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