Without the ability to spray the insects who invaded their homes or even exterminators, medieval people made use something to discourage vermin. So I think people experimented with herbs and all sorts of things. Just it was thought in the past that people would wear furs, and then discarded, and this is not what we now know to be, still are decriptions in housewifery books so I think the people of the past had to figure out something to stop the pests. So they found through trial and error that Tansy was considered proof against flies dried and hung about the home, or placed in a dish; lavender, Sweet Melissa or Cedar, and Southernwood against moths, Camphor against anything, and pennyroyal, then as now, against fleas.
They also had all sorts of nasty things they had to deal with that we do not, our modern sanitation was unheard in 14th Century Europe. They had open sewers, which were mostly just a small ditch dug into the middle of the roads. Excrement from every form of life bred all sorts of nasty bugs and such. It must have been an issue to keep the flooring usually wood clean of the gunk with of course breeds bacteria. Everything was brought into the home while in the city, and in the country well you can imagine it would be the same issue. Because the world was experiencing a mini Ice age, it was 20 to 30 degrees cooler in the world. As such it would be detrimental to take a full body bath, not to mention expensive you would need to have enough servants and containers to fill a small hip bath. Fuel would have been carefully used so that they could make it through the not so mild winters of the time. So wash downs, a small supply of warm water for the rich, or room temperature to wash down the body. It is one of the reasons almost every country had it version of an undershirt that protected the outside clothing from the body and it’s oils.
Unlike what has been told as accurate, the Medieval Chatelaine actually worked very diligently to keep her home as clean as possible, given the use of candles and the amount of general insect infestations.
Even today we still have issues with moths in our things, a good way to prevent an infestation is when we are putting our garb away make sachets of some of the herbs I am discussing, and place them in the boxes that you store your garb in. We camp in the same conditions that our predecessors lived with, washing a little difficult and oils do get into our clothing and bedding as well. Why not use some of their herbal solutions?
Southernwood was considered so strong a preventive that it was called 'garde robe'. Wormwood was considered to be a mouse preventive, and mint was used against mice and ants. Rue was grown in gardens to discourage pests. Apparently, strongly scented moth repellents work by confusing the mother moth so that she does not lay her eggs in the protected clothing, so they have no effect against existing infestations.
Citrus acid deters flying insects, so if you want have a sweet tent, stab an orange or lemon and stud it with cloves as we do for pomanders, and tie them around your camp. This will give your space a lovely fragrance and will attempt to keep those pesky flies away.
You can also spray a tincture of Lavender water all about as well bees do not like the scent; flies do not find it attractive as well.
I do not advise for you to use perfumes of a heavy scent while camping if you don’t want bees or any flying insect to become attracted to you. Your best shot is just soap and maybe some talc that is not too strongly scented to keep the bugs at bay. Also light colors and bright colors tend to attract the insect population. So if you are dressing a child, think about this when making garb choices.
Waters and splashes
'Waters' are the ancestors of both alcoholic cordials and modern alcohol-based perfumes and body care products, being herbs, vegetables, etc, mixed with wine or beer and distilled. The best known waters are rose and orange flower, both by-products of creating oils (rose and neroli). Simple herb and vegetable waters of all kinds were the rage also in the 16th century, made by either 'cold' distillation or by mixing the vegetable matter with wine or spirits and 'hot' distilling. However, other recipes included Water Imperiall (for wounds) and aqua vitae (for healing), Hungary Water, Carmelite Water, etc. Hungary Water, the first documented perfume using distilled spirits, seems to have included rosemary, and perhaps lavender and myrtle, among its original components. Waters were also used as astringents and hand washes, and as well as medical drinks.
Plain hand washing waters were used at the medieval table, being water with rose or violet petals in it, or an infusion of herbs. Le Menagier de Paris (as edited & translated by Tania Bayard), says:
To make water for washing hands at table: Boil sage, then strain the water and cool it until it is a little more than lukewarm. Or use chamomile, marjoram, or rosemary boiled with orange peel. Bay leaves are also good
If you have helmet head, then make a decoction of Rosemary leaves and a spray bottle and spray your hair and brush, it will help to get all of the gunk and oils from your hair as you brush.
Here is a medieval version of the same thought:
I have made great spritzing water for the hot days:
When lemons are plentiful take the outside and not the white nasty pith, the yellow actually has the citrus oil within. I personally used 25 lemons to make enough lemon water to make a difference. I put 4 cups of Vodka and placed my lemon peels into a stoppered container. I allowed this to sit for several weeks, then I strained it smelled it and decided that I needed more. This time I went to Costco and bought about another 25 lemons and peeled them as well.
By the way, what did I do with the lemon? I squeezed them and put them into ice cube trays, then when they were nicely frozen took them out and placed them in a zip lock. I can have lemonade all year long now and it was pretty easy.
Okay now to make the lemon spritz,
1 part Lemon
2 parts Water- Distilled please!
1 tsp Glycerin
So now all you need is a spritzer container and you will have something that will make you feel wonderful and it is a natural bug deterrent as well! You can use any citrus fruit for this recipe and if you don’t have the time to create your own lemon water, you can also put Lemon oil mixed with vodka again and then the water and it will smell the same but not have the same effect with the buggies.
A selection of herbs and spices used in the medieval period.
Balm, Lemon, or Sweet Melissa- Used in foods and drinks; considered an aid against melancholy. Fresh leaves were used to polish furniture Beekeepers used it to charm bees into a new hive.
Basil, dark green leaves with a 'warm' spicy taste. Used in cooking-- for 'potage' or boiled greens, in salads and green pickles. Symbolic of both love and hate. Culpeper cautions that smelling it too much may breed a scorpion in the head.
Borage, large hairy leaves that taste of cucumber, were used in salads and cooked greens, and in drinks. It was associated with courage: "I, Borage, Bring Courage."
Costmary or Alecost, narrow long sweet-scented leaves sometimes eaten in salad or used to season ale; also used to drive away bugs & moths.
Horehound, wooly leaves with a nasty taste. Horehound cough syrups and drinks were prescribed for chesty and head-colds and coughs. Modern scientific studies have found no effect from horehound.
Laurel, or bay-leaves, had to be imported as dried leaves (and berries) or potted plants from the Mediterranian, as bay will not grow well in Northern Europe. Bay leaves were used in incense and also in cooking, as we do now, and Bay leaf crowns were a Roman and Renaissance sign of achievement (hence the Laurel).
Marjoram, a small-leaved plant related to oregano with a lighter flavor. Used in cooking, in spiced wine (hypocras), in brewing beer, and in medicines to 'comfort' the stomach.
Mint of all kinds was used in food and medicine. Mint vinegar was used as a mouthwash; mint sauce restored the appetite. Used for all stomach ailments, in fevers and in treating venom and wounds. Wilfred Strabo said in the 10th century that there were as many types of mint as the sparks that fly from Vulcan's forge-- in other words, lots!
Mugwort, gray-green strong-smelling leaves. A charm for travellers and used in foot ointments; also used in treating women's ailments. It is one of the artemisia family, so internal use should be avoided.
Rosemary: pine-scented leaves, symbolic of wisdom and faithfulness. The flowers, boiled in tea, were an all-purpose medicine. A 1525 herbal suggests it boiled in wine for a face wash-- a sort of medieval Stridex. Putting the leaves under your pillow guarded against nightmares. The ashes of the wood, burnt, were used for cleaning teeth. Brides and grooms exchanged rosemary wreaths instead of rings; rosemary was also planted or strewn on graves. Rosemary was burned as an incense to kill or prevent infection, including the plague. Rosemary is said to have blue flowers because the Virgin dried her cloak on it on the way to Egypt.
Rue, a sour-smelling periennial with rounded leaves, also called 'the herb of grace' because it was used as a holy water sprinkler. Used to treat venomous bites, and poor eyesight. Do not use internally!
Sage: a shrub with gray-green sharp-tasting leaves, symbolic of age and wisdom. The leaves were used in salads and green sauces and as a spring tonic. "A man shall live for aye who eats sage in May." A tonic that is supposed to 'clean out' the system. In the Renaissance, the English ate sage butter in May.
Southernwood, fringy leaves of the artemesia family, were so popular in france for mothproofing that they were called 'garde-robe'.
Thyme: a low, creeping plant with tiny leaves, symbolic of courage. Used in cooking, and in baths and as an astringent. Burned as to fumigate against infection and to scent sacrifices. There are lots of varieties of thyme; they all have different scents. Legend has it that caraway-scented thyme was used so often in cooking 'barons' (big roasts) of beef that they are called 'herba barona'. Supposedly ladies embroidered a thyme sprig in flower, along with a bee, on favors for their favorite knights.
Yarrow, or Achillea, a fringey periennial with manyparted flowers. Used to treat headaches and wounds, especially battle wounds, and the bite of mad dogs. (In modern times it is used as a migraine treatment, but seldom in wound management. ) The wound treatment caused it to be associated with knights.
Roots & Rhizomes
Angelica, a very tallgreen plant whose stalks were cooked like celery or candied and whose leaves & roots were used against fevers, plague, and illness of all kinds.
Calamus, aka Sweet Flag: the rushes of sweet flag were strewn on the floors of medieval houses; the roots were dried and ground for use in body powders. Sometimes also used in food, but I wouldn't recommend it!
Galingale: rhizome of a gingerlike Indonesian plant, imported usually as dried strips. There are two kinds, the greater [Alpina Galanga] and the lesser [Alpina Officinarum]. An ingredient in medieval spice mixes: powder-douce and powder-fort. Similar to ginger but more spicey, peppery and complex.
Ginger, rhizome of a tropical plant. Traveled as either whole roots, dried slices or crystalized (preserved in sugar) slices, packed in ginger jars. The dried slices were often powdered for use in recipes. Gingerbread was a popular sweet cake, sold in decorated slices by gingerbread baking guilds, at least in Torun. Suspected of provoking lust, but widely used in saucing meats, in cakes, and sidedishes anyway. Its warmth was used medicinally to treat stomach problems, and as a remedy for the plague. Modern science confirms its use as a mild anti-nausea treatment.
Calendula, or French or Pot Marigold, round yellow flowers that look similar to regular marigolds but are a different species. Associated with the sun, they were said to follow its progress across the sky. Flower petals were used in broths and tonics, and in treatments to strengthen the heart. Now used in skin creams.
Chamomile: a short, creeping fringy plant with daisylike flowers. Used in handwashing waters and for headaches. Lawns and garden seats were planted with chamomile, for it 'smells the sweeter for being trodden on'. Scientific testing indicates that it really may help settle the stomach and soothe the nerves, which may be why it was used in fevers.
Hops: the cone-shaped flowers of the hop vine were used to flavor beer in much of Europe, though it only came to Britain late in period. Also used as a sedative (to make people sleep).
Lavender, dried purple flowers. Used in food, and in refreshing washes for headaches; a cap with lavender flowers quilted in it kept headaches at bay. Used extensively in baths, as a personal scent and as a moth repellent.
Roses, petals of white, pink and red roses [damask, apothecary, and dog roses among others] and the distilled water made from them were widely used in food as well as for scent, and added to medical preparations to strengthen the patient generally.
Saffron: the inner parts of a kind of crocus flower. Saffron crocus can be grown in Europe but the best comes from Turkey. (Other crocuses are POISONOUS!) Even in medieval times, saffron was often imitated with safflower or tumeric. Supposedly imported to England in the reign of Edward III. Medieval cooks used it extensively in both sweet and savory dishes, especially soups and grains, for flavor and color. (Also used a dyestuff; when only color was wanted, the flavorless safflower could be substituted.) Used to treat infections.
Cloves, nail-shaped flower-buds of a tree from the East Indies. Cloves were chewed to freshen the breath, used extensively in cooking -- both meat and fish were studded with them as we do ham. Ground/powdered cloves were also used in gruels and sweets. Clove's antiseptic and slight painkilling affects were exploited in wound treatments as well as treatments for toothache, and for 'coldness of the blood'. Considered one of the hottest of spices. Used in cooking and as an antiseptic and painkiller. (You can still buy oil of cloves for toothache in older pharmacies.)
Citrus: oranges and lemons were imported from Spain as well as the east. They were used extensively as flavorings (in meats as well as sweets), but generally not eaten on their own-- they were too expensive! Candied orange peels, made by soaking out the bitterness from the peels and crystalizing them in sugar, were a popular comfit (candy) and subtlety decoration. [Limes are a New World fruit and apparently were not known in the SCA period.]
Mace: the outer covering around the nutmeg within the fruit of the nutmeg tree. The best is the color of gold, says Banckes, and it will keep 10 years. It used to be sold whole or in strips. Also used as a strewing herb by the very rich, like German Emperor Henry VI whose coronation route in 1191 was strewn with it.
Anise. Smells and tastes like licorice. The seeds were used to treat gas and to make people sweat. They were also used in sweets and candies.
Cardamom: 'warm' spicy seedpods and seeds imported from India. The Arabs flavoured their coffee with it, and it was also used in mulled wine. Meat and rice dishes are often flavored with cardamom.
Coriander. The round seeds (which resemble bugs!) were used for cooking and to deter fevers; often used in breads. They may have been used to treat or prevent tummyaches, including gas.
Cumin, hot/spicy seeds now used in Tex-mex cooking. Medieval people used it in cooking and to treat gas. Rye bread with cumin seeds is a Slavic food. (Though they may have used 'black cumin' which is another spice.)
Flax: the plants of flax make linen, and the seeds cooked in water made a constipation treatment and an invalid's porridge;a flax seed, placed in the eye, was used to remove foreign bodies because of the mucilage it exudes. (Don't try this at home!)
Mustard, This huge annual plant produces hundreds of tiny yellow or black seeds (The ability to grow 6 feet tall in a single season is where 'if you have faith even as a mustard seed you can move mountains' comes from). Mustard sauce (generally made by mixing ground mustard with vinegar/wine/water/honey and other spices) was one of the most common condiments for meat. Mustard seed comes in brown, black and yellow. To make good sharp mustard, mix it up on the spot and use it right away-- the flavor fades quickly.
Nutmeg: seed pit of the nutmeg tree, imported from India. Shipped as whole nuts and ground for use, or eaten whole. Nutmegs set in silver were a popular Renaissance pomander. Ground and eaten to improve digestion; set in silver and carried as scented jewelry. Common in medieval cookery. Both Banckes and Hildegarde mention it as a general tonic, but eating too much nutmeg is hard on the kidneys.
Cubebs: pepper berries from Indonesia imported to England in the thirteenth century. Also called tailed pepper. Cubeb vinegar was used in recipes in Poland, and cubebs were one of the many pepper alternative fads.
Grains of Paradise: seeds of an African tree. Gets its other name, melegueta pepper, from the kingdom of Mali, whence it was imported. Faddish as an alternative to pepper in the 13th century. Used in sausages and in certain types of mulled wine and hypocras.
Pepper: black, white and green pepper come from the same plant, but medieval cooks only had black -- with the skins on-- or white-- with them removed. Legend said that black pepper was blackened by fire in the harvesting process. (Rose pepper comes from a different plant and was not known in period.) Used extensively in cooking.
Long pepper, a relative of regular pepper(but not the same) comes as long dried seed capsules and has a fiercer flavor and a sweeter smell. Both regular and long pepper were used extensively, in sweet as well as savory dishes.
Barks & Wood
Cassia: bark and buds of the cassia tree, from China. Often onfused with (or substituted for) cinnamon, cassia has a rougher, stronger taste. Almost all 'cinnamon' sold in America is cassia.
Cinnamon, the bark of an Asian tree. The ancients thought it came from Arabia. Herodotus and Pliny relate tall tales about cinnamon-bird nests and cinnamon-growing areas guarded by bats. True Cinnamon (Cinnamomum zeylanicum) is lighter in color and more fragile than cassia, with a smoother, richer taste and smell. Cinnamon was used in anointing oils in the ancient Hebrew temple (CAUTION: cinnamon essential oil will burn the skin!) and burned as a precious incense. It was used to flavor fruit and grain dishes, and used in hashmeat especially-- but because of its expense and prestige factor, it was used in cooking almost EVERYTHING (soup to subtleties) if one could afford it.
Saunders (Sandalwood) both red and yellow were known; red was used for coloring food, yellow more for burning. Because it tastes like wood and is sometimes adulterated, it's not recommended for internal use.
Frankincense: resin (dried sap) of the olibanum tree. Came as 'beads' of resin. The best, said Banckes, is clear and white. Imported from India. Used in incense. Also recommended by Banckes' herbal to treat sinus problems and uterine disorders (a poultice of frankincense tea applied to the abdomen, or the user burnt or steeped frankincense and sat over the smoke or steam). A rich, church-y smell. Nowadays primarily used as church incense.
Myrrh: resin tapped from splits in the bark of an Arabian tree. An aromatic used in pomanders, cosmetics and other scented preparations, as well as embalming. Used extensively in period wound treatments due to its antiseptic properties. Still used in mouthwashes and some antiseptics, though not currently recommended for internal use.
Make some ‘Sweet bags’ and place within;
Dried Citrus peels
Cedar chips – like the hamsters use inexpensive and still works!
You can use 1 or all of these great moth stoppers and put them with your garb when you are not using it. The scent stops the Mommy to be Moth from laying her eggs, but if you have an infestation, this will not help. You will need to air all of your things in the sun and/or use modern methods of bug extermination.
Have you ever noticed that flying insects stay away from the BBQ or Brazier smoke? Smoke is a natural deterrent for those pesky things, so why not use this principal to make your camping space have a lovely smell and get rid of all of those icky pests?
Easy way to accomplish is to make your own natural incense and burn it over an already burning charcoal briquette. Or you can have oils and use a diffuser to reach the same goal.
I like again to use these herbs and oils;
These are all dried
Using a mortar and pestle grind your herbs down, the myrrh is a resin so it is harder to do.
(I use a coffee grinder to do this quickly )
Add the sawdust (you can get this from your local hardware store), grind the sawdust in as well. (I wet the sawdust and place it in my blender and add the herbs I have powered and it seems to work just the same as doing it by hand.)
Now add 20 drops of Citronella and 10 drops of Lavender oil. Allow this all to blend for at least a day before you burn it. Light your little charcoal and burn, it is a sweet scent that will keep the bugs away, but hopefully the people around you will come over to see what smells so good.
I also have a recipe you can use to make an oil or put into regular lotion to make your skin off limits to the bugs in life!
Herbal Repellent Oil
1 Part Fresh Pennyroyal
1 Part Fresh Chrysanthemum
1 Part Fresh Lavender
5 drops Peppermint Essential Oil
20 drops Citronella Essential Oil
Pick your fresh herbs. Manually remove any dirt then set them in a sunny place until the herbs are wilted.
Using 1/4 cup as your part, measure 1/4 cup of pennyroyal and Chrysanthemum petals and stems, and 1/8 cup basil and Lavender into a crock pot. Pour in enough olive oil to cover the herbs plus another inch of oil (approximately 1 cup). Turn the crock-pot on low temperature and heat the herbs for about 3 hours. An alternative way to prepare your oil extraction is to place the herbs in a clear glass jar and set it in the sun for about five days. Shake it once or twice a day.
When you have finished heating your oil, strain your oil through cheesecloth lined strainer. Squeeze out as much oil as possible. Measure out how much oil you now have. For each ounce of oil add 20 drops of citronella essential oil and 5 drops of Peppermint oil.
You could do all of this in the medieval fashion by placing it in a glass jar and allowing the sun for several days do the work the crock pot did.
An Herbal, 1525. Also known as Banckes' Herbal. Author unknown, published 1525. Facsimile & transcripted edition ed. by Larkey & Pyles. (NY: Scholars' Facsimiles and Reprints, 1941)
A Medieval Home Companion: Housekeeping in the fourteenth century. (from Le menagier de Paris) Trans. & edited by Tania Bayard. (NY: HarperCollins, 1991)
Culpeper, Nicholas. Culpeper's Complete Herbal. Published by W. Foulsham & Co, New York. ISBN: 0-572-00203-3.
Culpeper, Nicholas. The English Physitian, online through Yale Medical Library: http://www.med.yale.edu/library/historical/culpeper/culpeper.htm
Dioscorides Pedanius, of Anazarbos. The Greek Herbal of Dioscorides: illustrated by a Byzantine, A. D. 512; Englished by John Goodyer, A. D. 1655; edited and first printed, A. D. 1933, by Robert T. Gunther ... with three hundred and ninety-six illustrations.
Hildegarde of Bingen. Hildegard von Bingen's Physica: the complete English translation of her classic work on Health and Healing. Trans. from the Latin by Patricia Throop. (Rochester, VT: Healing Arts, 1998). ISBN 0-89281-661-9
Gerard, John. Leaves from Gerard's Herball: arranged for garden lovers. edited by Marcus
Woodward (Peter Smith, 1990). ISBN: 0844609714 (also available from Dover in paperback, ISBN: 0486223434). Note: any Gerard's Herbal edited by Woodward is actually an abridgement.
Hill, Thomas. The Gardener's Labyrinth[: The first English Gardening Book]. ed. Richard Mabey. (NY: Oxford University Press, 1987) ISBN: 0-19-217763-X. Illustrated with reproductions of woodcuts & paintings from a wide variety of sources.
Markham, Gervase. The English Housewife: containing the inward and outward virtues which ought to be in a complete woman..., Chapter III: "Of distillations and their virtues, and of perfuming." first printed 1615. Published 1986 by McGill-Queen's University Press, Montreal; edited by Michael R. Best. ISBN: 0-7735-0582-2.
Le Menagier de Paris. translation of cookbook sections by Janet Hinson: http://www.best.com/~ddfr/Medieval/Cookbooks/Menagier/Menagier.html
Nostradamus, The Elixirs of Nostradamus: Nostradamus' original recipes for elixirs, scented water, beauty potions and sweetmeats. edited by Knut Boeser. (Wakefield, RI: Moyer Bell, 1996) ISBN: 1-55921-155-5
Parkinson, John. A Garden of Pleasant Flowers: Paradisi in Sole. (NY: Dover Publications, 1991.) ISBN: 048626758X
Plat, Hugh. Delightes for Ladies. 1594. (Herrin, Ill., Trovillion Private Press, 1942) Note: There have been several versions of this but I haven't yet worked through my new copy of it. However, here are a selection of rosewater recipes from it.
Strabo, Walafrid. Hortulus. Translated by Raef Payne. Commentary by Wilfrid Blunt. (Pittsburgh: Hunt Botanical Library, 1966)
Tusser, Thomas. His Good Points of Husbandry, "Of Herbs and Flowers." 1557. Published 1931 by Country Life Limited, London; edited by Dorothy Hartley.