May from the Tres Riches The people of the Middle Ages had only natural perfuming ingredients at their disposal and they are responsible for a great many of the best loved elements in all of perfumery.

  • Rose-Rose water and oil was distilled from the petals of roses and this was one of the best loved of all fragrances. They scented their garments with it, baths, and linens
  • Lavender and Spikenard-This small desert loving plant was cultivated by the Romans and that tradition carried on to the people of the Middle Ages. It was thought that lavender promoted a peaceful sleep and so it was often used to scent bed clothes.
  • Sweet Flag-A form of iris, the fragrant stalks of this plant were strewn on the floor in the rooms of houses so that stepping on them would release their sweetness and scent the air.
  • Iris-The dried root of this flower has a violet like scent and is very persistent. It was used as a fixative in potpourri and a base for perfumes. Very expensive, the best was thought to come from Italy and the stylized iris (which looks like a fleur de lis) is the official symbol of the City of Florence.
  • Orange and Lemon-The peel and oil of citrus fruits were used as topnotes in potpourri and some scented oils. Thought to lift the spirits and rare in Northern Europe.

Those are just a few of the elements and I will explore more later. The forms they used these things in were quite diverse. In addition to strewing on the floor and extracting the oils, Medieval people would burn volatile herbs to keep away bad smells and plague and they made “tablets” to burn like incense, that was one of the average Medieval housewife’s tasks.

The people of the Middle Ages would also take great delight in making moist as well as dry potpourri. The moist variety has mostly fallen out of fashion but was made to be enjoyed wet because the scent would be richer and it was more suitable to receive wet ingredients in the blend. So, liquor was often part of the mix and that combining with spices made for a beautiful combination. This potpourri was kept in airtight jars which were opened when a strong sweet scent was desired and kept closed the rest of the time.

This is the first in a several part series about the perfumes of the Medieval times from Possets Perfume. At Possets we are having a Medieval Yule and many of these scenting elements are featured in the line this season. Come and explore the beauty of Medieval scent on the Possets site.

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