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Queen of Hungary Water

July 2017, posted by Isabelle

I love a good story, particularly when aromatics are the heroines. The truth behind the legend of the Queen of Hungary's Water is long lost to the mists of time, leaving behind intriguing whispers of a beautiful queen, reclusive monks and magical alchemists.

Queen of Hungary Water was the first alcohol-based perfume to appear in written records. The story of its origin varies, but its thought to have been formulated around the late 14th century. The identity of the Hungarian queen herself is also a mystery, referred to variously as Isabelle or Elisabeth. My favourite version of the legend is that the aging queen, terrified about loosing her looks, commanded the court alchemist to make a potion to preserve her youthful beauty. The result was such a success that at the grand old age of seventy, a twenty five year old duke asked for her hand in marriage. Plot variations include the perfume being gifted to the queen by a reclusive monk or wandering gypsies. I even found one reference saying that the original recipe was believed to cure joint paralysis.

What is known is that this perfume was hugely popular in 17th century Europe, only falling out of favor when a new scent, Eau de Cologne, was invented many years later.

So what was this fabled perfume made of? Inevitably, the original recipe is still disputed. Lavender, mint, sage, marjoram, orange blossom, lemon peel and lemon balm frequently feature in ingredients lists and rosemary is often highlighted as a key ingredient. Originally this was not merely a perfume but an all-round tonic, with early records encouraging people to drink, wash, inhale and massage it into the skin. Modern day versions, of which there are many, claim a variety of uses. These reflect the variations in ingredients used and include formulas for skin tonics, general restoratives and versions which promise rejuvenating, purifying and mood raising actions.

All this folklore has inspired me to create my own perfumed room spray. It's in honour of the Queen of Hungary Water, but I'm also thinking about school and university students, now that exam season is here. The BBC recently reported that British students are buying so much rosemary oil that high street stocks are running low. This rosemary rush was triggered by a Northumbria University study which revealed that students perform better in memory tests when inhaling Rosemary oil (Rosmarinus officinalis 1.8 cineol), providing modern substance for the early herbalists' claims, ‘...Rosemary comforteth the braine, the memorie, the inward senses…’ (Gerard's Herbal, first published 1597).

As Rosemary appears to have been a key ingredient in Queen of Hungary's water it seems appropriate to harness this oil, along with some of the perfume's other fabled ingredients, for a modern study spray. This spray isn't for the body, but is designed to perfume the air around desks and revision rooms. Avoid spraying near children and pets, and definitely don't spray onto the face. Shake your bottle well before each use.

Royal Memory Boost Spray

You'll need a 50ml dark glass bottle and an atomizer spray cap.

Fill your bottle with approx. 40ml filtered / spring water, plus about 10ml of high proof vodka. This is optional: vodka, or another scent-free alcohol, will help the essential oils disperse and acts as a preservative. Then carefully add essential oils of:-

  • Rosemary (Rosemary officinalis ct 1.8 cineol) - 6 drops
  • Sweet marjoram (Origanum marjoram) - 6 drops
  • Lemon (Citrus limonum) - 6 drops
  • Peppermint (Mentha X piperita) - 2 drops
  • Melissa / Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) - 2 drops

Shake your bottle, spray your room, inhale, enjoy… and remember!

Emma Charlton


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