Festa Monini: colors, sounds and tastes of Umbria

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Scented oils

Wellness and health
04 Novembre 2012

Scented oils

Scented oils have been used since the dawn of time. Here's how to revive the ancient secrets of beauty and seduction.

"Cleopatra Gynaeciarum books". A book which has now been lost, in which the most famous and seductive queen of antiquity wrote down her recipes for fragrant oils and cosmetic ointments. According to the Latin writers, this legendary beauty was a real expert in cosmetics and even had a perfume factory in Ein Gedi, near the Dead Sea, which was given to her by Mark Anthony in homage to her knowledge on the subject and was perhaps the first "beauty spa" in history. Perfumes that were then exported to Rome were produced there.

Body care

Moreover, the true cult that the Egyptians had for cosmetics and perfumed oils is demonstrated not only by vases found with residue of ancient perfumes in Cleopatra's factory, but also reliefs with representations of massages performed with olive oil. Jars containing conifer resins for the preparation of perfumes were also found in royal tombs built around 3000 BC, and also vases of fragrant oils found in Tutankhamen's tomb which still held their scent 3000 years after being prepared!

The Egyptian's recipes

Some of these ancient perfumes were very famous in antiquity, so much so that both Pliny the Elder and the Greek physician Dioscorides recorded not only the names but also the recipes. The "Royal Unguentum" was made up of spices and essences from the Far East, the "Susinum" smelled of lilacs, the "Ciprinum" was made with henna flower extracts, and then the "Rodinium" smelled of rose and there are still many others. It was the Egyptians who invented "alabaster", the typical tear-drop shaped bottle of alabaster, in order to store the delicate essence in the cool and dark. But they were certainly not the only ones to cultivate this art.

The scents of Cyprus

In Cyprus, the island consecrated to Aphrodite and female beauty, home of "powder", the oldest in the cosmetic world, where the remains of a large industrial plant, a 4000 square metre building were found, which dates back to the twentieth century B.C. On the southern coast of Cyprus, in Pyrgos, olive oil was produced not only for food, but it formed the basis for the production of ancient perfumes. The entire industrial area was structured around a large central olive press, probably the oldest olive press in the Mediterranean, the hub of all activities. Producing olive oil for cosmetic, pharmaceutical, textile uses and also to feed the furnaces which melted metals, particularly copper.

The oldest factory

A violent earthquake in 1850 B.C., and the disastrous fire that ensued due to the presence of large amounts of oil, dramatically destroyed the site. Just like Pompeii, when the factory was discovered, it was enough just to dig under a thin layer of earth to find vases, jars, blenders and mortars, terracotta funnels, perfume cup holders and stills for distilling essences. 14 trenches were found, full of ash and coal, as well as many jars containing olive oil with essential oil infusions.
A large number of bowls, jars and cups found in a courtyard adjacent to the factory leads one to believe that under the colonnade retail sales took place.
However, the oil was not only used for cosmetic preparations: some tools for fabric processing were found soaked in rosemary scented oil, which were probably used to make woollen fibres softer and more fragrant.

Divine perfumes

But how did they prepare these perfumes and ointments?
The Romans used only the finest olive oil made by pressing unripe olives during the month of August, "oleum ex Albis ulivis." Mixed with flowers, scented wood or essences and left to absorb the scents, to mature in the heat for several days.
Recently some researchers, after analysing the content of various exhibits at the Pyrgos Factory, reproduced the scented oils' extraction procedures. Then, they created four different fragrances in use in ancient times and gave them the names of four goddesses of Olympus. In addition to olive oil they used leaves, flowers and fruits of bay leaves, cinnamon, fennel, anise, bitter almond, Aleppo pine, myrtle, coriander, bergamot and mint.

Recipes to try

Anyone wishing to try their hand can try any of the following recipes at home: it is not difficult and can be a lot of fun and very rewarding, the pleasure of nourishing ones skin with a seductive healthy oil especially after a shower.
Firstly, a supply of olive oil that is not too aromatic, otherwise the olive oil fragrance would cover the scent that one wishes to achieve. Then the choice of method that is to be used: flowers or essences?
The use of flowers, 200gr of dried lavender flowers for infusion in 1 litre of olive oil for a couple of weeks. Then strain through gauze and decant to another jar.
If fresh flowers are preferred, such as jasmine or rose, the petals must be collected and put in the infusion for a few days, when the petals have been drained of their colour and fragrance, they must be removed, the oil is to be filtered and new petals are placed into the infusion, this process continues until the oil has reached the desired intensity of perfume.
If on the other hand essences are chosen the process is much easier, but slightly more expensive: once the mix of essential oils has been selected, the base oil will need to be mixed drop by drop until the desired perfume is reached.

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