Friday, March 24, 2017

Carmelite Water: The Melissa Tonic that Threatened to Assassinate the Cardinal Richelieu

One day in 1635, Armand Jean du Plessis de Richelieu, commonly referred to as Le Cardinal Richelieu, sniffed his talisman of Eau de Melissa, and discovered a discrepancy to its scent. A refined nose, or a well familiar smell gone awry, it quickly alerted him to foul play. Apparently Le Duc d'Orleans had had the contents tampered with, as an analysis of the contents of the bottle later proved. It seems like replacing the gemstones on the queen's necklace, featured so prominently as a Richelieu plot device in the Dumas novel of The Three Musketeers, is not without its peer in real life!


The story of this evil plot of assassination through poisoned aromatic cordial is not without precedent, but it definitely prompted one of the first commercial uses of a seal of authenticity. The Carmelite nuns who had been producing Eau de Melissa under their own aegis, marketed as Carmelite Water, proceeded into sealing their products with a red wax bearing the seal of their convent.

All this story of intrigue revolved around a humble plant, the melissa, or lemongrass or citronella. Melissa officinalis, a vivacious plant in the Lamiaceae family, is also called lemon balm or piment des abeilles. Its essence can be used in a variety of ways.

You can read my entire article on Fragrantica on this link (it even includes a recipe for making your own Melissa Water)

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for your informative article as usual. I had tried the acqua di Melissa sold by Farmacia di Santa Maria Novella, so now I know the story behind these recipes. (SMN also had a more mysterious water called acqua antisterica, or anti-hysteric, which I suspect also cotained melissa, among other ingredients).

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