DIY Natural Solid Perfume

My family likes to get together two or three times a year to celebrate group birthdays. We decided long ago to forego gift-giving on these occasions and at Christmas; just cards (the sillier the better), good food and company are all that are needed. However, the women in the family can’t seem to help themselves and sometimes bring little goodies – inexpensive ‘just because’ tokens that we know will delight. The recipients are usually the other ladies; the men, who manage to stick firmly to the no-gifts policy, are almost always out of luck, and that seems to suit them just fine.

Our latest bash, which incorporated birthdays from January through March, happened to coincide with the Easter weekend, and we did it at a local restaurant. The goodies and treats were duly produced, and soon the place settings were marked by little bags of chocolate eggs, jelly beans, cocktail napkins in pretty pastels and other small trinkets. There was lots of ooo-ing and ahh-ing from the girls. The guys just sat there bemused, drinking their beers and shaking their heads at all this flagrant frippery.

Since I’m all about fragrance-making this month, I brought along little tins of handmade solid perfume made with pure beeswax, skin-loving almond oil and essential oils. Each woman got her own blend, and I tried to match the fragrance to her unique personality. See below for the recipes, but first, here’s the how-to:

Solid Perfume Basic Method: (makes one 0.5 fl. oz. / 14 mL tin)

  • 1 tsp beeswax (pellets or small pieces, firmly packed like brown sugar)
  • 1 tsp sweet almond oil (or jojoba or apricot kernel oil)
  • 75 to 90 drops total essential oils
  • 0.5 fl. oz. glass jar or metal tin with lid

Pre-mix essential oils in a small container and set aside • Add beeswax to a Pyrex measuring cup and place inside a larger pot filled with a couple of inches of water to make a double boiler • Melt wax gradually over medium-high heat • When wax is mostly melted, mix in almond oil using a disposable wooden stir stick • Remove double boiler from heat, wait a couple of minutes to allow the mixture to cool slightly (but not start to harden); this will help preserve the integrity of the essential oils • Add essential oils and mix well • Carefully remove measuring cup and quickly dry off the outside so no water gets into the poured mixture • Working quickly, pour into perfume container; the wax will start to solidify almost immediately • Allow to cool and harden completely before adding lid

Apply with fingertips or cotton swab to pulse points • Perform a small patch test first • Do not get in eyes or mucous membranes • Do not wear perfume which contains citrus oils in direct sunlight • Avoid exposing solid perfume to extreme temperatures

Tip: To clean out the container you used to melt the beeswax, replace in double boiler and heat, allowing any leftover wax to soften. Wipe out residue quickly with paper towel, then wash thoroughly in soap and water.

Try the recipes below, or check out this list of essential oils to create your own spring or summer fragrance. The post also includes formulation guidelines for a balanced, lasting blend.

Lavender Lemon solid perfume (0.5 fl. oz. / 14 mL)

This delightfully refreshing blend is my take on the big-name (starts with P) lemon blossom solid perfume found in natural food stores – the one that got me started on my fragrance kick this month. I made this bright scent for my sister-in-law. The number of drops needed are listed beside each oil. (t = top note   m = middle note   b = base note   f = fixative)

1 tsp beeswax • 1 tsp sweet almond oil • 25 lemon (t) • 25 pink grapefruit (t) • 15 lavender (m) • 20 frankincense (b, f)

Citrus Woods solid perfume (0.5 fl. oz. / 14 mL)

My sister, who, like me, favours citrus/herbal/woodsy combinations, got this one. The unisex scent is orangey with a darker, slightly mysterious undertone.

1 tsp beeswax • 1 tsp sweet almond oil • 15 lemon (t) • 15 pink grapefruit (t) • 20 sweet orange (t) • 10 cedarwood (m) • 20 sandalwood (b) 10 frankincense (f)

Like a May Morning solid perfume (0.5 fl. oz. / 14 mL)

Anyone who loves the ’80s TV series Robin of Sherwood will recognize these words, used by our dashing hero to describe Lady Marion at their first meeting. It’s also my favourite diffuser blend, rendered here in a solid perfume. I gave this pretty floral to a dear relative who’s been going through rough times lately.

1 tsp beeswax • 1 tsp sweet almond oil • 25 pink grapefruit (t) • 35 bergamot (t) • 20 jasmine (m) • 10 cistus (b, f)

Springtime in Paris solid perfume (0.5 fl. oz. / 14 mL)

This solid version of my spring blend was inspired by a charming book called The Little Paris Bookshop, lent to me by my mother. Naturally, that fine lady was the recipient of this fresh and floral perfume.

1 tsp beeswax • 1 tsp sweet almond oil • 30 sweet orange (t) • 15 rose (m) • 20 sandalwood (b) • 10 frankincense (f)

Moisturizing Hand Wash

You can make this recipe without the almond oil and glycerin, but the addition of these ingredients makes this hand cleanser silky and moisturizing. It works great if the bottle has a foaming pump – reuse an old one if possible; a regular soap or lotion bottle will work, too, but won’t dispense much foam.

Try these essential oil combinations in your hand cleanser, each of them featuring bright citrus to help deal with kitchen prep odours such as onions and garlic:

Sunny Citrus:  6 lavender • 6 sweet orange • 12 lemon (I made a bottle for myself and one for my mom, who loved it!)

Lemons ’n Roses:  8 lemon • 8 rose geranium • 8 grapefruit

Citrus Mint:  6 tangerine • 6 grapefruit • 6 lime • 6 spearmint

How To:

  • 16 oz. (500 mL) bottle with pump dispenser
  • ¼ cup unscented liquid castile soap
  • 1 tbsp sweet almond oil (or fractionated coconut/apricot kernel/jojoba oil)
  • 1 tbsp vegetable glycerin
  • up to 25 drops essential oils
  • 1 ¼ cups distilled water

Mix castile soap, almond oil and glycerin together and pour in bottle. Add your choice of essential oils. Add distilled water, making sure to leave room for the pump and to allow the mixture to foam up when shaken. Shake well before each use.

6-drop Diffuser Blends for Spring

Fresh and floral, clean and fruity, relaxing or invigorating – try these essential oil recipes in your diffuser to clarify and refresh the air in your home.

These are blends I’ve formulated and tested in my ceramic tealight diffuser, which holds about 2 tablespoons of tap water. If you own a different type, please follow the manufacturer’s instructions.

To Use: Add water to the bowl of your diffuser and drop in the essential oils. (Adjust amounts as desired.) Light the candle and enjoy! Caution: Never leave open flame unattended, and check the water level frequently.Sunrise:  2 lemon • 2 sweet orange • 2 peppermint

En Plein Air:  1 lavender • 2 cedarwood • 3 tangerine

 Raindrops:  1 vetiver • 2 peppermint • 3 lemon

Spring Cleaning:  1 rose geranium • 2 lime • 3 pink grapefruit

Herb Garden:  1 lavender • 1 rose geranium • 2 chamomile • 2 bergamot

Fresh Citrus:  1 lemon • 1 tangerine • 2 pink grapefruit • 2 lime

Springtime in Paris:  2 rose • 2 sweet orange • 2 sandalwood

Gillyflower:  3 clove • 3 lemon

Orange Grove:  2 sweet orange • 2 lime • 2 frankincense

And my absolute favourite:

Like a May Morning:  1 jasmine • 2 pink grapefruit • 3 bergamot

Parfumerie the Natural Way

Making a “natural” perfume is easy: simply combine essential oils with a carrier oil in a glass container, shake, and you’re done, right?

Well, sort of. There are some challenges: figuring out which scents work together, how much of each to use, and how to give your perfectly-blended perfume staying power. The following are some perfume-making basics I’ve learned, sometimes the hard way, as I’ve blended, stirred, sniffed and blended again in the apothecary lab (okay, my kitchen):

Choose Your Oils
Use the scents you love, and stick with a small number – from a single note up to four, plus a fixative. Test combinations by dispensing a drop of each oil into your bottle, onto a cotton ball or makeup remover pad, or try out in a diffuser first.

Here’s a variety of essential oils suitable for making a fresh springtime or summer scent: (top, middle and base notes are indicated – see Get Blending, below)

Citrus: bergamot (t) • lemon (t) • lime (t) • Litsea cubeba (t) • mandarin (t) • sweet orange (t) • tangerine (t) • verbena (t)
Floral: geranium (m) • jasmine (m) • lavender (m) • neroli (m) • Roman chamomile (m) • rose (m) • rosewood (m) • ylang ylang (m)*
Herbaceous: German chamomile (m) • clary sage (m) • petitgrain (t-m) • rosemary (m)
Earthy/Woodsy: cedarwood (b) • cypress (m) • lemongrass (t-m) • patchouli (b) • sandalwood (b) • vetiver (b)
Refreshing: ginger (m-b) • grapefruit (t) • peppermint (t) • spearmint (t)

* I hate ylang ylang with a passion, so you’ll never see it in any of my formulations!

How Much?
If you don’t have a recipe, experiment, and be prepared for some failures* before you settle on the perfume you want. For a 5 mL bottle, I use a total of about 40 to 60 drops essential oils (taking up about ¼ of the bottle) diluted in a carrier oil. Start with a minimum number of drops per oil, keeping in mind that the mixture develops over hours and days, and strong-smelling oils tend to get stronger. Citrus oils are the most volatile, so use up to twice as much relative to your other ingredients. Don’t forget to record the amount of each oil used, including any adjustments, so that you have a final recipe that can be reproduced at the end of your labours – and the end of your bottle!

* Use up not-quite-perfect rejects in a diffuser, make into a foaming hand soap, add to bathwater, sprinkle on bedlinens, etc.

As you work, don’t forget to write down your formula!

Get Blending
Try to include top, middle and base notes so that you have a balanced formula that performs well and gives each scent element its fair due.

The “note” is the role each oil plays within a blend. Top notes (citrus, mints, delicate florals, soft herbals) provide an initial burst of fragrance which fades first, so you can usually use more of these compared to middle and bottom notes. Top notes give way to middle notes (more intense florals and herbs such as lavender, rose and jasmine); these are the heart of the fragrance. The anchoring bottom notes (rich, woodsy, earthy or resinous) support the others, add depth and are the longest-lasting components. Generally, the richer and stronger the smell of an oil, the more likely it is to be a middle or base note.

Set It So You Won’t Forget It
For a fragrance to last longer once applied, it’s important to include a fixative, an essential oil that is usually also a base note. Keep in mind that an essential oil perfume is never going to have the punch and staying power of a commercial perfume which contains a host of synthetic chemicals. Natural fragrances tend to be more subdued and wear close to the skin, which means you won’t give yourself a headache or knock over a room – a very good thing for you and everyone around you!

Some of the fixatives listed below, which are on the lighter side and suitable for spring and summer perfumes, can be harder to find in stores. You’ll probably have to buy them online, but they’re a worthwhile investment; I’ve found they make all the difference in the longevity of my blends. Since they’re less familiar than, say, lavender or peppermint, I’ve included their scent profiles for quick reference. How much to use? 5 to 8 drops of a fixative in your blend ought to be enough, especially if you’re using other base notes.

Benzoin (Styrax benzoin): (b) Warm, sweet, soft, vanilla-like, powdery • Possibly the most effective of the fixatives listed here, benzoin blends well with black pepper, copaiba balsam, coriander, cypress, frankincense, ginger, jasmine, juniper, lemon, myrrh, rose, sandalwood • Caution: Too much benzoin can lend a medicinal smell, so don’t go overboard. Also, it’s a sticky resin that may be difficult to dispense from the bottle.

Cistus (Cistus ladaniferus): (b) Sweet, woody, warm, resinous, with evergreen notes • Blends well with bergamot, chamomile, clary sage, cypress, frankincense, juniper, lavender, oakmoss, patchouli, pine, sandalwood, vetiver

Copaiba Balsam (Copaifera officinalis): (b) Mild, sweet, balsamic, vanilla-like • Blends well with cedarwood, citrus, clary sage, jasmine, rose, vanilla, ylang ylang

Frankincense, aka olibanum, boswellia (Boswellia carterii): (b) Woodsy, earthy, balsamic, spicy-sweet with slight lemony note • Blends well with bergamot, black pepper, cinnamon, cypress, geranium, grapefruit, lavender, lemon, mandarin, neroli, orange, palmarosa, patchouli, pine, rose, sandalwood, vetiver, ylang ylang

Myrrh (Commiphora myrrha): (b) Warm, earthy, balsamic, resinous, dry, sometimes bitter • Blends well with bergamot, chamomile, clove, cypress, lemon eucalyptus, frankincense, geranium, grapefruit, jasmine, juniper, lavender, lemon, neroli, palmarosa, patchouli, pine, rose, rosemary, sandalwood, tea tree, vetiver, ylang ylang

Peru Balsam, aka Balsam of Peru (Myroxylon pereira): (b) Soft, sweet, balsamic, mainly resinous with floral and vanilla undertones • Blends well with black pepper, ginger, jasmine, lavender, patchouli, petitgrain, rose, sandalwood, ylang ylang

Sandalwood (Santalum album or S. spicatum): (b) Mild, soft, woody, dry, sweet, somewhat balsamic • Blends well with benzoin, black pepper, chamomile, cistus, clary sage, clove, geranium, grapefruit, frankincense, jasmine, lavender, lemon, mandarin, myrrh, neroli, oakmoss, orange, palmarosa, patchouli, rose, rosewood, vetiver, ylang ylang

Happy blending!

Smells Like Spring

Over the next few weeks – the season of April showers and May flowers – I’ll be sharing my adventures in making natural perfumes and other springtime-scented goodies for the home and body. My theme for this month, then, is Making Scents of Spring. First up: DIY essential oil roll-on perfumes.

The novel The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George was a light and airy balm to my winter-weary spirits. The France of books and screen always gives me a much-needed boost, whether it be the Provençal countryside with its warm azure skies, lavender fields and cedars, or the cafés, boulangeries and rain-washed pavements of the City of Light. Charmant! After reading Bookshop, I was inspired to get out my box of essential oils to create three new seasonal fragrances, each of them incorporating some form of citrus to brighten and invigorate. Look for my recipes at the end of this post.

But before we go on, I’d like to offer an alternate title for this article: Natural DIY Perfumes – Debunking the Online Myth. Most recipes tell you to add a scant few drops of your favourite essential oils to a lot of carrier oil (usually 10 mL), et voilà! You have your own bespoke perfume. Well, oui et non. Yes, the result will be a lovely blend that smells great in the bottle, but it’ll likely be a transitory whiff that simply won’t offer staying power on the skin. After plenty of research, trial and error, what I’ve found is that a perfume that is actually noticeable and long-lasting requires a fair amount of essential oil and a fixative to help those volatile oils from evaporating dans un instant.

My next post will list a variety of essential oils perfect for creating your own light and refreshing personal blend, as well as information on fixatives – the most effective of which are less well known and harder to find. But first…

What You Need to Make Your Own Natural Perfume:

  • a few favourite essential oils, including one fixative
  • a stable carrier oil such as fractionated coconut (my favourite), apricot kernel or jojoba
  • glass bottle – I like to use 5 mL vials with rollerball tops for ease of application
  • small funnel and reusable glass eyedroppers (pipettes) for no-mess dispensing (optional)

How To:

Add essential oils drop by drop to the empty perfume bottle, sniffing as you work • Top up with carrier oil, making sure to leave enough room for the rollerball, which you will insert once you’re satisfied with the blend • Cover the bottle top tightly with plastic wrap and an elastic band, shake thoroughly, and let sit for at least 24 hours to allow the blend to develop • Shake and test periodically, adding more essential oil if necessary (I wear mine after each addition to see how it performs) • Push in the rollerball insert securely and close with the cap • Shake well before each use, and apply sparingly to pulse points.

Here are the scents I came up with for my (imaginary) trip to springtime France. The numbers are the drops needed for each essential oil. Top, middle, base and fixative notes are also indicated.

Fleurs de Provence essential oil perfume (5 mL)

A lemon-drop sun and fields of fragrant mauve stretching to a horizon of saturated blue. Sweet citrus and warm cedar round out the sharp hit of lavender in this decidedly feminine scent. The resinous evergreen notes of cistus (Cistus ladaniferus) work particularly well with the perfume’s other bright elements.

35 lemon (t) • 5 lavender (m) • 5 cedarwood (b) • 5 cistus (f) • fractionated coconut oil or carrier oil of your choice

Rain on the Pavement essential oil perfume (5 mL)

If you enjoy sipping café au lait and nibbling orange brioche whilst admiring the reflected lights of la tour Eiffel in the rainwashed street, this crisp and slightly spicy fragrance is for you. Bonus: it’s unisex! 

20 bergamot FCF* (t) • 2 clove (m) • 10 sandalwood (b) • 5 cistus (f) • fractionated coconut oil or carrier oil of your choice

* furocoumarin-free, which means the phytochemicals which cause skin to become photosensitive have been removed; sometimes labelled bergapten-free

Springtime in Paris essential oil perfume (5 mL)

This perfume is my favourite of the three: fresh and floral, with a subtle je ne sais quoi lent by the sandalwood. I use 5% rose and 20% frankincense in jojoba oil as affordable alternatives to the pure oils.

20 sweet orange (t) • 20 rose (m) • 15 sandalwood (b) • 5 frankincense (f) • fractionated coconut oil or carrier oil of your choice

Notes & Cautions:

• Never ingest essential oils • Do not apply undiluted to the skin • Do a patch test first • Avoid using if pregnant • Some essential oils, especially citrus, can cause skin to become photo-sensitive, so keep perfumed skin out of the sun • Test to make sure the bottle doesn’t leak before carrying in your handbag • Keep perfume and essential oils away from heat and direct sunlight.

Put on the Christmas Pot

20161209_045919-5No, that’s not an invitation to waddle up to the holiday groaning board and eat everything until you burst!

Now that wintry weather is here and we shutter our windows to biting winds and snow, your home may start to feel a little stuffy and stale. Simmering spices are an easy and non-toxic way to freshen and fill the air with the delicious scents of Christmas. To help put your household in a festive mood, use this simple method and try these Yuletide simmering spice pot blends:

Add ingredients to a small pot of boiling water and boil for a couple of minutes. Reduce heat and let pot simmer gently, uncovered, for as long as you like. Top up water level as needed; do not let pot boil dry.

20161209_055903-5Christmas Fruitcake: fresh apple, orange and/or lemon slices with skin • handful of fresh cranberries (optional) • 2” to 3” cinnamon stick or a pinch of ground cinnamon • a few whole cloves • pinch of ground nutmeg • a few slices fresh ginger or pinch of ground ginger (optional)

Spice Route: orange slices and peel • cinnamon stick or ground cinnamon • 2 to 3 bay leaves • a few whole cloves • a few cracked cardamom pods • pine needle sprigs

Cranberry Woods: several fresh rosemary sprigs • handful of fresh cranberries • orange slices and peel • cinnamon stick

Spiced Orange: orange slices and peel • 1 to 2 cinnamon sticks • 2 tbsp whole cloves • 5 whole star anise

20161209_064643-6Adjust quantities (or omit) according to preference. Keep children and pets away from the stove and pot, and turn off the heat if you leave the house. Simmering spices are for home fragrance only; do not ingest.

Original artwork © 2016 Valerie Barrett.

Ill Humours & Old Medicine

dsc_3166-6In medieval Europe, herbalism and medicine were practiced chiefly by monks, barber surgeons and village wise women. These healers would base their treatments on what they saw in nature; they’d note the plants that animals ate and the effects the plants had, and would then use the same ones on their patients. Sometimes plants would be used to treat the body part they resembled, or would be chosen for the warming or cooling effect they were thought to have on the body’s constitution. Charms, curses and counter-curses were also important tools of the trade! Monasteries maintained charitable healing centres where folk could come for their cures; herbs commonly found in infirmary gardens included betony, chamomile, comfrey, dill, hyssop, lavender, rue and sage.

If you were living in, say, 12th century England, you would most likely be familiar with the following ailments, as well as their remedies and the people who administered them. (Hark! If squoodgy things make your tum-tums go weak as water, read no further.)

Ague:  Fever and chills

Barber Surgeon:  Trained in monasteries, barber surgeons looked after soldiers during and after battle, and were expected to do everything from cutting hair, giving enemas and pulling teeth to bloodletting, setting broken bones, amputating limbs and other surgeries. Talk about multitasking!

Bloodletting:  3,000-year-old medical procedure still in use today. In the past, patients would be bled from various parts of the body to regulate the humours [See Humours] and “cure” their disease. Unfortunately, this procedure weakened the patient and encouraged infection, and patients sometimes died not from their malady but from the therapy itself. (Charles II and George Washington are famous victims; Washington, suffering from a throat infection, was drained of 3 litres of blood in less than 10 hours and died the next day.) Modern bloodletting is known as therapeutic phlebotomy and is used in western medicine to treat conditions requiring the reduction of the number of blood cells. See Scarification.

Botch:  A bump or sore on the body

Bubo(e):  Also known as gavocciolo, a swelling of the lymph nodes in the groin, armpits or neck, usually oozing pus or blood; the most common symptom of (but not limited to) bubonic plague

Catarrh:  Acute influenza; inflammation of the mucous membranes

Chilblains:  Painful, itchy red or purple swelling on the hands or feet from prolonged exposure to cold

Dead Man’s Tooth:  Application of the tooth of a deceased person to heal an open wound

Fat of a Hanged Man:  After a hanging, the body was left to dangle for days, probably as a cautionary example to the public. As putrefaction progressed, greasy excretions would drip and form a puddle under the deceased. Gross, but, hey, it is almost Hallowe’en! This fat (and other body parts) would be collected by the executioner, who did things like set broken bones and sell herbal medicine on the side; it was rendered and made into a salve thought to benefit a number of ailments, including arthritis, lameness and broken bones. Shakespeare refers to this practice in Macbeth: The three witches add “grease that’s sweaten / From the murderer’s gibbet” to their bubbling potion.

Flux:  Excessive discharge or hemorrhage of bodily fluids, especially diarrhea; also a women’s menses

Humours:  It was believed that all diseases were caused by the imbalance of the body’s four “humours” (blood, phlegm, black bile and yellow bile, which correspond to the elements of earth, air, fire and water). Bloodletting and purging were the chief methods of ridding the body of ill humours.

Gout:  Known since antiquity as “the king of diseases and the disease of kings”, this is the red, tender, hot swelling of a joint (inflammatory arthritis) usually caused by genetics, obesity and a diet high in rich meats and alcohol.

Gripes:  Digestive upset or food poisoning, usually caused by eating unrefrigerated or improperly cured meat

Headache:  A mixture of goat’s cheese and bull’s blood was drunk to cure an aching head. No guarantees as to what it did to the stomach.

Herbarium:  A room housing a collection of preserved plant specimens and their associated data

King’s Evil:  Scrofula or tuberculosis of the neck and lymph glands; so-called from the time of Edward the Confessor because it was believed disease could be cured by the king of England’s touch.

Leeches and Maggots:  Introduced to a wound to help prevent blood poisoning and infection. By sucking blood, leeches draw away toxins, and maggots consume decaying flesh, thus cleaning the wound.dsc_3194-4

Lepers:  Known to the ancient Greeks as elephantiasis, and today as Hansen’s disease, leprosy is a not-very-contagious bacterial infection thought to be caused by respiratory droplets. An effective cure, discovered in the 1940s, involves using antibiotics for several months. Before this, however, leprosy was thought to be highly contagious, spread simply by being near an infected person, and there was no cure. (The other common belief, that leprosy causes toes and other appendages to rot and fall off, is a myth; nerve and tissue damage and secondary infection are the real culprits.) Lepers caused fear and panic wherever they went, and as a result became social outcasts, relying on religious houses for charity and medical assistance. In the Middle Ages, they were required to carry a bell to announce their presence; this also served to attract attention for charity. Leprosy features prominently in two excellent books:  The Leper of St. Giles, a Brother Cadfael mystery by Ellis Peters, and The Island by Victoria Hislop.

Mandrake:  Perhaps because of its resemblance to the human body and the fact that it’s hallucinogenic – as well as extremely poisonous and potentially deadly – Mandrake (Mandragora officinarum), a member of the nightshade family, has a long history of use in magic ritual and medicine. It’s mentioned in the Bible as an aphrodisiac/fertility aid and appears many times in literature (Shakespeare, Donne, Beckett, Steinbeck, Conan Doyle, Rowling) and on screen (Excalibur, Robin of Sherwood, Harry Potter), particularly as protection against the devil.

Mould Poultice:  Bread or yeast soaked in honey and applied to an open wound to halt infection

Officina:  The storeroom in a monastery where herbs and medicines were kept. The species names officinale or officinalis (eg. lemon balm, Melissa officinalis) are a clue that the plant was used by monastic healers.

Physician:  Not the neighourhood GP, but medieval academics who worked in universities as medical observers and consultants. Although they often took up residence in castles to tend their wealthy patrons, physicians considered surgery beneath them, and rarely performed it.

Purge:  An emetic to rid the body of poisons; purging often made the condition worse, not better, as it tended to dehydrate the body

Rale:  Wheezy, congestive rattle in the lungs, and the “death rattle” often heard just before the patient shuffled off this mortal coil

Scarification:  One of several types of bloodletting, in which a scarificator, a small box containing multiple sharp blades, was used to scrape open the skin. Other methods of bloodletting included arteriotomy (puncturing a vein at the temple), venesection (at the elbow), cupping (placing a heated glass dome over broken skin to remove air and blood by suction) and the application of leeches.

Simpling; Simples:  Distilling and brewing herbs; the resulting medicinal brews and distillationsdsc_3227-8

Stillroom:  The distilling room in a great house or castle where herbs and flowers were hung to dry, and medicines, preserves, cosmetics, alcoholic beverages, cleaning products and soaps were made. The final products would be stored and dispensed here as well, making the stillroom part laboratory, part brew house, and part infirmary. Think:  Claire’s work- and storeroom at Castle Leoch in Outlander.

Tetter:  Sore, pimple, mark or scar; the scab of a healing wound

The English Sweate:  Sweating sickness was a baffling and highly contagious disease which ravaged England and Europe in a series of epidemics during the 15th and 16th centuries. The cause is still unknown, but a form of hantavirus has been suggested as the culprit. The onset and progression of the Sweate was sudden and dramatic; one could wake up in the morning feeling perfectly fine and be dead before nightfall. Symptoms included an immense sense of dread followed by chills, then the “hot” (sweating) stage, followed by extreme exhaustion, collapse and, finally, death. Some people did manage to recover from the earlier stages, but that didn’t guarantee immunity; many suffered multiple relapses before finally succumbing. It was believed at the time that bloodletting and working up a “natural sweat” by vigorous exercise could ward off the disease. The outbreaks stopped as quickly as they had come, and by 1578 had completed disappeared from England.

Wale, weal, welt:  Ridge or line on the skin

Wen:  Benign boil or cyst, usually on the scalp or face

Whelk:  Raised lesion on the skin; acne

Wine & Egg Whites:  After a patient had been bled, the incision would be dressed with a mixture of strong wine and egg whites. This isn’t as odd as it seems:  the alcohol’s anaesthetizing and sterilizing properties as well as the astringency and binding qualities of egg whites may actually have helped.

Worms:  Were thought to cause cavities