Tuesday, January 7, 2020

An Ancient European Beauty Tonic: Queen of Hungary's Water

The following are beauty posts inspired from my visit to Vienna, Austria:
*An Ancient European Beauty Tonic: Queen of Hungary's Water

     Okay, after researching information for the post on Sisi's beauty secrets, I stumbled upon this ancient and historic beauty recipe & had to share. It's called Queen of Hungary's Water, or Hungary Water for short. A recipe for Hungary water remains written by the Queen’s own hand, in golden alphabet, at the Imperial Library in Vienna. That’s what the people of Hungary, who called upon this tonic water for everything from acne and eczema to headaches and indigestion, base this tonic upon. I wish I knew this while I was in Vienna, I would have totally went and researched and photographed it! And bought a bottle!

The legend goes that Queen Elisabeth of Hungary (1305-1380), commanded her court alchemist to produce a recipe that would restore her youthfulness. But there are conflicting facts and legends about the exact date of invention, and even conflicts about whom the potion was originally made for.

For longevity, youthful appearance and to ward off illness, one was supposed to drink the tonic, rub it on skin, bathe in it and inhale it. Rosemary is rich in volatile oils, flavonoids and phenolic acids, which are antiseptic and anti-inflammatory. There is a long list of plant and herbal ingredients in Queen of Hungary’s Water and all of these plants have well documented medicinal and skin care uses. Roses reduce swelling and even out skin tone. Lemon balm tightens the skin and restores circulation. Rosemary is an antiseptic that can repair damaged cells. There are a dozen herbs that go into this recipe and every one of them has a similar healing property. It’s no wonder that Hungary Water has been praised for centuries. The herbal composition of Queen of Hungary's Water is a wonderful astringent for all skin types. It gently tones, tightens pores, soothes itchy or acne-prone skin, normalizes the skin’s pH, smooths the skin texture and protects it from bacteria and other infections. It is said to also make a superb hair rinse-if you have dark hair.

Fun fact: Since this tonic was made with alcohol (Brandy), it was the world’s first distilled perfume. It wasn’t so much a perfume, but rather a cure-all tonic, bestowed with near-magical properties. Called the Queen of Hungary water (and later just Hungary water), it was made up of rosemary and alcohol. Later versions added citrus and other herbs, making it the true precursor to cologne, predating Eau de Cologne by almost five centuries!

This beauty tonic was also the first 'cure all,' meaning that it would help with almost every ailment a person could face. There are many different variations & stories of Hungary Water, with varying instructions, such as bathe with it, drink 1-2 sips, rub it on skin, and inhale it. It was believed to have many uses such as helping to relieve a headache, toothache, prevent breakouts, or ringing ears. It was also used to help cleanse the body by clearing out several of the vital organs of impurities. Some even believed that it helped reduce blindness and the inability to hear.

 Hungary water may also be one of the most controversial beauty products in history. Claims about its origins range from  the perfume-tonic having been given to Queen Elizabeth of Hungary (1305-1380), either by a monk, a court alchemist, or a band of roaming gypsies, for her headaches and to restore her beauty. According to the legend, it reversed her appearance so much that the 25-year-old Grand-Duke of Lithuania asked for her hand in marriage when she was 70! Okay, I'll give it a try! There are claims that it was made for several other prominent ladies in history, however after my research,  I believe that it was indeed made as a beauty tonic for Queen Elizabeth and that it was proven to have such amazing results that it became something that was simulated over and over. Yes, I bet there were gypsies pedaling it at some point and alchemists recreating it. I cannot find where the reclusive monk part of this story fits in. I believe the water gained popular use because of the Black Plague epidemic that ravaged Europe between 1346 and 1350, and caused by a bacterial infection. Due to the antibacterial effects found in the brandy and rosemary that was used to make the water, it may have had some positive affect. A beauty tonic and a plague vaccine? Sweet!

     Another more popular plague remedy was suspected to be The Four Thieves-NOT a beauty potion though. This recipe hung in the Museum of Paris in 1937, and is said to have been an original copy of the recipe posted on the walls of Marseilles during an episode of the plague:
Take three pints of strong white wine vinegar, add a handful of each of wormwood, meadowsweet, wild marjoram and sage, fifty cloves, two ounces of campanula roots, two ounces of angelic, rosemary and horehound and three large measures of champhor. Place the mixture in a container for fifteen days, strain and express then bottle. Use by rubbing it on the hands, ears and temples from time to time and when approaching a plague victim.  I just found the correlation between the two recipes interesting, especially since there is a popular essential oil that is made similar to the above 'Four Thieves" recipe.

     I am pretty surprised I had not found this product before. I am a big fan of the French Pharmacie brand Caudalie.  They have a Beauty Elixir inspired by Queen of Hungary's Water, and apparently it has a cult following! I have a feeling this is going to become a staple in my ROD (ride or die) skincare routine. *ROD is what I am listed as in my daughter's phone, so now I figure I need to use the phrase to stay relevant to her. By the 18th century, French Hungary Water from Montpellier was being touted over other variations of Hungary Water, because of the quality of the rosemary used in the distillation was better from France. This is what makes the Caudalie version my number one pick. I will be stocking up on my trip to France this summer! I also read that it is a trade secret that is used during runway shows, in between the foundation and powder layer to make it stay!

The oldest surviving recipes call for distilling fresh rosemary and thyme with Brandy. Here is a recipe you can try out and make yourself using wine vinegar instead:

You will need

  • 6 tablespoons lemon balm
  • 1 tablespoon rosemary
  • 4 tablespoons rose petals
  • 3 tablespoons calendula or marigold
  • 3 tablespoons mint
  • 1 tablespoon lemon peel
  • 1 tablespoon sage
  • 4 tablespoons chamomile (optional)
  • Wine vinegar to cover (preferably organic)
  • Rose water or witch hazel
  • Essential oil of lavender or rose (optional)
  • Spritz Bottle
  • Wide mouth glass jar

How to make Queen of Hungary’s Water

1. Pour all the herbs into a widemouthed glass jar
2. Add enough vinegar that it rises about two inches above the herbs; close the jar tight and let it sit in a warm or sunny spot for 2-3 weeks
3. Strain out the herbs with a fine mesh – try and get all the bits out as any fragments may turn rancid over time
4. Add either rose water or witch hazel in a ratio of 1:1 to the remaining liquid
5. Add the essential oils, if you so desire
6. Re-bottle the mixture in a spritz bottle and store in a cool, dry place
Use it daily for skin toning and a radiant complexion. Lightly spritz your face throughout the day for smooth, glowing skin with a slight energizing feeling. This product does not need to be refrigerated and will keep indefinitely.

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