Tuesday, April 22, 2014

A 17th century recipe for green hair

Anne Hyde, Duchess of York by Sir Peter Lely, 1662
This is a very short recipe

To make your hair seem green
The distilled water of Capers will make your hair green./Eighteen books of the secrets of art and nature by Johann Jacob Wecker, 1661

The questions this recipe brings are much longer. Does a distillation of Capers really turn hair green? I have no idea. The Caper bush, Capparis spinosa, is a bush that can be found, for example, in Mediterranean countries. It provides edible flowers, leaves and berries. It needs a long growing period and a lot of sun, so it may have been solely an imported item in the 17th century, which would make this tint quite expensive. It is certainly green and a distilled liquid would very likely provide that colour, perhaps even strong enough to provide a green tint to hair. If so it would probably not last long and I guess the hair would have to be fair if it was to show.

Intriguing. And, I am so curious about this, who, in the 17th century, would want to dye their hair green? Actors? Temporarily for a masked ball? The fashionable jet set?


  1. Wecker, I think, lived in the 1500s but his works weren't translated into English till later. Not everything he talks about is what we'd consider scientific today (he's a good early source for a lot of magical practices like the use of lodestones and swallow's hearts for love spells, but which he presents as being scientific.) Similarly, he credits this recipe to Cardano, another man who has more of a reputation as a magician than a scientist today. It's possible that it doesn't work according to "normal" methods. I'd like to see what context Cardano gave for why anyone would want this, too.

    1. Oh, that's interesting, I didn't know that. Thanks for the info. I read through the whole book and Cardano is attributed to some makeup recipes as well, some which seems perfectly doable. I have a friend who says she witll try it if I make some, but I can't imagine it would be anything more than a slight tint, if anything.


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