Some Hair Care

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A woman combing her hair.
Paris, circa 1400, from a pen and ink drawing in the Staatliche Museen, Preussischer Kulturbesitz, Kupferstichkabinett, Berlin. 

I’ve been experimenting with some of the recipes in the Trotula for a while now. The Trotula is a manuscript on women’s medicine that originates from the 12th century, but was copied and used during the whole middle-ages. It contains recipes for make-up, anointments and other fun things concerning the female body and looks. One of my favourites is this one below (I think it was Cathrin that brought it to my attention):

When she combs her hair, let her have this powder. Take some dried roses, clove, nutmeg, watercress, and galangal. Let all these, powdered, be mixed with rose water. With this water let her sprinkle her hair and comb it with a comb dipped in this same water so that [her hair] will smell better. And let her make furrows in her hair and sprinkle on the above-mentioned powder, and it will smell marvelously.
– The Trotula

The spices can be found quite easily in Swedish stores, except for the galangal which I had to buy from a webshop. The watercress was the hardest thing to get a hold of – I actually had to buy seeds and grow it myself on my balcony. The watercress I have in my powder I grew last year, but I also have some growing right now for future use.

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Part of my not so very well-kept watercress plant

The spices were already ground down to a fine powder when I bought them, but I had to dry and grind the roses and watercress myself. That didn’t turn out perfectly – they didn’t grind down to that fine powder I had wished for. I probably didn’t dry the leaves enough before grinding them. It still works fine when I use it in my hair, but the small bits of watercress and roses can be seen if you looks closely.

I use it as you would use a modern day dry-shampoo that isn’t in a spray bottle, parting the hair and sprinkling some of the powder, and then repeating the process in different parts. Then I massage the powder into the hair, and then sprinkling rose water all over the hair – both at the roots and over the lenghts. After this I comb through the hair and then it’s ready to be made into beautiful and/or funny hairstyles.

It’s not often I get the compliment that I smell nice during events, but when I’ve used this powder it’s a reoccurring comment. 😉

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Doing Annette’s hair at my workshop at Battle of Wisby
When I got back to Sweden after visiting Middelaldercentret I felt very inspired and made my own rose water. As far as I’ve understood, actual rose water is derived from distilling rose petals, whereas mine was made by pouring boiling water over the petals and letting it sit for 24 hours and then straining it. It turned out fine, with a lovely colour and scent.

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My own rose water 

To end this short post – here is a way to get smooth and soft hair.

If, needed, you wish to have hair soft and smooth and fine, wash it often with hot water in which there is powder of natron and vetch.”
– The Trotula

Green, M. H. (Ed.). (2001). The Trotula: a medieval compendium of women’s medicine. University of Pennsylvania Press

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