on the web seem to point back to the Rosemary Gladstar version with her creative history.)
The Oxford English Dictionary, online version, gives the
quotations referencing Hungary water:
1698VANBRUGH Prov. Wife V. vi, Your bottle of Hungary water to your lady. 1706PHILLIPS (ed. Kersey), Queen of Hungry Water, a Spirit of Wine fill'd with the more essential part of Rosemary-flowers. 1727-41CHAMBERS Cycl.,Hungary Water,..a distilled water, denominated from a queen of Hungary, for whose use it was first prepared;..made of rosemary flowers infused in rectified spirit of wine, and thus distilled.
I have not yet found any recipes for Queen of Hungary water or mentions of it in surviving period English documents that I have access to. Nor have I been able to pursue outright mentions of it in non-English documents yet-- I don't speak Polish! 19th century novels mention such waters as being peddled by Gypsies; and gypsies orginally travelled across Europe claiming to be under the protection of the King of Hungary.
There is a possibility that the water is not associated with Elizabeth of Hungary at all-- it may be a gypsy product whose association with the Queen is as mythical as the gypsies' letters of protection from the King of Hungary, and it may only have come into use in the 17th and 18th centuries. On the other hand, it may simply be that it was an Eastern European fashion that did not spread to England until later on.
However, Roy Genders in Perfume through the Ages suggests that the recipe may be at least dateable to the 1600s:
"The first alcoholic perfume was obtained from a distillation of rosemary. . . These initial experiments were made in Hungary, in 1370, from a recipe given to Queen Elizabeth of Hungary by a hermit who told her that it would preserve her beauty until her death." -- p. 122He cites Beckmann's History of Inventions, a translation of a book first published in Frankfort in 1783.
"[Hungary Water's] composition consists of a gallon of grape spirit; two ounces of otto of rosemary; one ounce each of otto of balm and lemon peel; a half drachm of otto of mint; and one pint each of extract of rose and orange flower. Should the orange flower extract proove difficult to obtain, it can be omitted and the esprit de rose increased to two pints. Hungary Water may be applied to the handkerchief and will refresh a tired mind, but its primary use is as a face wash or to add to bath water, when it will act as an invigorating tonic."--p. 122Gender's version of the recipe--like all the recipes he gives-- is quite clearly postperiod practice. Not only does it conflict with all the definitions given in the OED quotations, but there are no sources given, the recipe is in a 19th-20th century format, and orangeflower extract is included. Most sources claim that orangeflower extract (i.e.Oil of Neroli) is post-period, being named after a Italian princess; and the first quotation for it in the OED is from 1676. Orange flower water is mentioned in a number of recipes in the Spanish period text, Manual de Mujeres, but I have found no mentions of this water outside of Spain.
" John George Hoyer says that the receipt for preparing this water, written in Queen Elizabeth's own hand, is still preserved in the Imperial library at Vienna. But it has been already remarked by others that he does not properly remember the account given of the receipt."Beckmann cites a text by John Prevot (d. 1631), published in 1656 (Selectiora remedia multiplici usu comprobata, quae inter secreta medica jure recenseas).
"For the gout in the hands and the feet. As the wonderful virtue of the remedy given below has been confirmed to me by the cases of many, I shall relate by what good fortune I happened to meet with it. In the year 1606 I saw among the books of Francis Podacather, of a noble Cyprian family . . ., a very old breviary, which . . . he said . . . had been presented by St. Elizabeth, queen of Hungary, to some of his ancestors. . . . In the beginning of the book he showed me a remedy for the gout written in the queen's own hand, in the following words, which I copied:--At this point, it is helpful to point out that St. Elizabeth of Hungary was not either of the queens of Hungary living in the 1380s, but lived from 1207 to 1231.
'I Elizabeth, queen of Hungary, being very infirm and much troubled with the gout in the seventy-second year of my age, used for a year this receipt given to me by an ancient hermit who I never saw before nor since; and was not only cured, but recovered my strength, and appeared to all so remarkably beautiful that the king of Poland asked me in marriage, he being a windower and I a widow. I however refused him for the love of my Lord Jesus Chrsit, from one of whose angels I believe I recieved the remedy. The receipt is as follows:
Take of aqua vitae, four times distilled, three parts, and of the tops and flowers of rosemary two parts; put these together in a close vessel, let them stand in a gentle heat fifty hours, and then distil them. Take one dram of this in the morning once every week, either in your food or drink, and let your face and diseased limb be washed with it every morning.
It renovates the strength, brightens the spirits, purifies the marrow and nerves, restores and preserves the sight, and prolongs life.'"
"Rosemary water (the face washed therein both morning and night) causeth a fair and clear countenance: also the head washed therewith, and let dry of itself, preserveth the falling of the hair, and causeth more to grow; also two ounces of the same, drunk, dirveth venom out of the body in the same sort as mithridate doth; the same twice or thrice drunk, at each time half an ounce, rectifieth the mother [uterus], and it causeth women to be fruitful: when one maketh a bath of this decoction, it is called the bath of life; the same drunk comforteth the heart, the brain, and the whole body, and cleanseth away the spots of the face; it maketh a man look young, and causeth women to conceive quickly, and hath all the virtues of balm."It thus appears that rosemary water (or rosemary and lavender water) could well be credited with the medicinal effects attributed to Queen of Hungary water.
"Spirit of Wine, tasting of what vegetable you please. Macerate Rosemary, Sage, Sweet Fennel seeds, Marjoram, Lemmon or Orenge pils, &c. in spirit of wine a day or two, and then distill it over again, unless you had rather have it in his proper colour. for so you shall have it upon the first infusion without any farther distillation; and some young Alchymists doe hold these for the true spirits of vegetables."So Plat gives us evidence for tincturing (though in brandy) as a method.
In the interests of trying to approximate what Queen of Hungary Water may have been like, I've tried several different recipes and methods.
- 1/4 cup fresh or dried rosemary tinctured in 4 oz. vodka for
several weeks, and the results strained and mixed, 1 part tincture to 3
parts distilled water.
Fresh rosemary takes a long time to tincture to the ‘rosemary’ fragrance; it starts off with a strong ‘green’ smell that is very different from the plant or the essential oil-- I suspect this is the 'grosser part' that French refers to in his treatise on distilling flowers. Dried rosemary gave a more 'rosemary-like' scent. This scent had more body, was longer lasting and less inclined to separate than the version with fresh rosemary. Mixing with undistilled water was more likely to produce sediment or cloudiness in this mixture, as the tincture is already light brown.
- Rosemary oil (5-10 drops) added to a 4 oz. half-vodka, half-water mixture. (Using distilled water will prevent cloudiness from forming)
- Rosemary and lavender oils (4 drops each) added to 4 oz half-vodka, half water mixture (Lavendogra).
- Dried Rosemary leaves and lavender flowers (and a sprig of myrtle) tinctured in grain alcohol. This was my adaptation of the suggested 'lavendogra' recipe given by Sophie Knab, and it was quite pleasant. It also needed to be mixed with water. Mixing it with undistilled water caused severe clouding in the mixture-- distilled water produced a much more attractive product.
- Recipe from Perfumes, Splashes and Colognes, slightly
modified due to my own absent-mindedness: ingredients include: Peel of
one orange, 1 c. orangeflower water, 1 c. vodka, 1/2 t. essential oil
of lemon, 2 t. essential
oil of bergamot, 1/2 t. essential oil of rosemary, 4 tb dried
This produced something similar to the modern citrus-oriented scent that was recently marketed by Crabtree and Evelyn as Hungary Water.
- Recipe from Perfumes, Splashes and Colognes with
commercial lavender water substituted for orange flower water and whole
ingredients used instead of oils: Peel of one lemon, 1 c. lavender
water, 1- 1 1/2 c. vokda, 1/2 c. rosemary, 2 tb dried peppermint leaf,
1/4 c. dried bitter orange peel.
The result was, predictably, less citrusy and more like the lavendogra experiments.
-- I've also made rosemary vinegar by steeping one part rosemary in 5-6 parts cider vinegar, but I find it better for cooking than perfume.
In addition, for fun, I've tried some other recipes: Carmelite Water
(also dated to the late 1300's) using the same ingredients, though
creative measurements, as the recipe from Perfumes, Splashes and
Colognes, Lavender Water made from dried lavender flowers tinctured
in vodka, and tincture of Lemon Balm in vodka.
Note: There have been some contentions that vodka is 'not period'.
Most vodka is now made from a grain base, rather than the potato base
more popular in the 19th century. Distillation of ale and beer, both
grain based alcohols, was done by at least 1615 (c.f. Markham and
French). Vodka is generally associated with Russia and Poland; a
distilled aqua vitae product known as vodka was in use in Russia by the
late 1500s, according to Bread and Salt: A social and economic
history of food and drink in Russia, by R.E.F. Smith and
David Christian. (NY: Cambridge University Press, 1984). . In
addition most modern vodka is multiply distilled and not significantly
aged, which is also supported by Markham, French and Plat. All these
sources give recipes for 'compound waters' (with multiple ingredients)
though none for Hungary Water.
While the documentation more heavily supports brandy (spirits of
I felt that it was reasonable to substitute vodka as my aquae vitae,
the result produces a more clearly colored and more 'perfume-like'