A few years ago, someone on an online forum I belonged to asked the question, “What did people in medieval times do for chapped lips?”, and I went searching for an answer for them. I found this book, The Secretes of the Reverende Maister Alexis of Piemont, 1558, translated to English from the 1557 French version.
I had no experience making my own cosmetics when I started these projects, but they were easy enough to work out even with the medieval recipes provided. I will be revisiting both of these balms in the future to experiment with consistencies. I also included the only other recipe for lip balm included in this book for information and posterity’s sake.
Violet Lip Balm
p. 146 – (301/736 in web view)
“To heale lippes that be cleft and full of chinkes, by meanes of cold or wind.
Take gum arabicke and Dragant, as muche of the one as of the other, and make pouder of it, and incorporate it with oile of violets, and anoint your lippes therewith.”
Dragant is the medieval term for gum tragacanth. (http://www.thousandeggs.com/glossary.html#gum%20Tragacanth)
Violet Lip Balm
- Take equal parts of powdered gum Arabic and powdered gum tragacanth and mix. Hydrate with water until the desired consistency is reached. Add a few drops of violet oil and mix.
The resulting ‘balm,’ which I would rather refer to as a very wet gum paste, is tacky as it dries, but absolutely seals chinks on the lips. It is more difficult to remove than wax-based lip balm, and left my lips feeling smooth and moisturized after I wiped it off. Because of the consistency I reached with this batch, I would feel comfortable calling this balm more medicinal than cosmetic.
Tinted Lip Balm
p. 303 – (614/736 in web view)
“Against chappings of the lippes, and of the heads of womens brests.
Take the brain of a goose, and meddle it with the brains of an Hart, and anoint the lips: or els take of Litarge of silver, of Myrrha, of ginger, of eche as you please: and make thereof pouder, and with Virgin waxe, honie and oile olive, as much as sufficeth, make an ointment, which will be marvelous. But before you lay on the ointment, wash y lips, with spittle, and then with a litle peece of Linnen cloth, lay the ointment upon the griefe.
Take Ink and mixe it with the powder of Hermodactiles, and lay it upon them: and in the beginning take Sal armoniacke and beate it finely, and lay of the powder upon the griefe.”
- Maister Alexis approached this recipe with a sense of humor – first stating to blend goose and hart brains, but then gives us a quite lovely recipe for a tinted cosmetic.
- “Litarge of silver” is lead monoxide, which lends the red-orange lip and cheek color found in Renaissance cosmetics. Because we now know about lead poisoning, I have chosen to substitute iron oxide in its place, which is an acceptable natural substitute to retain the red-orange color that is used in modern homemade cosmetics.
- Hermodactiles, or hermodactylus, is Iris tuberosa, also called snake’s-head iris or black iris.
Tinted Lip Balm
- Prepare balm containers by opening and setting near work space.
Combine 1/32 tsp iron oxide, 1/32 tsp ginger, 1/32 tsp myrrh gum powder and set aside.
- Take 1 Tbsp of beeswax pellets, 7 Tbsp of olive oil, 1 Tbsp of honey, and combine in the upper bowl of a double-boiler. (I used a small glass jar suspended in a pot of boiling water.) Stir until the wax melts completely and the ingredients are blended.
- Stir in dry ingredients.
- Pour into container(s) and let cool.
After some experimentation, I found that roughly a 1:7 ratio of beeswax to olive oil creates an ideal consistency (with a good melting point) for lip balm. The sediments ultimately sank to the bottom of the mixture, but enough pigment was still suspended to lend a tint to the lips.
I have not redacted this recipe, but chose to include it because it is actually the second recipe listed in this book for chapped lips.
“Against the chapping of the lips.
Take dried lees of white wine called tartar, and burn them in the fire, and temper them with rosin and grease of an hen, or duck, medled with a little honie, and so use it.”
Ruscelli, Girolamo, d. ca. 1565; Ward, William, 1534-1609. The secrets of the reverend Maister Alexis of Piemont : containing excellent remedies against diverse diseases, wounds, and other accidents, with the maner to make distillations, parfumes, confitures, dying, colours, fusions, and meltings. https://archive.org/details/secretsofreveren00rusc
Pimontese, Alessio. 1555; 1682 edition. De’ secreti del R. D. Alessio Piemontese. Parti quattro. Nuovamente ristampati, e da molti errori ricorretti. Con quattro tavole copiosissime per trovare i rimedi con ogni facilità. https://web.archive.org/web/20070617103524/http://www.abocamuseum.it/bibliothecaantiqua/Book_View.asp?Id_book=76