Sunday, February 10, 2013

Honey water

Eliza Smith’s Compleat Housewife, or Accomplish’d Gentlewoman’s Companion,
After my post on hair powder I really had to look up the Honey water mentioned in the brown powder recipe. Curiously enough this perfume, despite the name, doesn’t contain any honey. It is also a long recipe; though I will try to break it down to make it easier to overview. 

The recipe

Take twenty-eight pounds of coriander seeds, ground small in the starch-mill; twenty-eight common bunches of sweet marjoram, in flower, dried and stripped from the twigs, one pound of calamus aromaticus, one pound of yellow saunders, and one pound of orange and lemon peel. Let the three last mentioned substances be separately beaten into gross powder.

Mix the above ingredients, and put them into a sixty-gallon copper-still, and add to them twenty gallons of proof spirits, and the same quantity of rain or spring water.Lute well all the junctures of the apparatus, and leave the ingredients in this state, without fire, for forty-eight hours. At the end of this time, begin to distil by a very gentle heat, lest the flowers and seeds, which are very light, should rise suddenly in the still-head, stop up the worm, and endanger the whole work.

Increase the fire after the first half hour, and keep it regular, thereafter, till the termination of the process.

Draw off about twenty-six or twentyseven gallons, or continue so long as the spirit will burn, by the application of a lighted paper to a small quantity of it in a saucer.

Next day, when the still is perfectly cold, let it be well cleaned out, saving the remaining ingredients for further uses, as will be after directed.

Now return the spirits drawn off yesterday into the still, and add thereto ten or twelve gallons of water. Then put in the following nine ingredients, bruised andmixed as directed. These are to remain in the liquor, in a cold state, for forty-eight hours; attention being still paid to luting and stopping close, as before.

At the end of this time, kindle the fire, and work off (slowly at first) as before, until twenty-six gallons are distilled. Mix all the different runnings together in a copper vessel, kept for this purpose only; and, as for what may come over after the twentysix gallons, it must be kept, and added to the ingredients used for the making of the next quantity of Hungary water.

The nine ingredients alluded to above, are as follows :—

Fourteen ounces of nutmegs, Four ounces of cloves, Twelve ounces of cinnamon bark, Eight ounces of pimento, and Forty ounces of cassia lignum. These are to be separately broken or bruised in an iron mortar, until they are about the size of small peas. If there be any dust, it must be sifted from them before they are used.

When the above are broken, take Forty ounces of storax, Forty ounces of gum benjamin, Forty ounces of labdanum, and Forty venellios, by tale. Break and bruise the above also, but make as little dust as possible. Put the dust from these and the foregoing, together, into a coarse muslin bag, which is to be hung in the still, so that the liquor, during distillation, may extract all its virtues.

Having drawn off, in this second distillation, just twenty-six gallons, add to it, in a copper vessel, that will hold forty gallons, six gallons of orange flower-water, and eight gallons of rose-water, which has been recently made.

Now mix together ten ounces of spirit of musk, ten ounces of spirit of ambergris, half an ounce of true oil of lavender, half an ounce of good essence of bergamot, and half an ounce of oil of rhodium.

When properly mixed, put all these into the copper vessel, and stir the whole well together. It would be better, however, if

these strong perfumes were put in before the orange-flower and rose waters.

Add to all these a quart of milk, which has stood for a night, and which has had all the cream taken clearly off:, then agitate and mix the whole well together, and stop the vessel up close, until the time when it is to be used.


The jar ought to have a lock-cock soldered into it, to prevent accidents. This should be placed fully two inches from the bottom, in order that the milk, and other impurities, may fall to the bottom, and not flow through into the vessels in which it is drawn off for use.

If this honey-water be made in the spring, about March or April, and if the weather be fair, it will be quite fined down in the course of a month; that is, if it be not opened or disturbed. When the perfumer finds, by drawing off a little in a glass, that the milk, &c. have fallen down to the bottom, he may draw the whole off into clean andwell-seasoned stone, or glass, bottles; or much rather into another copper jar.

This composition ought never to be drawn off in rainy or cloudy weather; for then the milk is apt to rise. In warm weather it should be kept cool; and, in winter, as warm as possible. When distilled in the winter, the jars ought to be warmed, otherwise the honey-water will not be fined for five or six months.

If the honey-water be twenty years old, so much the better.

The ingredients from the first distillation should be immediately dried in the sun, otherwise they will become mouldy. When there is a considerable quantity from three or four makings, it ought to be ground in a mill, and finely sifted. They will be found to be of great use in the making of ordinary brown wash-balls,- and, with some additions, of brown powders for the hair.

The ingredients from the second distillation are of much greater value than the above, and therefore require more care in the drying. These are of great use for the best sort of gross powders, for sweet bags, &c.; and, if made into a fine powder, may be made use of, with great success, in the best sort of brown perfumed balls.

The same powder, with fresh ingredients, makes excellent pastils, to burn; and may be further used in making spirit of benjamin. For all these uses, it is necessary to attend to the receipts which will hereafter be given./ The British Perfumer 

Breaking down the recipe
Ingredients that have been described in earlier posts can be found in the ingredients list on the top of the page.

First stage
Coriander seeds An herb, with a citrusy flavor. Very common in Indian cuisine.
Marjoram An herb with a citrus and pine flavor.
Calamus Aromaticus
Yellow sandalwood Aromatic tree. A common ingredient in scents
Orange and Lemon peels The dried peels of the fruits.

There ingredients are steeped in alcohol and water before being distilled. The remains of the spices are saved and dried and the liquid is returned to the still.

Second stage
Add more water and add:

Nutmeg Spice. Dried seeds. Used in cooking, but can be poisonous in large quantities.
Pimento A little tricky, perhaps- Pimento can mean a red pepper but it can also mean Allspice, and that is what it means here. That spice is the dried fruits of the of the Pimenta dioica plant
Cassia Sometimes called Bastard cinnamon. Has less taste and rougher texture than true cinnamon and is therefore cheaper.
Gum Benjamin or Benzoin resin
Venellios Tonka bean, a fragrant seed of the Tonka bean tree; used in perfumes and medicines and as a substitute for vanilla. EDIT: After further research, Venellios is NOT Tonka bean, but an inferior quality of Vanilla. Tonka would probably work well as a substitute, though.

Let it steep again and then distill. Once again the remains are saved and dried, but keep them separate from the first remains.

Third stage

Spirit of Musk Animalistic scent originally derived from the glands from various animals, like musk deer. Today synthetic musk is almost exclusively used. Probably the most common base note in perfumes. Spirit of musk is an alcohol extract.
Spirit of Ambergris Ambergris is a waxy substance that comes from the digestive tracks of Sperm whales. Prepared it smells wonderful and has been used as fixative and base note in perfume for a long time. It can be ethically harvested, but the price is very high so usually synthetic substitutes are used. Spirit of ambergris is an alcohol extract.
Lavender oil
Bergamot essence Comes from Bergamot orange, which looks like a yellow orange. Used in scents and to flavor Earl Grey tea.
Rhodium oil, or Rosewood oil
Orange flower water A distillation of fresh bitter-orange blossoms
Rose water

Stir and leave it to settle

Fourth stage
When the milk, along with any impurities has settled at the bottom, decant the perfume into suitable bottles.
The dried remains can be used to perfume scent bags and powder.

My thoughts
There are a lot of ingredients in the recipe and with steeping and distilling it takes several days to come to the end of the third stage. The recipe suggests that the fourth stage will take months. The recipe also has huge quantities, which isn’t surprising as Charles Lillie was a perfumer by trade. I would really like to try this one, on a much smaller scale, of course. Most of the perfume recipes I have read demand real ambergris and musk, which would mean trying to convert it, as essence if what I can get my hand on. This recipe, as you can see, doesn’t need any such thing.

The problem that needs to be solved is the distillation process. Steam distillation in short, short is boiling water, making the steam go through the scent matter, leading the condensed liquid into another container and cool it. Hey presto, scent! I don’t really have the room to by any fancy apparatus, but I have found some simpler arrangements, like this one. For a smaller amount, it does seem to be doable.
I wonder if the perfume turns out spicy or flowery. The first batch of ingredients all have a citrusy scent, which ought to mean that the top notes will have a lemon quality. Then it would have spicy/resinous middle tones and muck and ambergris as base. Sounds quite a lot like a perfume I would enjoy!
Alchemy satire, 18th-century artwork


  1. If you make it, I sure would like to try it, sounds like it would smell heavenly :)

    1. Of course!

      I'm hunting ingridients as we speak. The only thing I don't know where to find is tonka beans, but I guess a vanilla pod could be used. It won't be a cheap perfume, though...

  2. I've seen tonka beans i Sthlm in a store called Cajsa Warg or something similar. It was a couple of years ago so i don't know if the store still exist.

    1. Found it! One is supposed to search for "tonkaböna" and not "vaniljböna". Duh!

  3. Alchemy Works sells a faux ambergris (I don't know how it compares to the real thing) and a faux musk (ditto.) They're both solids.

    1. I have ambergris and musk tinctures from The Perfumer's Apprentice which I think will work better here.

      Alchemy Works solid Ambergris is so so, I think, though it smells nice. They also have faux ambergris essence which is much nearer the mark. :)

  4. Here is an heart for you, because your blog is just amazing! ->

  5. Thank you so much for publishing this article! I'm currently writing a book based in the early eighteenth century and was looking for ideas on what my gentleman might smell of. This was so very helpful. Thanks again!

    Oh! Did you ever succeed in making this?

    1. I'm glad you found it useful! Yes, I did. It smells quite nice with a strong lemony top note that grows spicier on the dry-down. :)

    2. I would love to hear about your experience making this perfume.

  6. Did you by chance make enough to sell? I'd be interested!


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