[This is the third in a series of articles on SCA artisans who inspire, teach, encourage, and/or make the Society a better place for us all! I learned so much through other artisans while preparing for the A&S Pentathlon, and now it is my turn to shine the love on them, learn more about their craft, and introduce them to you.]
Pumpkin water for wrinkles? Almond oil for softer skin? All this and more I’ve learned from Donna Heodez Sofonisba de Talento Minotto, who weaves her particular brand of magic in the time-honored art of herbcraft. Fascinated by cosmetics since the age of 12, Heodez is studying medieval and Renaissance cosmetics made by women through the ages. “I find the journals they left behind, often called ‘books of secrets,’ fascinating.” writes Heodez. “The wealth of beauty recipes out there is amazing.”
Learning how our ancestors created and applied cosmetics isn’t always easy, however. Most journals are not in English, meaning Heodez has to translate them for starters. Then comes the fun of figuring out quantities, which more than often are not listed. And let’s not forget that our ancestors didn’t always realize (or care about) the toxicity of their ingredients—the use of white lead for a fair face in the renaissance lead to disfigurement and death. To avoid subjecting us all to this particular recreation of the period, Heodez must research reasonable substitutes. She says, “The fun is in the figuring out, despite the frustration sometimes.”
So what is Heodez’s favorite discovery to date? She loves “discovering that we still have the same beauty concerns centuries later” as our for-bearers. Worrying about how we smell or about our gray hair is time eternal, apparently. Remedies for our present-day concerns were concocted and many of them actually work. And thus learning what worked for our great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandmother can work for us, too!
Lady Heodez’s cosmetic projects during the last two years are extensive, evident by her own modern-day Book of Secrets, the Segreti del Pavone (“secrets of the peacock”) blog. Here you’ll find recipes for a wrinkle reducer, lavender perfume, hand whitener, underarm deodorant, rose soap, acne soap, blusher and lip color, diet drink, hangover remedy, velvet stiffener, cough drops, facial cream, shampoo, conditioner, face whitener, incense, hair remover, lip balm, astringent, mouthwash, grease stain remover, tooth whitener, and scented hair powder. This is a veritable pharmacopeia of wonders! Imagine yourself making a variety of Heodez’s beauty products for your next camping event to really take your immersion to a new level. This is one of my personal goals for Pennsic!
And I would be remiss in leaving out Heodez’s interest beyond cosmetics. She’s redacted recipes for stiffening velvet and making artificial pearls. I myself made fake pearls based on her recipe over a year ago — that was a fun adventure! Heodez also enjoys sewing, embroidery, and dance. She is an apprentice to Mistress Sarafina Sinclair.
Heodez is a fellow Midrealm A&S Pentathlon entrant, having won the Kingdom A&S Pentathlon last year and inspiring me to enter this year. She was also the Middle Kingdom Arts and Sciences Champion and the Middle Marches Baronial A&S Champion in 2013. She is a member of the Order of the Silver Oak. I personally feel her leaves shine green in all four seasons — if you agree with me, please do let Their Majesties know.
How to Make a Hand Softener/Moisturizer:
Lady Heodez shared a recipe for a hand softener from the late 16th century. She says it was very popular when she bring it to Craftperson’s Faires and Pennsic. It’s exceedingly simple to make. The recipe is from The English Huswife (which contains “The inward and outward Vertues which ought to be a in a compleate Woman”). Here’s how you do it:
1. Procure some almond oil (sweet), whole cloves, and a small glass jar. Historically you would have ground almonds to release their oil. I bought all from my local Whole Foods store.
2. Fill your jar 3/4 full of almond oil, then place 2 or 3 whole cloves in the jar and seal it tightly.
4. Place this jar in your sunniest windowsill for about four days.
You have now created a hand softener which is lightly scented and long lasting. You only need a small dab, so a little jar lasts a long time. It also makes a wonderful facial moisturizer during the winter. Almond oil does not clog the pores and is hypoallergenic.
The oil has a lovely scent of cloves, but not at all overpowering. I’ve been applying the oil to my hands for several days now and they are indeed very soft! This little bottle will be going in my toilette kit for Pennsic!
Lady Heodez was nominated for this project by THL Philippa Montague, who wrote to me to say, “in addition to two pentathlons in two successive years, [Heodez] teaches classes and sends her students home with handfuls of samples and recipes. (The medieval bilberry deodorant was as startlingly effective as advertised, plus it didn’t freeze when everything else froze at Gulf Wars!)”. Would you like to nominate someone to be featured here? Leave a reply or contact me directly!