I love the idea of Queen of Hungary water, often credited as the world’s first alcohol-based perfume. The original idea is lovely: a medieval distilled rosemary flower infusion made in the spring when the violet-colored little blossoms burst open and can be preserved in a strong spirit. And that time, my friends, is now.
Jennifer Heise, a SCA educator and herbalist, provides a helpful history of Queen of Hungary water, including some court intrigue and speculation about which queen of Hungary may have been the first to use it, plus some good ol’ medieval advice about taking the water to heal your withered limbs. I based my recipe off Heise’s research and experimentation with liquids and herbs, deciding that I would try only the flowers and flower buds of rosemary, since i have them. I also added a few buds of my lemon-scented Greek bay flowers that are forming now, thinking “if it grows together, it goes together.” It smells quite nice already, just 16 hours or so after I did my plucking.
And why did I make this? Well, it’s the name, really. Queen of Hungary. There she is. A queen swathed in auburn fur — fur collar and cuffs and a giant fur hat with a spring of rosemary for a flourish. It’s probably too warm in Hungary for all that, but in my mind she’s the Sacher-Masoch tyrant in Titian red. Black kidskin gloves and a little riding crop. Hot temper. Her lips are reddened by paprika and she pinches her cheeks to bring out the glow when she’s not out taming wild Magyar horses or shouting orders to the cavalry. Queen of Hungary, a hungry queen. Not hungry in the way I’m hungry, which is for some lunch. But hungry in a mad way, hungry for the Austro-Hungarian empire.
Sigh. I’ve written about her before. I’ve turned her into a winter squash recipe, even, Squash Whip Queen of Hungary, and wrote about her for the Eugene Weekly. I love that combination of rosemary, bourbon, and sweet dark orange squash. I still see her in all those colors.
But now it’s spring, and now I’m thinking I might play up the green of it all. Heise notes one can use the Queen as a period-appropriate perfumes for SCA events and the like, but I wonder if the perfume will really linger. I’ll likely use the concoction cut with a little water as a skin toner. Or if things get much worse, I’ll just drink it with a little bubbly and lemon as a Hungarian 75.
UPDATE 4/29: The queen has turned warm brown and sweet. It wasn’t at all what I expected! The flavors are like a soft brown bread, wholly unlike rosemary at all, and the tincture is the color of vanilla extract (so it would stain the skin if used as perfume. Hm. Am thinking I should have followed the advice of the recipe more closely to use dried herbs and not flowers. More experimentation to come with the tincture!
Queen of Hungary Water
- As many rosemary flowers and flowerbuds as you can pick, separated from the green resinous leaves
- 100-proof vodka
- optional, one or a few of the following: a swath of orange or lemon peel, a few bay buds, lemon balm
Pick flowers and buds, being careful to pick on a dry day in the morning for maximum scent. Spread out on a tray to remove browned bits and let bugs reveal themselves. Do not rinse, just shake a little and clear out detritus. Add flowers and buds and optional add-ons to a jar, packing lightly, then top with vodka. You want to aim for half flowers, half vodka, but it’s not a precise measurement.
I’ll revise the recipe once I know how mine turns out.