Hair Care Recipes
from Medieval/Renaissance Sources

Pani Jadwiga Zajaczkowa

There are many surviving recipes focused on hair care in the Middle Ages. These recipes range from:

Good sources for hair care “products” can be found from Plat's Delightes for Ladies, the Trotula (12 th c), Porta's Natural Magic, the Manual de Mugeres (16 th c), and Gervase Markham's English Housewife.

Long hair wasn't washed as often in period, and the tendency to tangle probably accounts for the period tendency to keep it in braids and other elaborate arrangements.

A word of CAUTION: many of the ingredients mentioned here are not safe for modern use. Alum was used as a hair-dye mordant and should be used with care even on hair-switches. The selection of hair dyes included here is only a small sample. And it seems that hair dye recipes are the most common category on hair care in surviving recipes.

Encouraging Hair Growth

So that hair might grow wherever you wish. Take barley bread with the crust, and grind it with salt and bear fat. But first burn the barley bread. With this mixture anoint the place and the hair will grow. ( Trotula )

In order to make the hair thick. Take agrimony and elm bark, root of vervain , root of willow, southernwood, burnt and pulverised linseed, [and] root of reed. Cook all these things with goat milk or water, and wash the area (having first shaved it). Let cabbage stalks and roots be pulverized and let pulverized shavings of boxwood or ivory be mixed with them, and it should be pure yellow. And from these powders let there be made a cleanser which makes the hair golden . ( Trotula )

To make hair to grow:
Take leaves of willow and boil them well in oil, and therewith anoint the place where you would have any hair to grow, whether upon head or beard. ( Markham )

Take treacle water and honey, boil them together, and wet a cloth therein,and lay it where you would have hair to grow, and it will come speedily. ( Markham ) 

Unction to grow and perfume the hair
Whoever desires to have their hair grow a lot and to make the head smell very good, should get used to combing the hair, with vulture grease, in the sun. ( de Mugeres )

Bruise Marsh-Mallow roots with Hog Grease, and let them boil long in Wine.
hen add Cumin seed well Bruised, Mastick , and Yolks of Eggs, well boiled.
First, mingle them a little, and then boil them. Strain all through a Linen clout, and let it stand and settle, then take the fat that swims on the top and anoint the head, first wash. But to make them grow quickly, take Barley bread with Salt, and Bear's Grease. Burn the Bread, and with such a mixture anoint the place. Some smear a Glazed pot with the fat of a Horse's neck, and they boil river Eel that is fat, and cut into pieces in it, till it Dissolve into Oil, and they anoint the part with it ( Porta )  

Curly hair

For making the hair curly. Grind root of danewort with oil and anoint the head, and tie it on the head with leaves. ( Trotula )

Hair Color

Blonde or Bleaching

For coloring the hair so that it is golden. Take the exterior shell of a walnut and the bark of the tree itself, and cook them in water, and with this water mix alum and oak apples, and with these mixed things you will smear the head (having first washed it) placing upon the hair leaves and tying them with strings for two days; you will be able to color [the hair]. And comb the head so that whatever adheres to the hair as excess comes off. Then place a coloring which is made from oriental crocus, dragon's blood, and henna (whose larger part has been mixed with a decoction of brazilwood ) and thus let the woman remain for three days, and on the fourth day let her be washed with hot water, and never will [this coloring ] be removed easily. ( Trotula )

Likewise, cook down dregs of white wine with honey to the consistency of a cerotum and anoint the hair, if you wish it to be golden. ( Trotula )

36. To make haire of a faire yellow or golden colour .
The last water that is drawn from honey beeing of a deep redde colour,
performeth the same excellently; but the same hath a strong smell, and therefore must be sweetened with some aromatical bodie . (Plat)

Or else the haire being first clean washed, and then moistened a pretty while by a good fire in warm Allome water with a sponge, you may moisten the same in a decoction of Tumerick , Rubarb , or the Bark of the Barberry Tree; and so it will recieue a most faire and beautiful colour (Plat).

"Take the dried dregs of white wine and chop them into olive oil. Comb this through your hair while sitting in the sun".

(Recipe for bleaching hair by Giovanni Marinello , 1562, " Gli ornamenti delle donne " , quoted in Lives of the Courtesans by Lynne Lawner )

Brown Dyes

37. How to colour the head or beard into a Chestnut colour in half an houre.
Take one part of Lead calcined with Sulphur , and one part of quicklime; temper them somewhat thin with water: lay it vpon the hair, chafing it well in, and let it dry one quarter of an hour or thereabout: then wash the same off with fair water diuers times: and lastly with sope and water, and it will be a very natural hair- colour . The longer it lyeth vpon the haire , the browner it groweth . This coloureth not the flesh at all, and yet itlastest very long in the hair, Soepius expertum . (Plat)

Black Dyes

If the woman wishes to have long and black hair, take a green lizard and, having removed its head and tail , cook it in common oil. Anoint the head with this oil. It makes the hair long and black. ( Trotula )

A proven Saracen preparation. Take the rind of an extremely sweet pomegranate and grind it, and let it boil in vinegar or water, and strain it, and to this strained substance let there be added powder of oak apples and alum in a large quantity, so that it might be thick as a poultice. Wrap the hair with this , as though it were a kind of dough. Afterward, let bran be mixed with oil and let it be placed in any kind of vessel upon the fire until the bran is completely ignited. Let her sprinkle this on the head down to the roots. Then she should wet it thoroughly and again let her wrap her head (prepared this in the above-mentioned little sack) in the same above-mentioned strained liquid, and let her leave it throughout the night so that she might be the better anointed. Afterward, let her hair be washed and it will be completely black. ( Trotula )

For blackening the hair. First the hair is prepared in the above-mentioned manner so that it will be ready for coloring. Then let oak apples be placed with oil in a dish and let them be burned. Then let them be pulverized and placed in vinegar in which there has been placed blacking made in Gaul, and let them be mixed. ( Trotula )

Likewise for the same. Mix powder of galangal with juice of a walnut and make it boil and anoint [the hair]. ( Trotula )

30. To colour a black hair presently into a Chestnut- colour
This is done with oile of Vitriol; but you must do it very carefully not tounching the skin. (Plat) 


If, needed, you wish to have hair soft and smooth and fine, wash it often with hot water in which there is powder of natron [Native hydrous sodium carbonate] and vetch. ( Trotula )

Unction for combing hair
Two pounds of very fat and very well-blended bacon cut into small pieces.
And put it in a stew-pot, put with it a fourth part of head lye and four maravedís of alhovas , and a fourth of linseed, and a fourth of barberry, and a (fourth) of calamus gum, and another (fourth) of bastard saffron (safflower), and another (fourth) of rough cumin. Put the stew-pot on the fire with all these things, and once the bacon comes apart, strain it with another large stew-pot and throw in three or four lizards. And put the lid on the stew-pot very well. Cook it in the oven and, when cooked, strain it and keep it in a bottle. And comb your hair with it. ( de Mugeres )

Unction to comb the head
Put in a stew-pot the oil of a live lizard, and the recently moulted skin of a snake and three cut lemons. And set afloat the stew-pot very well, and put it to the fire and boil until the lizard has burned. And when it has burned, strain that oil in a flask and comb your hair with it. ( de Mugeres )

The use of lizard comes up in the Manual a number of times. I think it may be a result of the Moorish influence.

After leaving the bath, let her adorn her hair, and first of all let her wash it with a cleanser such as this. Take ashes of burnt vine, the chaff of barley nodes, and licorice wood (so that it may the more brightly shite ) and sowbread; boil the chaff and the sowbread in water. With the cahff and the ash and the sowbread, let a pot having at its base two or three small openings be filled. Let the water in which the sowbread and the chaff were previously cooked be poured into the pot, so that it is strained by the small openings. With this cleanser let the woman wash her head. After the washing, let her leave it to dry by itself, and her hair will be golden and shimmering. ( Tortula )


But when she combs her hair, let her have this powder. Take some dried roses, clove, nutmeg, watercress and galangal. Let all these, powdered, be mixed with rose water. With this water let her sprinkle her hair and comb it with a comb dipped in this same water so that [her hair] will smell better. And let her make furrows in her hair and sprinkle on the above-mentioned powder, and it will smell marvelously. ( Trotula )

Also, noblewomen should wear musk in their hair, or clove, or both, but take care that it not be seen by anyone. Also the veil with which the head is tied should be put on with cloves and musk, nutmeg and other sweet-smelling substances. ( Trotula )


For itch-mites eating away at the hair. Take myrtleberry , broom, [and] clary , and cook them in vinegar until the vinegar has been consumed, and with this rub the ends of the hair vigorously. This same thing removes fissures of the head if the head is washed well with it. ( Trotula )

Likewise, pulverize bitter lupins and you should boil them in vinegar, and then rub the hair between the hands. This expels itch-mites and kills them. ( Trotula )


"De Ornatu Mulierum /On Women's Cosmetics." in The Trotula : A Medieval Compendium of Women's Medicine. edited and translated by Monica H. Green. (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, 2001)

Porta, John Baptist. Natural Magick , 1558 and onward, from the 1653 edition. Transcribed by Dr. Laura Balbiani. Web:

Plat, Hugh. Delightes for Ladies , originally published 1602, edited by Violet and Hall Trovillion from the 1627 edition. (Herrin, IL: Trovillion Private Press, 1939)

Markham, Gervase. The English Housewife: containing the inward and outward virtues which ought to be in a complete woman..., first printed 1615. Published 1986 by McGill-Queen's University Press, Montreal; edited by Michael R. Best

Manual de mugeres en el qual se contienen muchas y diversas reçeutas muy buenas , 16th century, English translation by Karen Larsdatter, Web