Queen of Hungary Water, facial toner & light fragrance

In this renaissance recipe history and facts are conflicting with myths and legends. There is a noteworthy bibliography for this legendary preparation: each author proposes his/her own version! Queen of Hungary Water is considered to be the wold first alcoholic perfume but also an almost magical tonic, a youth elixir. 

Its name is connected with Queen Elisabeth of Hungary (1305-1381); the 72 year old queen  needed an elixir to cure her rheumatism and to give her back her lost beauty. There is a legend that the elixir was prepared by an alchemist of the royal court and that it was so effective that the 25 year old king of Poland asked her to marry him!!

It is also said that the original recipe (which remains unknown) it was written by the queen herself using golden ink and that the main ingredients of that recipe were 3 parts aqua vitae 4 times distilled and 2 parts rosemary and thyme blossoms.
This elixir was probably used as a cure-all tonic the healing properties of which are clearly mentioned by Culpeper;  it was also Europe's most fashionable fragrance until the first half of 18th century, till the launching of "Eau de Cologne" that stole its glory! The original formula therefore is a nice puzzle for the lovers of the history of natural cosmetics and nowadays the "Queen of Hungary Water" is launched either as a tonic or as a light fragrance.

One of the most popular versions of "Hungary Water" is the one provided by Rosemary Gladstar, a herbalist well known in US.  Rosemary Gladstar claims that this formula was invented by gypsies (!) and that was their beauty secret. She uses vinegar as base of this elixir and gives no explanation for the origin of its name. Still, she believes  that it is one of the most stunning cosmetic recipes and proposes to be used as a face toner.

Below you will find the original R. Gladstar recipe, exactly as it is presented in her book "Herbs for natural beauty". Note that is recipe is not a secret, it can be easily found on the netIn this recipe dry herbs are used.

To make the "Queen of Hungary Water" by R. Glastar, you will need:
  • 6 parts lemon balm
  • 4 parts chamomile
  • 4 parts roses
  • 3 parts calendula
  • 3 parts comfrey leaf
  • 1 part lemon peel
  • 1 part rosemary
  • 1 part sage
  • Apple cider or wine vinegar to cover
  • Rose water 
  • Essential oil of lavender or rose (optional)
- Place the herbs in a widemouthed jar. Fill the jar with enough vinegar to well cover the herb mixture. Cover tightly and let it sit in a warm spot for 2 to 3 weeks.
- Strain out the herbs. To each cup of herbal vinegar, add 1 cup of rose water . Add a drop or two of essential oil, if desired.  C’est tout!
This preparation is in fact a herbal extract, a  tincture for which apple cider vinegar has been used as a solvent to extract the essential compounds of the herbs. Apple cider vinegar contains alcohol (which acts as a solvent) and also malic acid that belongs to the family of alfa-hydroxy acids (AHAs) that contribute to good blood circulation, to dead skin cells removal, to collagen synthesis and to skin moisturizing. Your skin will be softer and smoother.

The combination of herbs proposed by R. Gladstar is really effective, ideal for oily & combination skins. All the herbs used have antiseptic and astringent properties;  rose, chamomile and calendula have anti-inflammatory properties, comfrey is healing and rose water is an excellent skin softener. The result is refreshing toner that tightens the skin pores.

The Queen of Hungary Water (the cologne version)

Nancy Booth in her book "Perfumes, Splashes & Colognes" presents another version of this elixir, she provides a recipe for a light cologne. Inspired from this recipe but using only essential oils I have prepared a light fragrance with citrus - herbal aroma.

To prepare the light cologne you will need:
  • ½ cup (125 ml) orange blossom hydrosol
  • ½ cup (125 ml) vodka
  • 1 tbsp (15 ml) glycerin 
  • 30 drops lemon essential oil
  • 30 drops bergamot essential oil
  • 20 drops lavender essential oil 
  • 30drop rosemary essential oil
  • 10 drops petitgrain essential oil
  • 10 drops neroli essential oil 
In a sterilized bottle put the vodka and the add the glycerin and the essential oils. 

Shake well during the first 2-3 days; then allow the mixture to mature for at least 1 month. 

Check the result and you may want to add some additional drops of your favorite essential oil to improve the scent. 

The last step is to add the orange blossom hydrosol. Your light fragrance is ready!

 Enjoy your preparations!

- Nancy M. Booth, Perfumes, Splashes and Colognes, Storey Publishing, 1997
- Rosemary Gladstar, Herbs for Natural Beauty, Storey Publishing, 1999
- Henry Hartshorne, The Household Cyclopedia

This article was originally posted in November, 2006