Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Balm of Thousand Flowers

Balm of Thousand Flowers ad, Mormonism by John Hyde 1857How would you like a skin beautifier that you could also use as a toothpaste and a shaving cream? Impossible! you might say. And if I told you that this amazing balm was made out of the essential oils from 1,000 different flowers - you wouldn't believe it, right?

Right. Because - not surprisingly -  it wasn't. And it probably wasn't the best idea to brush your teeth with this balm, either.

Balm of Thousand Flowers was manufactured in New York in the 1850s and was to be used as a breath-freshening and tooth-whitening toothpaste - or as a shaving cream - oh, and if you had any left over you could put it on your face and "beautifying the complexion."  You could purchase it at W.P. Fetridge's, opposite the great white marble Stewart's department store in New York City.

Naturally, you were to beware of imitations. In fact, in 1857 the case of Fetridge vs. Wells was heard in new York. Mr. Fetridge wished the court to issue an injunction against a Mr. Wells for manufacturing "Balm of Ten Thousand Flowers."* The court denied Fetridge's case, "on the ground that the dear public had been deceived into thinking the article actually contained the multitudinous balms indicated by the name, when in fact a few essential oils was the nearest approach to the floral wealth represented" [Albany Law Journal (1887, p. 279)]. A Dr. Fontaine made Balm of Thousand Flowers, too, though he appears not to have been dragged into court by Mr. Fetridge.

Indeed, said Dr. A.W. Chase of Ann Arbor, Michigan. No need to go all the way to New York! He knew just how to make the famous Balm of Thousand Flowers. You won't be surprised to learn (as the New York courts in 1857 knew, too) that you did not need a thousand flowers to do so, either. And so will you, very soon, because I am going to give you his recipe. Of course, once you see the recipe, you most likely will not want to make or use the stuff. But you will know it, all the same.

Dr. A.W. Chase was the author of Dr. Chase's Recipes for Everybody, which went through a lot of editions (mine is the 1865 edition). He stuffed his book full of recipes for everything from medicines to paints to cakes and pies to household cleansers. And if you had horses around, he could tell you how to cure them of whatever ailed them.

This is Dr. Chase's recipe for Balm of Thousand Flowers:

Deodorized alcohol 1 pt.; nice white bar-soap 4 oz.; shave the soap when put in; stand in a warm place until dissolved; then add oil of citronella 1 dr.; and oils of neroli [bitter orange]and rosemary, of each 1/2 dr. It is recommended as a general perfume; but it is more particularly valuable to put a little of it into warm water, with which to cleanse the teeth. [Dr. Pierce's Recipes for Everybody, 1865, p. 280]

A writer in 1914 called Balm of Thousand Flowers "a cosmetic which in spite of its high sounding name was a liquid soap consisting of grease and lye." Not very ethereal - or safe -  at all. I think I'll stick to Colgate, thanks.

*See here for an 1861 advertisement for Imperial Rose Balm, which is said to contain "Balm of Ten Thousand Flowers."


Anonymous said...

I hope when the say "cleansing the teeth" they're talking about removable false ones!

Marcheline said...


Anonymous said...

It sounds like something my grandmother would have made me put in my mouth when I said a profane word.

Emm said...

Oh wow. I love citronella,neroli and rosemary but I would so never wash my mouth out with a mix like that or put it on my face!

Great post!

chubskulit said...

What an interesting post. I am now following your blog and liked it in Facebook too.

Anonymous said...

So it's just liquid soap with some essential oils then? I don't see what's so objectionable about that, or am I missing something?