The History of Traditional Scented Gifts

The History of Traditional Scented Gifts

Today, there are many scented gifts and perfumed products given for Valentine’s and Mother’s day, weddings and birthdays; some are common gifts, such as perfume and soap, but others are perhaps not so common such as scented flower waters, herb pillows and pomanders. These historical gifts are now becoming more popular as more people are gifting homemade perfume and soap to family and friends; each gift has a story to tell.

The History of Scented Gloves

Although not a common gift in today’s world, a gift of scented gloves to a lady was, at one time, considered the height of fashion. Both an Italian Princess of Nerola (who had an essential oil named after her), and Marie-Antoinette of France (1755-1793), scented their gloves.

In Elizabethan England, it was fashionable for ladies to scent their gloves too; Queen Elizabeth I of England (1558- 1603) began to scent her gloves with perfume after she received a gift of scented gloves from Italy from the Right Honorable Edward de Vere (the Earl of Oxford).

Sweet Bags Used to Scent Gloves

Gloves were scented with small sachets of powdered aromatics called sweet bags; sweet bags were also used to scent scarves, linens, underwear, handkerchiefs and writing paper. Indian shawls were protected against moths by scenting them with Patchouli (Pogostemon cablin) oil. Any number of herbs, spices and flower petals were used to make sweet bags, but those with insect-repelling properties were traditional; these included Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) and Melissa (Melissa officinalis).

The History of Pomanders

It became the fashion for many Elizabethan ladies to carry not only bottles of scented perfumes but to wear scented perfume balls; these were called pomanders, a name which was derived from the French ‘pomme d’amber’ meaning ‘ball of ambergris’. Pomanders were originally silver perforated, scented balls which hung from the ceiling of a room.

Smaller versions of these larger balls were filled with Rose buds, Amber, Musk, Benzoin and Labdanum and boiled with gum tragacanth; some of the smaller balls were made into necklaces. Queen Elizabeth I carried a pomander which included the ingredients of Ambergris, Benzoin and Damask Rose, amongst other ingredients.

The History of the Use of Rosewater

Rosewater was traditionally used in the East to cleanse the feet and hands of visitors after a long journey; Rosewater was also used in Medieval Europe to cleanse the hands of guests at large banqueting feasts. In European still rooms, it became common to blend Rosewater and other herbs, such as Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis), Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) and Cypress (Cupressus sempervirens), with Castile soap to make scented wash balls.

The History of Scented Herb Pillows

Scented herb pillows are said to derive from the practice in the Middle Ages of stuffing bed mattresses with scented herbs; Rosemary was often stuffed under the pillow to induce sleep. Dill seed was used to make dilly pillows which were used specifically to help lull babies to sleep. The Roman Emperor, Nero, slept on a mattress stuffed with scented Rose petals and other fragrant grasses; however, the French king, Charles VI, apparently preferred a mattress scented with Lavender.

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