Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Rose pastilles

roses revisited, part 2

I promise I'll get to the second recipe from Nostradamus that I mentioned in Part 1, but first I want to digress a bit.

One of the ingredients in Nostradamus' second recipe is something called Trocis de roses. This means "rose tablets" or "rose pastilles" and there are a number of recipes for making them scattered through various sources. Like Nostradamus' first recipe, these recipes also are frequently thought to be recipes for rose-petal beads, because these trocis -- unlike the process followed in Nostradamus' first recipe -- are made by grinding up actual petals. (Nostradamus' first recipe, you'll recall, has you soak the rose petals and then throw them out and use the liquid.)

The earliest recipe I've seen for rose pastilles is from the Materia Medica of Dioscorides, which dates to the first century AD. I can't vouch for the accuracy of this translation, but here's the version I have. As you can see, there are other fragrant resins included in the recipe, so it's not just rose petals.

"Rose balls, or rhodides, are made this way. Of fresh roses before they become damp, 40 drachmas; spikenard, 5 drachmas; myrrh, 6 drachmas. These are beaten fine and made up into little troches, each weighing 3 oboli [about 1.5 grams -- Ed.]. These are then dried in the shade and stored in closely sealed jars. Some also add costus, 2 drachmas, and the same amount of Illyrian orris, mixing also honey, and wine from the island of Chios.”

There are also a great many late 16th and 17th century recipes for these scented pastilles, which may or may not use roses as an ingredient. Rose pastilles seem to be one example of a method of compounding herbs and spices that was used more generally. Culpepper's herbal has general directions for making pastilles, using gum tragacanth as a binder: "with this you may (with a little pains taking) make any Pouder into Past[e], and that Past[e] into little Cakes called Troches." Gervase Markham's The English Housewife (1615) has troches composed not of roses but of orris root, marjoram, sweet basil, cloves, sandalwood and citron.

Scales woodcut

One interesting recipe for rose pastilles is from an anonymous 16th-century Spanish manuscript called Manual de mugeres en el qual se contienen muchas y diversas reçeutas muy buenas (Mss. 834, now in the Biblioteca Palatina de Parma, Italy, and online here).

Here is the original recipe and a translation by Dana Huffman:

Receta para hacer pasticas de perfume de rosas:
Tomar una libra de rosas sin las cabezuelas, y siete onzas de menjuí molido. Echar las rosas en remojo en agua almizclada y estén una noche. Sacar después estas rosas y expremidlas mucho del agua, y majadlas con el menjuí. Y al majar, poner con ello una cuarta de ámbar y otra de algalia. Y después de majadas, hacer vuestras pasticas y ponedlas cada una entre dos hojas de rosas, y secadlas donde no les dé el sol.

Recipe for making rose-scented tablets:
Take a pound of roses without the flower heads, and seven ounces of ground benzoin. Put the roses to soak in musk water for a night. Remove these roses afterwards and thoroughly squeeze out the water, and grind them with the benzoin. And when grinding, put with it a quarter of amber [ambergris?] and another of civet. And after [they are] ground, make your tablets and put each one between two rose leaves [i.e. petals], and dry them away from the sun.


You may have noticed that in none of these recipes are you directed to pierce holes in these or to string them. The recipe from Manual de mugeres, in fact, is clearly for flat tablets, since each one is dried between two rose petals.

Next we'll look at Nostradamus' recipe and consider the ingredients used.

All posts in this series:

Part 1: Roses revisited
Part 2: Rose pastilles
Part 3: The beads of Nostradamus



OpenID bronx-baroness said...

If they weren't used as beads, then what were they used for?

5:10 PM  
Blogger Chris Laning said...

I don't think we can be quite sure, but I'll be getting into that soon...

6:43 PM  
Blogger Tyler said...

The suspicion that "ámbar" is probably "ambergris" is probably right; it is used for both in Spanish.

2:09 PM  
Blogger Ruth Bryant said...

It seems like they were mimicking the kyphi balls (or pills) that the Egyptians made during Roman times. Big sticky balls of honey and incense - but not made of roses until the Romans started to insist that the Egyptians grow roses as a commercial crop. The Egyptians seemed to make their incense into balls this way so that a certain amount could go into the fire while prayers were being read. The Romans were crazy about roses, but the Egyptians, not so much. Later, Arabs, Turks, and Persians fell in love with roses. No wonder: they were a huge cash crop! Still are, in Turkey. Autumn Damask and Taif roses are called oil roses in Turkey (and probably in northern India where Taif originate, unless they're just a variant on Autumn Damask that Indian pride demands be called something else.) So, if they have a high oil content, they probably burn a lot better than your usual Hybrid Tea! I haven't had an opportunity to work with the petals of an actual Autumn Damask variety so I can't say for sure, but it's a theory.

Er, here's an article about growing roses in Turkey:

I can't tell you how happy I am that I found your blog! I'm about to teach a class on roses and the part about rosaries was going to sound like, "Um, yeah, even though Lady Pelican sodding Opal McLlewellyn has been making rose beads for years, we don't have medieval documentation of rose petals being made into rose beads. We have documentation for that going back to 1920."

6:56 PM  
Blogger Chris Laning said...

And of course "We have documentation for that going back to 1920" is approximately correct -- but now you have REASONS for saying so! ;)

Feel free to message me if there's anything else I can help with.

I must say modestly that the state of knowledge about medieval rosaries and paternosters is at least *somewhat* better than it was ten years ago!

7:48 AM  

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