An incomplete list of ingredients used in historical recipes

This is a growing list of ingredients, so if you don’t find something here, then it means that I either haven’t had time to add it or I have never seen it in a historical recipe. Please note that this list doesn’t even try to give comprehensive information about the recipes, it is merely meant as a starting point. I have listed name/s, use and if an ingredient is harmful or safe. If an ingredient is poisonous or endangered I will try to give a suitable substitute. However, if you want to try out a recipe, then I strongly urge you to do a bit more research. Even if something is considered safe and is used in the beauty industry today, it may still cause allergic reactions.


Alkanet root Cold, or blue-toned red pigment coming from a plant, Dyer's bugloss Considered safe and is used today as colourants both in makeup and food.

Ashes, as in what is left after a fire.Could be used as grey pigment in hair powder.


Bees wax A natural wax produced by honey bees. Melts well into oils and is often used as base for creams. It isn't absorbed by the skin, but doesn't clog the pores and softens and protects. Safe.

Beet root Bright red root vegetable.

Benzoin resin Or Gum Benjamin. Despite the gum, which indicates that it is soluble in water, it isn’t. Used as incense and as a fixative in perfumes. Vanilla-like scent. Safe.

Bergamot A citrus fruit that is shaped as an orange, but yellow. Bergamot essence is used in the perfume industry and to give flavor to foodstuff. Powdered bergamot probably means the powdered peel, which is used in aromatherapy today.

Bismuth Pearlecent white pigment. I have always blithely assumed that bismuth and lead white are the same. However, this recipe makes a distinct difference between them and reading up I find that it is a metal on it's own, though in the 18th century it was often confused with lead and tin. It is not at all as poisonous as lead, for example Bismuth subsalicylate is used even today in some medications and Bismuth oxychloride is used in cosmetics, especially mineral makeup. Though it is considered safe, many people have allergic reactions to Bismuth in makeup (I for one) and I wouldn't use it. Titanium oxide can be purchased mixed with mica for a pearlecent effect and that is what I would substitute it with.

Bone Pulverized bones from sheep and ox where used to colour hair powder white. I suppose the powder gets too coarse to be used in makeup. However, the white pigment in bones is really Calcium carbonate which is easy to find.

Brazilwood Warm red pigment coming from wood of Caesalpina brasiliensis. Safe, but the tree is considered an endangered species.

Burnt amber Clay pigment. The colour is reddish brown.


Chalk Used to whiten hair powder. However, pulverized chalk may irritate skin and can be corrosive if you get it into the eyes, so substitute it with Calcium carbonate instead.

Calamus Aromaticus Another name for the flower.Sweet flag. Used in perfumes and in herbal medicine. Considered safe, but may irritate skin.

Carmine, Bright red pigment that comes from the scales of the cochineal, an insect. Considered safe and is used today as colourants both in makeup and food, but it is quite common to be allergic to it.

Carrot Bright orange root vegetable

Cinnamon True cinnamon comes from the inner bark from trees of the genus Cinnamomum. Popular spice and reddish brown in colour.

Coal Burned wood. Used to colour hair powder, but seems to have been considered an inferior pigment for that purpose.

Cloves A spice, aromatic dried flowers buds. Used as a spice in cooking and baking. Ground clove is very dark brown.


Dragon’s Blood A resin with a bright red colour. In the 18th century it was sometimes called Vermilion, the same mercury-based red pigment. Dragon’s blood, however, is considered safe and a suitable substitute.



Field Gromwell, Corn Gromwell, Bastard Alkanet Red pigment derived from a plant. Carl von Linné writes in 1755 that peasant girls in the northern parts of Sweden use the root for red makeup.

Gold leaf Extremely thin sheets of gold that is used for gilding. Though an metal, gold is used in alternative medicine and is considered anti-inflammatory. Edible gold leaf can be found in well-sorted food stores

Gum Benjamin See Benzoin resin

Honey Apart from it's sweet favour, honey also have healing properties and works both as anantiseptic and as antibacterial. It also softens skin and can be used in salves and creams. Safe, but small children should not eat it.




Labdanum Rockrose resin. Very common in perfumes. Despite its origin the smell is described as animalistic, resembling ambergris or musk.

Lavender oil Scent made from Lavender flowers. The scent is considered calming and relaxing. A modern use is to help tension headaches, which may not be too big a leap to imagine that people in the 18th century may have suffered from. At least when the hairstyles got really big.

Lemon-peel Dried and ground peel from lemons.

Litharge, Red lead Red pigment made of lead. Poisonous, so even if you could get it, don't try it. Red pigments from Iron oxides can be used instead.

Lycopodium powder The spores from club moss plants. It is very flammable and is today mainly used in explosives. It has several other uses, though, like stabilizing ice cream, finger print powder or lubricating dust on latex gloves. In Sweden it has historically been used on baby bottoms instead of talcum powder.

Mace Mace comes from the Nutmeg tree. Nutmeg is the seed; mace is the seeds covering and is reddish brown.

Myrrh A resin that have been in use since ancient times as perfume and incense but also for its medical proprieties. It is antiseptic and has a long standing tradition in various mouth remedies, like sores and cleaning teeth and gums. Melts tolerable well into vegetable oils. Is considered safe, but shouldn't be used the first 5 months of a pregnancy.


Oil of Rhodium Has nothing to do with the chemical element. Rhodium oil is also known as Rosewood and comes from the Brazilian Rosewood. Used in perfumes but is also healing and antiseptic. It also have a slightly deodorising effect. Considered safe, but is an endagered species.
Oil of Roses ie Rose oil. An essential oil extracted from rose peals. It is very labour intensive and the oil is therefore very expensive. Used in perfumes and other cosmetics and is considered safe.

Orange peel The dried and ground peel of oranges.

Orrice root Though smelling like violets, Orris root is in fact the root from the flower Iris. Florentine indicates Iris Florentina which is supposedly the best quality. Used as fixatives in perfumes and potpourri’s and also as flavour- it taste like raspberry. Safe in other words.



Red sandalwood, Red sanders Red pigment coming from the root of the tree of the same wood. Used in makeup today. Similar to Vermilion in colour, but fades quickly. Sandalwood is considered an endangered species. Substitute with Dragon’s Blood.

Rose oil see Oil of Roses

Rose-water Scented water that can be used as perfume, but also in food. Safe.

Rosewood oil See Oil of Rhodium


Saffron A very expensive spice that colours everything you uses it in bright yellow. However, saffron was also used for Safflower in the 18th century. Safflowers can yield both yellow and red pigment, Carthamin. It seems quite likely that saffron in recipes for red makeup really means Carthamin. It is used today as food colourant under the name of Natural Red 26.

Starch Carbohydrate, a white powder without scent or taste that you find in such basic foodstuff as potatoes, corn and wheat. In the 18th century wheat starch was most common, though by the end of it, corn starch was used more and more. Today corn starch is the main ingredients in dry shampoos.

Storax The resin from a tree often called Oriental or Turkish sweetgum. Used as incense and as a fixative in perfumes. Safe.

Sweet flag See Calamus Aromaticus


Talc, Talcum Powder, French Chalk A mineral that becomes a very fine powder and is still in used in cosmetics. It doesn't cover well, but clogs up the pores and the fine powder may irritate your throat. However, in the 18th century Magnesium oxide was also called Talc. It has supposedly better coverage and is indeed also used in modern cosmetics. It seems to be a better option when a recipe calls for talc in white makeup.

Tin white, Tin dioxide It is listed in Kallopistria, oder die Kunst der Toilette für die elegante Welt from 1808 as used for white makeup. Though not as poisonous as lead, tin doesn't seem to be all that nice to get into your system. It is supposedly similar to Zinc oxide, so if I would definitely use that instead!



Vermilion, Cinnabar A red pigment made of mercury. Poisonous, so even if you could get it, don't try it. Was known to be dangerous in the 18th century but was still used. Substitute with Dragon’s Blood.


White lead, Ceruse, Litharge. White pigment made of lead. This is very poisonous and should not, under any circumstances, be tested! Despite being known to be dangerous it was very popular for white makeup as it provided a very smooth, opaque surface. Luckily there is a safe substitute nowadays in Titanium dioxide. This white pigment is used in both makeup and sun block and can be bought at any art store that sells pigment. When called Litharge it can also mean red lead pigment.


Zinc oxide, Flowers of zinc. White pigment made of zinc that has been around since Classical times, but was rare until the 1780's. Still, The Toilet's of Flora from 1779 lists a recipe for a white paint that contains zinc, so it seems to have been used earlier. It is safe to use, zinc is used today in makeup and sun block and can be bought as loose pigment, but doesn't cover up as well as lead did.

Yellow ochre or Gold ochre, hydrated iron oxide. Non-toxic and commonly found as painter’s pigment.

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