With Giulia Elena Trentini, BSc student at that time, we began a research by consulting hundreds of ancient manuscripts “buried” in a lot of historical archives of our lands.
What is that about?
They are ancient papers that chronicle traditional home “healing” remedies that have been passed down through generations, spanning a period of around three centuries (1300-1600). When interpreting these texts, which are written in vernacular or in Latin, one must consider the various abbreviations (which vary according to the time of writing), for the units of measurement (which vary for liquids and solids, as well as for age and area), and spelling conventions used at the time. They detail remedies based on local herbs and folklore, and give insights into the lives of people from the past – men, women, children, and elderly – who lived here many years ago before us, walked the same streets, breathed the same air and experienced the same joys and sorrows, and from those papers they still whisper stories of pains, joys, life, death …
In addition to the thrill of touching and reading them, the papers provoded an unexpected knowledge of therapeutic, veterinary and domestic uses; from plaster for children’s scratches to compresses for breast fissures, and from whitening toothpaste to rejuvenating creams for hands. And the brilliant intuitions of extreme topicality are striking: the virtues of snail slime as an anti-wrinkle were already known, or of the “tears of the vine” as a beauty elixir.
Many of the recipes found were for face and body care. We translated , compared when reported several times over the centuries, and evaluated the variations of the ingredients, then updated them to the present day while still maintaining the original spirit. Out of these recipies, a dozen were brought back to life.
Below we report an example.
Per far unto da tette
Oglio rosato completo once 3
Oglio d’ipericon completo once 3
Cera bianca _ _ _ _ once 3
Butiro, chè nò habbia toc-
cato aqua _ _ _ _ once 3
Si mescola ogni cosa insieme, et si lava à nove aque, che
fà un’untione bianca bonissima a la tetta
Several parts of the recipe were controversial when an attempt was made to reproduce the drug. The main listed ingredients are whole rose oil, hypericum oil, white wax, and butter “that has not touched water”. It is written to mix the solid/liquid ingredients (how? all together? is there an order? in liquid form? solid?) together and wash “with nine (nove, which means nine, but in italian can also mean new) waters”. Thus? Nine times? Or once, but with new (that could mean clean) water? But above all: what are you supposed to wash?!
Oil resulting from the maceration of rose petals and leaves. Currently, the flowers are used in the treatment of stomatitis; in ancient times leaves and flowers were used for various indications including fever, cold and biliary disorders
Hypericum perforatum L.
The flowered tops or the entire aerial part of St. John’s wort are used, the oil obtained from the maceration of the flowers has been used since ancient times for the treatment of burns and wounds.
After the addition of the non-vegetable components, everything is mixed under heat (water bath) until the solid material is completely melted
The resulting cream is solid and stringy, and it has little ointment. It was considered appropriate, as tradition teaches, to add water to help create an emulsion. After adding water, it was immediately clear how the ointment needed hydration to be such; once the emulsion was created, the excess water was slowly released. And then, even that accent on à in the text of the original recipe (et si lava à nove aque) reveals its meaning, while the author seems to smile at you as he says: “Well done, you finally got it!”. The significance of the sentence becomes clear: the accent acquires the sense of elision, that is: “wash away from the new water “.