A "New Craft" Learning Experience

I’ve told you before that I think each scroll is an experiment because from beginning to end it’s a string of options. A learning experience all the way. Well, my “new craft” entry into last week’s Baronial Arts and Science’s Championship was one also.  

My New Craft Entry

I wanted to make a clove-infused skin-care product from Gervase Markham’s 1615 book English Housewife, the chapter “Of Physical Surgery”. A recipe I discovered on Metressa Jadwiga Zajaczkowa’s extensive herbcraft information website

“To make an oil which shall make the skin of the hands very smooth, take almonds and beat them to oil, then take whole cloves and put them both together into a glass, and set it in the sun five or six days; then strain it, and with the same anoint your hands every night when you go to bed, and otherwise as you have convenient leisure.”

I wondered about Markham’s almond beating thing. How would it compare with simpler infused clove oil production methods? How would the quality compare? I determined to try it out.

I bought slivered almonds and pulverized them with a mortar and pestle for 30 min. Then added 20 crushed cloves putting it into a tightly sealed glass jar. I put this jar on my south-facing window ledge. 

After six days passed when I checked there wasn’t any oil to see and definitely none to strain out. I’d planned this to be the guide for some clove infusions. I had high hopes but it didn’t work.

I guessed the slivered almonds were compromised during commercial production or in Markham’s time they used a different type. So I contacted Lonely Tower’s food and garden ace HL Cristina la Ambeler. She agreed the almonds were a different kind and told me the other type I might use were bitter almonds. So that’s what I did. I bought them on Amazon and then repeated the process using them.

The difference between bitter and sweet almonds is 

  • Sweet almonds are produced by the Prunus amygdalus var. Dulcis tree and do not contain poisonous chemicals. 
  • Bitter almonds come from the Prunus amygdalus var. amara tree and contain poisonous hydrocyanic acid (HCN) oils. 

While some people make their own medicine from the bitter almond’s kernel its serious safety concerns mean its use must be controlled. 

After letting the pulverized bitter almond clove mix rest in the sun for six days you could tell there wasn’t enough oil to stain out. So another disappointment.

The remaining products would be easier to make because they were oil infusions. Infused oil is made by soaking flavorful plant parts in a solvent such as water, oil or alcohol and leaving its chemical “essence” behind. The term infusion is also the name for the resulting liquid. Infused oils were used in period medicine by soaking plant parts in a solvent for weeks or by heating them gently. 

I next made a simple cold-processed infusion by putting 20 cloves in a small jar and adding two ounces of oil. I used sweet almond oil because it was the closest thing to what you found in Markham’s recipe. I placed the small jar in the same, usually sunny window ledge. After six days I strained the oil discarding the cloves. Easy-peasy product creation.

Later I made a heat-processed infusion. I followed the same formula as the cold version except I put the small jar in a crockpot half filled with water to make a temperature controlled double boiler. I set the crockpot on high, checking it frequently for safety sake and let this steep for three hours. I then strained out the cloves. This was a slightly more complex process although it would have been even more so had I done it under medieval-like “cooking” conditions.

For my last product, using two ounces sweet almond oil I added 10 drops of clove essential oil. I closed the jar tightly and shook it well and let it rest overnight. 

That was my first foray into medieval skin care product creation. A comparison experiment where I learned things are not always what they seem. My efforts with Markham’s recipe didn’t go well. The heat and cold clove infusions fared better. And the modern essential oil mixture turned out to be the comparison tool rather than Markham’s recipe – as I planned.

Both infusions took on a slight clove aroma and taste. Their moisturizing ability was good as expected from the sweet almond oil. The essential oil method was, of course, the easiest to make and could also be adjusted in strength if you chose. The one I liked the best was the heat infused oil.

This project didn’t turn out at all as I planned. It became an experiment in process comparison rather than that of several medieval products. A learning misadventure.

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You can find this entry’s documentation on Google Doc.

Categories: Projects

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