The Tortula was written as a medical treatise in the 11th or 12th century by a female medical practitioner just South of Naples in Salerno. The book was widely translated and circulated through the 15th century. In the 16th century, medical practitioners started publishing improvements on the recipes. Green in her work sourced the pre 16th century texts for translation. At this time it was believed that an attractive appearance was a mark of good health. Below is a recipe to make a woman's hair attractive, and clean. Contrary to popular myth, women did not just hide dirty or greasy hair under their caps and veils.
Recipe #248 for Hair Powder
"But 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. " (pg 114)
To make and store I used a modern scale in place of a weights and balances set from the period. A piece of paper was used to funnel items from scale.
I used a stone mortar and pestle to grind ingredients which I had whole except for the nutmeg. For the nutmeg I used a modern microplane to get the desired texture more quickly and safely than grinding it into a powder with the other items.
I mixed items on a ceramic plate to blend and dry items before placing in a jar for storage.
After cross referencing the ingredients listed above with their scientific modern names in The Trotula appendix, I sourced ingredients which are still available under the names listed in the original recipe. I used dried cabbage rose buds from last summer, whole clove, whole nutmeg, powdered watercress, and powdered galangal.
In this instance, I used store bought rose water because of the slight amount of preservatives in it, but you can easily make your own rose water by simmering rose petals in water over low heat until you have the desired level of sent and color removed from the flower petals
To use this powder you will also want a small dish for rose water, and a double-sided wooden comb to comb out tangles in your hair and pull the powder through your hair from the scalp.
I powdered the whole cloves and rose petals separately by hand in a mortar and pestle. I grated the nutmeg using a modern microplane. Each ingredient was measured out as 1/2 oz and placed on a plate. There was no mention of proportions in the original text, so I took this to mean each ingredient was needed in equal parts. I mixed all ingredients together in this small plate and sprinkled the mixture with some rose water to help scents meld. I then let the powder dry completely before placing in a jar for use.
When using I comb my hair with a double sided wood comb which was popular at the time and rose water which removes any dandruff or debris in my hair. Then part hair and sprinkle in the powder with your fingers and comb through. This process not only scents the hair but removes grease from the hair. You will want to comb hair through until you have removed any larger pieces of rose petal or clove. After process hair has texture, body, and smells like a spicy and floral. Can be used frequently to keep hair clean, and in practice is similar to a modern dry shampoo.
Video file of this process has been corrupted at the time of this submission.
Egan, Geoff, et al. Dress Accessories, C. 1150 - C. 1450. Suffolk UK, Boydell Press, 2002.
Green, Monica. The Trotula: An English Translation of the Medieval Compendium of Women’s Medicine (The Middle Ages Series). Edition Unstated, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2002.