Some beauty recipes from L’ornement des Dames (Ornatus Mulierum)

excerpts translated by Madeleine Jeay and  Kathleen Garay from the edition by Pierre Ruelle

The following was taken verbatim from a website that was was for a time unavailable (30 Sept. 2004), but subsequently reappeared (seen 29 Dec. 2011):
<> This website is now available through the Internet Archive at <> (seen 21 November 2020).  Copyright: McMaster University, 2000.

Pierre RUELLE, L’ornement des Dames (Ornatus Mulierum), Bruxelles, Presses de l’Université de Bruxelles, 1964. 32-35, 35-37, 37-39, 43, 45, 47, 53, 59, 71, 73.(Translation © Jeay and Garay).

This Anglo-Norman text dates from the thirteenth century.

Purpose of the treatise.

When God had created the woman, from Adam’s rib, he gave her an imperishable beauty. But she lost it because of the devil, after she had tasted the apple. She was greatly disgraced. So women who live nowadays, who are not guilty of that, have lost a great part of their beauty because of Eve’s transgression. Some, for example, when they are young girls, are pink, white and lovely. As soon as they are married, their colours vanish. Others were never beautiful; at any time in their lives. I write this book for you so that you can maintain your beauty and learn how to improve it. I shall talk first about hair, and then proceed down to the other parts of the body. We will talk about the forehead, the eyes, the eyebrows, the face, the teeth, the chin, and all the other parts which are worth mentioning. I shall stop at the breast: I shall deal with this topic elsewhere.

I call the authors – Galen, Constantine, Hippocrates – to witness that I will tell the truth without any reservation. I shall not forget any of them, great or small; I shall not forget either what I learnt at Messina from a Saracen woman. She was a doctor for the people of her faith ; if she had believed in the true faith, she would have been very valuable: according to what I heard from Trotula of Salerno, a woman who does not trust her is a fool… Now I pray to God, the heavenly Father, that this book earns me women’s gratitude, and that I will always be loved by them.

Against hair loss.

Take fresh or dried roses, myrtle, plantain and the skin of acorns and chestnuts ; boil them in rainwater and, with this water, wash your head, in the morning and the evening. In Pouille I saw a woman who used to lose her hair each year. Trotula of Salerno cured her this way: she took corn-cockle and burnt it, also the bark of a willow, leaves of a fig-tree, and ashes of chestnut, vine and spurge. She mixed all that in olive oil; then, when the hair was washed with rainwater, she treated it four times with this preparation. From then on, the woman did not lose her hair any more.

In order to keep one’s hair.

If you want your hair to grow long and thick, take a good quantity of barley and a mole; burn them in an unused jar and reduce them to powder. Take white honey and anoint the place where you want your hair to grow. Then throw away the powder and wait for two days. The third day, rinse with water boiled with orcanète, mint and sage.

Against dandruff.

Trotula eliminates dandruff this way: she takes nettle seeds and soaks them for two or three days in vinegar. Then she washes the hair, first with a good soap, then with this vinegar.

In order to tone up hair.

Sometimes hair turns white too soon: this is due to an overactive pituitary gland. First, you should give the person medicine for purging the head from this secretion. Then, take the roots of a cabbage, either dried or fresh, cook them in spring water until half of it evaporates, and carefully wash the hair in the water.

In order to bleach hair.

This is how the Saracen bleached her hair. She reduced vine shoots to ashes, mixed them with an equal quantity of ash cinders, added a good handful of oak gall, then cooked it all for half a day with vinegar. She washed the hair with soap, then with the preparation, and she wrapped her head with a wimple for the whole night. Her hair turned fair for a long period of time. Another recipe: she cooked soap and saffron together; then she washed her hair with water in which alum had been dissolved, and covered her head for the whole night.

In order to blacken hair.

I have seen Trotula dye her hair like this. She took iron rust, chestnut stain and alum, and boiled them with vinegar. She strained the concoction, and washed her hair with water, then with this vinegar. She wrapped her head with a wimple for two days and two nights. After that her hair was black.

Hair-removing ointment.

Women from Salerno make an ointment […] for removing hair wherever they want. They take half a bowl of quick lime, dry and clean, sieved through a cloth or a bag. They put this lime in a vessel full of boiling water, and stir that mixture up. When they want to know if it is ready, they plunge a bird’s wing into it; if the feathers fall from the wing, it is well cooked. Then they spread it, piping hot, on their hair with their hands, and they remove it. You can proceed likewise.

For thick hair.

In order to have thick hair, cook willow leaves, then grind them, blend with olive oil, and spread on your hair.

Against hair loss.

If you lose your hair, blend roasted flax seeds with olive oil, and spread it on your head several times.

For beautiful hair.

If you want to have beautiful hair, take equal quantities of olive oil, honey, and alum; blend them and add quicksilver, more than each of the other ingredients, and spread it on several times.

Against brown blotches on the face.

You will remove brown blotches this way: some people take two hen’s eggs and put them in vinegar until the shells soften. Then, take a good handful of wild mustard flour, blend it with the eggs and a small quantity of vinegar. Strain the mixture through a cloth, rub your face with the preparation, and leave it for the whole night. In the morning, rinse with pure water. Proceed like that several times and the brown blotches will disappear. But don’t use this recipe with a pregnant woman because she would lose the child.

Same purpose.

This is how Lady Trotula removes brown blotches. She takes filtered honey and boils it. Then she mixes the honey with wild mustard flour, ginger powder and white incense, and lets it cool down. Before going to bed, she gives her face a steam bath, and then covers it with the honey. In the morning, she wipes it with a linen cloth.

About make-up.

There is a white make-up that is easy to make. Put very pure wheat in water for fifteen days, then grind and blend it in the water. Strain through a cloth, and let it crystallize and evaporate. You will obtain a make-up which will be as white as snow. When you want to use it, mix it with rose water, and spread it on your face which has first been washed with warm water. Then dry your face with a cloth.

Teeth whitener.

If you want to whiten your teeth, take very clean barley flour, fine powdered alum, and heated salt; blend with a little bit of melted honey. If you rub your teeth often with this preparation, they will whiten.