Early Chinese Cosmetics

Over on the brewing blog, I'm primarily translating the sixth-century Chinese farm manual Qimin Yaoshu (齊民要術).  Besides recipes for wine, it also includes a lot of detail on farming, and some other topics.  One of them is cosmetics, buried in the chapter on safflower.

Safflower is an interesting plant because while it's grown today primarily for its seed oil, the flowers contain two dyes:  a yellow dye that leaches out with water, and a red dye only extractable after an alkaline soak, and then an acid bath.  Jia Sixie, the author of Qimin Yaoshu, was clearly aware of that, and his directions for processing safflower to produce rouge include that process.

Also included are a recipe for lipstick, pomade, hand cream, and face powder.  Green text is a later annotation whose provenance I have not been able to find yet, but which is probably medieval, and appears in every version of the text I have.  Most of the plant name interpretation is coming from The Annotated Qimin Yaoshu (齊民要術校釋) by Miao Qiyu.

種紅藍花及梔子第五十二 Chapter 52: Planting Safflower [Carmanthus tinctorius] and Cape Jasmine [Gardenia jasminoides]

Additionally: cosmetics, pomade, face creams, hand cream, purple powder, and white powder.

The ground must be well-prepared.  At the end of the second month or the beginning of the third month, plant it.

種法:To Plant:

[not included because it doesn't seem that interesting, and I'm not enough of an expert in horticulture to provide a good translation]

殺花法:To Extract from the Flowers:

Pick them, and then pound them well in a mortar, rinse with water, and wring out the yellow juice with a cloth bag.
Pound it again, and use clear, soured cooked grain broth to rinse it, and again wring out the juice with a cloth bag, collecting the red dye - do not discard it!
After wringing, put it in a weng vessel, cover with it a cloth, and when the cock crows again pound it until it is even, and then spread it on a mat so that it dries, which is better than making cakes [because it is not easy to make cakes, so it’s better to store it loose].
If you do make cakes, do not dry it fully, leave it moist and thick.

作燕支法:To Make Cosmetics:

Burn Bassia scoparia, Chenopodium album, and Artemisia apiacea to ashes.  If you do not have them, you may also use grass ash.
Soak [the ashes] in hot water, and drain off the clear liquid.  The first runnings are pure and thick, and are too strong, and if you use it to extract from the flowers, it will not strike the right balance, and may only used for washing clothes.
Take the third-degree soaking, and use it to knead the flowers, mix, and you will obtain a good color.  Knead the flowers.
[You may do this] perhaps ten times, and when [the color is] exhausted, stop.
Wring out the pure liquid with a cloth bag, and put it in a high-fired [stoneware-porcelain] urn.
Take two or three sour pomegranates [a different variety than sweet], break out and keep the seeds, break them by pounding, and mix them with a little soured cooked grain broth which is extremely sour.  Wring out the liquor, and join it with the juice from the flowers.
If you do not have pomegranates, you may also use good vinegar and [soured] cooked grain broth.  If you also do not have vinegar, clear cooked grain broth which has become extremely sour may also be used in its absence.
Add white grain powder [see below], as big as sour jujubes [1” or so], if you use a lot of powder, it will be white.
Take clean bamboo chopsticks without grease, and for a good while deeply stir it.
Cover until night.  Pour off the top clear liquid, and stop when it’s no longer clear.  Pour the remainder into a white silk corner bag and suspend it.
The next day, when it is half dry, twist it in your fingers to make small seeds, half the size of hemp seed.  Dry these in the shade and you’re done.

合香澤法:To Mix Pomade:

The Shiming explains: “Peoples’ hair is often tired and worn-out; they use this to moisten it.”

好清酒以浸香:To Soak Fragrances in Good Clear Wine:

In summer, use cold wine, in spring and autumn heat wine until warm, and in winter make it a little hot.
Take Fragrant Chicken’s Tongue [Syzygium aromaticum, cloves] (the common people use similar nail-shaped seeds, which they also call “nail-shaped aromatics [cloves]”),
Agastache rugosa, “alfalfa” [but Miao Qiyu says that “this does not refer to the alfalfa in the bean family, but we don’t know precisely what plant this refers to.”], and Eupatorium japonicum [stems and leaves], and for each of the four, bind them in new floss and soak them.
In summer, pass one night, in spring and autumn, two, in winter, three.
Take two parts sesame oil, one part lard, and in a copper kettle mix it with the fragrance-soaked wine, bring to a few boils [i.e., not to a rolling boil] and then lower the fire to a bare simmer, and then take [the bundles of herbs?] out.
Keep it warm over the fire until sunset, and when the water is exhausted and the boiling stops, it’s done.
You can use the sound of the liquid in the fire: if it makes a sound, the water is not exhausted.  If there is smoke, and no sound, the water is exhausted.
When the Eupatorium [possibly just “the mixture”] is about cooked, add a little blue-green wormwood [Artemisia carvifolia?] to give it some color.
Cover the spout of the kettle and the mouth of a bottle with floss, and pour it into the bottle.

合面脂法:To Mix Face Cream:

Use beef [ox, water buffalo] marrow.  If you do not have much marrow, you may mix beef tallow with it.
If you do not have any marrow, you may use tallow completely in its stead.
Soak both cloves and Agastache rugosa in warmed wine.
Soak them like simmering Eupatorium [same ambiguity as above, could refer to pomade entirely].  Simmer them together, and then add blue-green wormwood [again, possibly Artemisia carvifolia] for color.
Strain it through floss into high-fired stoneware or porcelain, and let it congeal in shallow lacquer wine cups.
If you are making lip ointment, take cooked vermilion and mix it in [note to readers: vermilion contains mercury, and is toxic].  Coat it in blue-green oil [Triadica sebifera?].
If it [you?] will contend with frost and snow [figuratively, adversity in general] on a long journey, [subject missing] often eroded by sand-leeks [sic] to the point of breaking, then use it to wipe the lips, and thereby they will not split, and will cause them to avoid evils.
If children suffer from chapped faces, roast pears until they are cooked, and use hot bran broth to wash their faces.  When done, take the warm pear juice and smear it, so that they are not chapped.
Take a red tumbleweed [plant unknown, perhaps Chrisanthemum coronarium?]-dyed cloth [used to dye cloth?], chew it and smear it on their faces, and they will also not be chapped.

合手藥法:To Mix Hand Medicine:

Take the fat from between the kidneys [according to Bencao Gangmu.  Possibly just “kidney fat.”] of one pig, pick off its fat.
Join wormwood leaves with good wine and thoroughly roll it between your hands so that the juice is very slippery
Take the meat [possibly kernels, but the annotation thinks it’s the flesh] from twenty-seven white [possibly “common”] peaches, remove the yellow skin, grind them down, dissolve in wine, and take the liquid.
Take floss-wrapped cloves, Agastache rugosa, spikenard [Nardostachys jatamansi], ten sourpeel tangerine [Citrus reticulata] seeds, broken.
Add these to the kidney fat, and soak it without taking them out, and put it into a high-fired stoneware / porcelain bottle.
At night, boil fine bran broth and cleanly wash your face [the surface of your hands?], wipe it dry, and smear the medicine on it, and it will make your hands soft and smooth, and they will not chap in winter.

作紫粉法:To Make Purple Powder:

Use three parts very pure white starch [see below], and one part of barbarian powder [white lead; the Shiming explains: “barbarian powder, barbarian, or paste all refer to that which is mixed with fat and smeared on faces.”] if you do not use barbarian powder, don’t put it [the lead?  The final product?] on faces.
Mix them together well.
Take Malabar spinach [Basella alba, presumably a red cultivar in this context] seeds and steam them until cooked, and wring them out in a new cloth.  Mix with the powder, and let air in the sun until dry.
If the color is light, just steam and take more juice, again dyeing as before.

作米粉法:To Make Grain Powder:

[Glutinous?] foxtail millet is best, [non-glutinous?] foxtail millet is second.
You must use one-colored pure grain, you must not use mixed-white grain.
Make it fine, simply remove the fragments.
Every batch must be pure, do not mix batches with leftovers.
If you make this with mixed grains, glutinous rice, wheat, glutinous proso millet, or non-glutinous proso millet, you will not get good results.
Add water to a wooden trough, and tread it ten times with your feet.  Wash it clean, and stop when the water is clear.
In a big weng, add a lot of cold water to soak the grain, in spring and autumn, for one month, in the summer for twenty days, in the winter for sixty days, only more days are good.
It doesn’t have to be good water, stinky, bad water is also fine.
If you do not wait long enough, the powder will not be silky and good.
After soaking, draw new water [possibly from a well], and soak the grain in the weng.  Agitate it with a brewing stick, rinse out the soured spirits, several times, and when it’s gone, stop.
Slightly pour it out into a sand pan and grind it well, soak it in water, and agitate it.
Ladle out the white liquid, strain it through a heavy plain-weave silk bag, and put it in a different weng.
Take the coarse sunken matter, grind it again, soak it, and again draw out the liquid as before.
When you can no longer grind it, take a stick and attack the inside of the weng for a good long time, and it will clarify.
Draw out the clear water, and retain the pure liquid.  Add it to a big basin, and use a rod to agitate it — do not stir left to right, do it in a circle — three hundred or more circuits, stop, cover the weng, and don’t allow it to get dirty.
After a while, it will be clear.  Use a ladle to gently draw off the liquid, and then put three layers of cloth grazing the top of the powder, put foxtail millet bran on top of the cloth, and on top of the bran put ashes.
When the ashes are soaked, add more dry ashes, and when they do not become wet, stop.
Then, pare off four sides of the coarse, white, non-shiny powder, but do not keep it, use it as coarse matter.
Coarse powder is from the bran of the grain, so it’s not shiny.
In the middle there is a round spot like the shape of an alms-bowl, which strongly resembles the shiny whiteness of a duck egg.  This is called “very pure white starch.”
Very pure white starch is from the heart of the grain, so it is shiny.
Let it be without wind or dirt for a good number of days, and then stretch cloth over a bed, and pare off the very pure white starch like you’re combing it, dry it, and then make it into dry powder.
Thoroughly rumple it with your hands and feet [pronunciation note] without stopping.
If you thoroughly rumple it, it will be smooth and good, if you do not, it will be coarse and bad.
Prepare people to make cakes, and then  make fragrant powder which can be rubbed on bodies.

作香粉法:To Make Fragrant Powder:

Only by mixing a lot of cloves with powder does this get a sweet fragrance.
There is pounded fragrance powder sifted through heavy plain-weave silk mixed with powder, and there is water-soaked fragrance where the powder is soaked with the liquor.  Both harm the color, and waste the fragrance, and are not as good as mixing whole.

I have it on good authority that someone out there may be interested in recreating some of these recipes...

Creative Commons License


Post a Comment

Popular Posts