This section is from the book "Meals Medicinal", by W. T. Fernie. Also available from Amazon: Meals Medicinal: With "Herbal Simples" Curative Foods From the Cook in Place of Drugs From the Chemist.
The famed perfumes of the East were first brought into Western Europe by the Crusaders; and no treasures were more valued by the mediaeval lady than these, for it was thought that the atmosphere of fragrance in which Oriental women lived was the means of preserving their beauty. But the use of perfumes was not common in England until the time of Queen Elizabeth; it is probable that they were then introduced from abroad by the Earl of Oxford. Immediately, these cosmetics and fragrances captured the fancy of the Queen, and her ladies, so that their use spread through the island. Not even in Egypt were perfumes more costly, or more popular than during her time. In the bedrooms of ladies of fashion sweet candles were burned; odorous cakes were thrown into the fire in order to fill the air with fragrance; cosmetics were kept in costly scented boxes; coffers containing perfumes were suspended about the rooms so as to gradually give out their sweetness; a kind of scented lozenge was used to perfume the breath; and one of the most popular devices was the scented glove.
Nowadays recent science is returning to the old belief, that scents and perfumes exercise medicinal health-giving properties. "Perhaps," says one modern doctor, "the Orientals were not wrong in claiming that the sagacious employment of scents enhanced beauty, and prolonged life." Dependent thereupon is the self-protective principle which so many Eastern plants and herbs employ, by diffusing around themselves a vaporous aroma of volatile scent which repels the tropical solar rays; so, likewise, it was a former custom, now explained by science, of warding off infection by placing Rue before the Judge when prisoners came into court straight from foul dens; as also at funerals by carrying Rosemary against possible harm from the corpse; or, again, of keeping linen sweet by storing Lavender therewith; as well as by reviving a faint person with the smell of burnt feathers, and by nullifying a catarrh of the head with antiseptic smelling salts.
It cannot be doubted that most animals are endowed with a keen and subtle sense of smell, much in advance of that which the majority of persons can exercise. But, none the less, training will marvellously improve the human faculty of smell; for instance, Oil of Cloves can be detected with one part in eighty-eight thousand of water by trained men; as likewise the peculiar odour of prussic acid in a solution containing one part in two million parts of water, which no chemical test could detect. Again, the tenth part of a grain of musk will continue for years to fill a room with its odoriferous particles, and at the end of that time will not be appreciably diminished in weight by the finest balance. Still more acute is the sense of smell in the semi-savage man. The aborigines of Peru, can, in the darkest night, and in the thickest wood, distinguish respectively a white man, a negro, and one of their own race by the smell. Much have we gained by civilization, but not without some loss to our bodily senses, and energies.
Man seems to become less acute and delicate in the sense of smell, as he fares more abundantly, and lives more at ease.
The essential oil of Cedar (Abies cedrus) is a delightfully fragrant antiseptic; about which tree, says Evelyn, "its wood resists putrefaction, destroys noxious insects, continues sound a thousand years, or two, yields an oil famous for preserving books, and writings, purifies the air by its effluvia, and inspires worshippers with a solemn awe when used in wainscotted churches." Again, it is of proved service to burn Incense (Pulvis ihuris comp.) in a patient's room for arresting septic catarrh, as on an access of influenza; this remedial antiseptic method was practised far back, in the days of Solomon. Similarly, with some individuals distress is occasioned by the exhalations, so subtle as to be imperceptible by others, of a cat in the room, of drugs in the air of a chemist's shop, and of numerous recondite instances of the same kind. Tennyson has told of the personal effect produced by a use of scent even on the moral character: -
"That oil'd and curl'd Assyrian bull, Smelling at once of musk, and insolence".
Animals, too, are fascinated almost to intoxication by scents, as the domestic cat by the Valerian plant, as well as rats by its roots, which they grub up. It has been suggested that the Pied Piper of Hamelin may have carried one of these roots in his pocket. Valerianic odours first stimulate the spinal cord, and subsequently lower its sensibility. Musk (an animal secretion from the Musk-deer of China, and Thibet) is a powerful cordial, and a very durable perfume; a few grains of it will retain the characteristic odour for years. In Henry the Fifth's time Musk-balls, made of gold, or silver gilt, were carried remedially about tie person. This scent has a decidedly stimulating sexual effect. Hempel tells of a robust man recovering virile powers (lost for four previous years through a severe chill) by grinding up Musk for his employer. The perfume of the Civet Cat (Viverra civetta) has a like effect. In aged persons attacked with inflammation of the lungs, leading to rapid exhaustion of the strength, with threatened heart failure, Musk is of splendid service, though of itself a costly medicament.
The old physicians used from nine to twelve grains of genuine Musk made up in the form of a mixture, with syrup, and mucilage of gum, giving frequent doses according to the urgency of the case, and obtaining therefrom very excellent results.
The most famous manufactory of Perfume in the world is a little old-fashioned building in Warwick Street, London, - the Royal Perfumery of Messrs. Bayley & Co.," who invented the famous Ess Bouquet, as used by George the Fourth at a State Ball; their flower farm is at Byfleet. Deer fat, or purified beef suet, is melted by steam, then the picked flowers are immersed therein for forty-eight hours; the fat is strained off from these, and fresh flowers are substituted in it, repeating the process often enough for the fat to have absorbed sufficient "otto"; alcohol is next added, and the fat is cut up into fine flakes; the perfumed volatile liquid is afterwards distilled off. The best Roses which can be had come from Roumelia, and Bulgaria. Ambergris is the earliest scent which was known. The King's favourite perfume is Ess Bouquet, which is actually an essence of many flowers wonderfully blended together. As to scents, the majority of them can be now made artificially from coal tar; the perfume, and even the colouring matter of the flowers, which are poetically supposed to form the basis of the various scents, are now easily reproduced chemically from this coal tar, and its aniline dyes.
"The flowers that bloom in the spring, tra-la! Have nothing to do with the case".
Such sweet scents as Acacia, Attar of Roses, Lavender, New-mown Hay, Wood-violet, Aroma of Apple and Pear, also many other perfumes, are readily produced; also for flavouring uses Vanilline crystals are to be made from coal tar, instead of being got from the costly Vanilla bean, the chemical constituents of both being identically the same.