Sunday, March 10, 2013

Hungary Water: First "Modern" European Perfume

Hungary water -- sometimes called "the Queen of Hungary's Water” -- was the first (European) alcohol-based perfume, claimed to date to about the late 14th century.

I find it interesting to read about old remedies and potions used for centuries and passed down by oral tradition or folklore. The recipe for Hungary Water has an interesting history, and its medicinal and cosmetic properties make it useful in our modern age.

There is much debate over the history of this ancient recipe.  Some say that it was created for the aging Queen of Hungary by an alchemist in the 1300’s to restore her youthfulness. According to the legend, it reversed her appearance so much that the 25 year old grand-duke of Lithuania asked for her hand in marriage when she was 70!

Others believe that the recipe was formulated and marketed by early Gypsies as a cure-all, touting its use as a perfume, hair rinse, mouthwash, headache remedy, aftershave or foot bath.

  1. Alchemist. Artist: Nicole Cardiff - Fantasy Art Gallery

According to some legends, Hungary Water first appeared outside of Hungary in 1370 when the French Charles V le Sage, who was famous for his love of fragrances, received some.

Hungary water was known across Europe for many centuries, and until eau de Cologne appeared in the 18th century, it was the most popular fragrance and remedy applied. Similar to other herb and flower-based products, Hungary water was not merely (or even mainly) a fragrance, but also a valuable remedy; the early recipes advise the user to both wash with it and drink it in order to receive the most benefit.

Hungary Water may be used as an astringent for all skin types and is especially beneficial for oily or acne prone skin. It gently tones, tightens pores, soothes itchy skin, normalizes the skin’s pH, and is a superb rinse for dark hair.

As you can see, Hungary Water is sold by several companies:

There are numerous variations of the recipe for the homemade version.  This traditional recipe from Rosemary Gladstar has a long ingredient list:

Hungary Water 1

(All herbs are dried)
6 parts lemon balm
 4 parts chamomile
1 part rosemary
3 parts calendula
4 parts roses
1 part lemon peel
1 part sage
3 parts comfrey leaf
vinegar to cover (apple cider or wine vinegar)
rose or witch hazel extract
essential oil of lavender or rose (optional but lovely)

Place all herbs in a wide mouthed jar. Add enough vinegar to come about an inch or two above the herb mixture. Cover tightly and let sit in a warm spot for two to three weeks.
 Strain. Reserve the liquid. To each cup of herbal vinegar add 1/2 – 1 cup of rose water or witch hazel. Add a drop or two of essential oil, if desired.
 Rebottle. This product does not need to be refrigerated and will stay preserved indefinitely.

The following recipe, while not true to the original, might be more manageable  because it calls for fewer ingredients. It also is appealing in that it uses witch  hazel instead of vinegar. It’s from, via the book Natural Beauty at Home by Janice Cox.

Hungary Water 2

1/8 teaspoon orange oil or 1/8 teaspoon lemon extract
1/2 teaspoon bergamot oil
1/4 teaspoon lavender oil
1/2 cup vodka or witch hazel
1/8 teaspoon glycerine or 1/8 teaspoon castor oil or 1/8 teaspoon cornflour or 1/8 teaspoon cornstarch or 1/8 teaspoon orrisroot powder
Mix everything together in a glass or ceramic container.
Cover with a lid or plastic wrap.
Place in a cool and dark place.
Let it sit for 1 week before using.

To use: Spray onto your skin  or use your fingers to dab it on, especially at the pulse points (behind the ears, wrists, knees and inside the elbows).

All the recipes I found state the concoction does not need refrigeration and will last indefinitely.

Many women "fed up" with the cosmetic industry for various reasons might be interested in making this recipe to use as a toner in their beauty regimen.

Will I be making a batch of Hungary Water? Yes, I believe I will, as soon as I buy the required essential oils. As mentioned, I like finding old recipes, especially if they have to do with herbs and essential oils. And I like the idea of using natural products.

But I think I will add Rosemary Essential Oil to mine if I make a batch of the second recipe. Rosemary is my favorite herb.

Are you familiar with Hungary Water? Do you have any interest in trying it?


  1. I have never heard of Hungary Water, but I will be looking out for it now. The recipe makes it sound good enough to eat! It also looks like something which I would find very appealing especially as I now try to have paraben free cosmetics and skin care in my life. Great post Sanda!

    1. I bought some at the Crabtree & Evelyn shop years ago but have no idea if it's still available from that source. Apparently available from other sources above. Thanks, Patricia.

  2. i had never heard of hungary water, either. i like those bottles from modern companies you posted pictures of. i'd love to hear how yours turns out.

    1. I've been known to buy an item because of the attractive bottle myself. I'll be sure to report back when I make it.

  3. New to me but it sounds delightful. I will have to look for it. Let us know if you make it. Do you know Florida Water? I had heard of that for ages but only obtained some a couple of years ago.


    1. Yes, have heard of Florida Water. I bought some years ago. I looked up the recipe and may try making that as well!

  4. Hungary Water sounds interesting. How can you miss with a perfume that has Vodka in it? Please let us know how it turns out! (I wish there was a recipe for 4711.)

    1. HaHa, I think I'll stick with using Witch Hazel; don't see using vodka on my face. Who knows, maybe there is a recipe for 4711. That was my mother-in-laws favorite fragrance.

  5. Very interesting and I am not familiar with it either. I do believe you will make and try it and when I see it, maybe it will inspire me to make/buy some. The cost of beauty products is still skyrocketing and we need to find an alternative to buying these things! Your rosemary picture is SO lovely - can almost smell it.

  6. We can make it to together. Should be lots of fun. Rosemary makes everything smell good!

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  8. Bought Hungary Water at Crabtree in San Francisco years ago. Great scent. Curious little green bottle still sits on my sink area.


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