This is an old blog that I started in 2006. I keep it because it has a lot of historical data and people still come here. As of September 2016, no new updates will be made here. All new blog posts and writing/publishing related news will be posted over on my new site at

Friday, January 29, 2010

Historical Herbal Creams & Lotions

By Jennifer Hudson Taylor

While I'm struggling to apply my daily moisturizers, creams and lotions to ease the chapped skin I always suffer in winter, I'm reminded of what women must have dealt with in the past. For one thing, they couldn't run down to the nearest Wal-mart or Clinique counter at the mall. Unlike us, they had to do everything by hand--all their clothes washing, dish and pan washing, milking, butter making, soap making, etc. All these necessary tasks would have made their skin even worse. 

Before the Industrial Revolution, they had to make their own creams and lotions. This meant they needed to know enough about the available herbs and ingredients, quantities, and how to mix them to create specific items. This information is especially beneficial to historical authors who need their characters to pass the time with authentic activities.
Moisturizing Hand Cream
3/4 cup apricot oil and/or sweet almond oil
1/2 cup coconut oil and/or cocoa butter
1 tsp anhydrous lanolin
1/2 oz grated beeswax
2/3 cup distilled water, rose water, or orange flower water (Note: do not use tap water which can contain bacteria that can cause molds in your creams.)
1/3 cup aloe vera gel (Note: you could also include a few drops of essential oils that contain Vitamins A & E)

1. Heat the oil based ingredients over low heat in a double boiler until all are melted. Stir gently to mix well.
2. Pour the oil mixture into a glass measuring cup and cool to room temperature. The mixture should become thick, creamy, semi-solid and cream-colored. 
3. Mix the water, aloe, essential oils, and vitamins. Then drizzle in the oil-based mixture. The cream should resemble a butter-cream frosting. It should be rich and thick and will continue to thicken. (Note: you may not need to pour in all the oil-based mixture.)
4. Pour into a jar, label, date, and store in a cool place.

Softening & Smoothing Calluses
Do to all the plowing, harvesting, and other household and outdoor tasks, people often wore blisters and calluses on their palms and fingers. Green Rub will ease this condition.

Green Rub
1-2 tbsp cornmeal
1 tbsp fresh mashed avocado or avocado oil

Mix both ingredients in a bowl until they form a meal-like mixture. Rub this over the calluses once or twice a week. 

Other homemade herbal cream and lotions are listed below. If you are interested in learning more about these, please leave a comment letting me know. If I receive enough responses from people wanting more info, I'll compose another blog post with more recipes and ingredients on these hand creams.

Other Hand Creams and Moisturizers
1. Horsetail Nail Cream
2. Aubrey's Olde English Lyme-Ginseng Men's Hand Cream
3. Honey Ointment
4. Olive-Oil Softening Soak
5. Chatham Chap Cream
6. Honey Paste
7. Paraffin Hand Bath
8. Almond, Comfrey, and Honey Soothing Ointment
9. Hand and Nail Butter
10. Avocado Skin Cream
11. Calendula Oil 
12. Onion Juice & Vinegar Wash for Age Spots

Source: "Making Herbal Hand Creams and Salvves" by Norma Pasekoff Weinberg.


How interesting! Now I want to go play in the kitchen! :)