Monday, June 10, 2013

How to Wash Your Hair, 12th century

"Dear Past, How often should I wash my hair and what should I wash it with? Sincerely, Hair Befuddled in the Present"


Mary Magdalene
14th century, Les Enluminures
"After leaving the bath, let her adorn her hair, and first of all let her wash it with a cleanser such as this. Take ashes of burnt vine, the chaff of barley nodes, and licorice wood (so that it may the more brightly shine), and sowbread... with this cleanser let the woman wash her head. After the washing, let her leave it to dry by itself, and her hair will be golden and shimmering...  If the woman wishes to have long and black hair, take a green lizard and, having removed its head and tail, cook it in common oil. Anoint the head with this oil. It makes the hair long and black." 
The Trotula (12th century)

How frequently you should do this is not explained, but if you are going the lizard-conditioner route, my recommendation is: use sparingly.

11 comments:

  1. I'm repeatedly perplexed. Could anyone have thought this would work or would be a good idea? Did even one person cut up a lizard and apply it to her hair?

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  2. I'd say yes, they actually used those recipes... There were a lot of strange beliefs and traditions over the ages, that one is actually not the weirdest one I've come across when reading about past centuries health care and beauty routines...

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  3. Actually, lye (wood ash) and fat (sowbread) are the most basic ingredients of soap. She made soap with licorice root for a little added shine, is all.

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    1. That soap sounds so caustic and gritty though I can't imagene a shine happening for a week or so when the naturals oils come back in!! No wonder head coverings were normal!!

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    2. Lye soap is not caustic. Once it is mixed with the fat, it is not caustic, nor is it gritty. Lye was made using wood ash, but has none of the properties of ash in it. It is a really good cleaner. I have used it for cleaning dishes innumerable times and would continue to do so if I still had access to it. It cleans as well as our current dish soap. Head coverings were used to keep the hair cleaner longer to keep things like ash out of your hair, or to keep sparks from setting your head on fire.

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    3. Why, then, is lye soap to be set out to "cure" for six weeks before use, lest it burn your skin?

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    4. Because until the soap fully saponifies (converts all the lye/alkaline and fat to soap), there is still a powerful lot of alkaline that can burn. Many lye soap makers perform the "tongue test" to see if the soap is fully cured/saponified. To do this, hold the bar of soap to your tongue. If it tingles, there is still free lye in it and either you had your lye to fat ratio messed up or it needs more curing time. Today we can test fats to know their "sap" (saponification) value and we use a commercial standardized lye when making soap. In the past that was not the case and less skilled soap makers did exist giving lye soap an undeserved bad rap.

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    5. translation---they used a cold temperature process to let the soap harden. where'as today almost all soap is quickly harden thru heating it. soap made in the morning is ready by dinnertime for use under a hot temp process. Whereas the cold temp process takes up to a month in the summer and 2 or 3 months in the winter.

      BTW - all soap is a salt made starting with a lye & fat mixture - even the ones claiming to be made from glycerin

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  4. Now, we see the orgins of modern instructions:

    Lizard. Rinse. Repeat.

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  5. I'm not sure if any other options would have existed in the 12th century but air drying your hair seems like fairly sound advice.

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  6. Soaps, combs and oils oh my...I have used homemade soaps on my skin and hair, and then conditioned my hair with oils and combed my hair with combs made the same way they had them made in the 14th century, reproduction companies are all over the internet with the supplies to care for yourself the same way they did back then. save for the lizard oil...The combs they used to comb their hair work wonders even today, you comb your hair and the wood pulls the oils from the scalp the length of the hair. I love my wood comb. I also love the homemade soaps made by artisans today. There are lovely soap recipes you can make in a crock pot that are so much better for skin and hair than the shampoos made by Brand Name Companies. I myself cannot see killing a beneficial creature like a lizard for anointing oil, but back then they thought that the feces dropped by a white dog were good for those who had been drinking too much the night before...

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