Sunday, June 30, 2013

A Survey of Florida Water, the Hoodoo Holy Water

Florida water is a traditional scent blend of unisex perfume, or more correctly, an eau de toilette. When one blends notes of citrus, lavender and a spice like cinnamon and/or clove, one has blended “Florida Water.” At one time, there was no one correct formula for this scent. It was usually made by pharmacists (“druggists” or “chemists”) to meet the demand in their area, though large companies were manufacturing it for sale world-wide. Pharmaceutical trade publications printed dozens of formula suggestions over the years for druggists to blend in their stores. Formulations for this scent stayed relatively close to a culturally accepted scent concept so that passers-by would know that one was wearing florida water as opposed to something else, like rose water or geranium water.

Because the scent was inexpensive, readily available and socially endorsed, it became a perfume useful for making any environment pleasant to the visitation of ancestral spirits. Over time, it became the scent necessary for attraction of all things positive.

The Lanman and Kemp-Barclay company has been the largest commercial producer of the eau de toilette for two hundred years. The Lanman and Kemp-Barclay history page states that the name of this scent is derived from the fabled fountain of youth that Spanish explorers believed was present in Florida. Since that time the name “Florida Water” has become a protected trademark. In 1901, Lanman and Kemp Barclay sued another producer and secured a trademark of the name, “Florida Water.” Unfortunately, the name “Florida Water” is no longer a suitable title for what once was a cultural blend, because if you attempt to sell your cultural blend, you are breaking the law. A new name of the classic blend might be found by returning to the apothecary tradition of using Latin descriptors to name compounds. The Latin phrase “aqua florida” means “blooming water.”

Like many inexpensive perfumes of today, manufacturers no longer use pure essential oils and clean solvents. Instead, chemical-laced denatured solvents and artificial “fragrances” are all that companies are willing to provide. Those who seek a quality product, free of the “fake” smell present in manufactured florida water, have no other option than to make the scent themselves.

A popular contemporary proponent and teacher of hoodoo practices features heavily the use of the artificial product in her writings. Naturally, she offers the manufactured scent for sale in her store. I am left to wonder how any magickal working is supposed to feel powerful by virtue of the special meaning placed on the ceremony, when the atmosphere is scented by an artificial and cheaply produced bottle of chemicals rather than a painstakingly produced bouquet of natural essences.

The writer’s hoodoo information site provides a recipe for florida water, for those who feel interested in making their own. Her formula is widely copied throughout cyberspace with little consideration for the validity of the formula, or any credit that should be due the author. My own survey of historic florida water recipes leaves me with the idea that her recipe, which is from 1937, is somewhat non-traditional, if not slightly misleading. The recipe includes both musk and jasmine, two scents which are possibly disagreeable in florida water.

For florida water to be truly unisex, as was proposed in Victorian manuals of etiquette, excessively flowery notes could not predominate. The blend was touted as a summer refresher and skin tonic, which would have been inappropriate for use by the working gentleman if flowery notes predominated. In the May 26, 1902 issue of The America Druggist and Pharmaceutical Record, this opinion is efficiently stated on p. 280:

Some of the ingredients often seen in formulas and the use of which are to be avoided, are musk, rose, rose geranium, citronella, orris and the floral odors from pomade washings of their synthetic equivalents. The addition of these sometimes gives an odor that is positively disagreeable and invariably impart a cloying quality or heaviness that effectively kills the refreshing odor that should be a characteristic of a good Florida Water.

The earliest Florida Water recipe I found came from the Canadian Pharmaceutical Journal, November, 1875. That recipe had only six scents, the most minor of which was musk. I found musk present in ten (plus one suggesting it be optional) out of forty four recipes between the years of 1875 and 1920. Rose was present in only twelve of the recipes and jasmine in only one. Compare this with bergamot, which is present in all but five recipes, and lavender, which is missing in only one recipe, and these flowery scents become unnecessary and forgettable.

In the September 1902 issue of American Druggist and Pharmaceutical Record, another formula is given on p. 186 with the notice that “Florida Water is simply a spiced lavender water.” That recipe adds some surprising notes of caraway and spearmint, all of which would create a cooling affect in summer, while adding a spicy note by way of a scent less sharp than cinnamon or clove.

The only scents that are clearly common to most of the recipes are citrus in the largest quantity (made up of combinations of bergamot, lemon, orange, and neroli), lavender, and a spicy note (often cinnamon and/or clove, but possibly others). In all cases, the citrus maintains a greater proportion of the final product than lavender. Unusual additions include rosemary, thyme, turmeric, balsam, and melissa.

Below is an example recipe that adequately represents the minimum necessary components, in typical proportions, to allow one to make a basic version of florida water, or rather, “Aqua Florida.” This recipe comes from the Canadian Pharmaceutical Journal of September 1878. Additional notes can be blended into the bouquet if the reader desires to personalize the preparation. Proportions are given as published, but are also shown reduced to 1/32nd of the original to allow for a personal-sized batch to be made. For those who fancy themselves an armchair druggist, the provided conversion into milliliters will permit division to any size. It should be noted that one “drop” was typically equivalent to one minim; greater accuracy to the minim is thus achieved by using a bulb dropper, rather than the drop applicator built into the necks of commercial essential oil bottles.

                                                    Original                  1/32nd                  SU          
Oil bergamot                             4 fl. ounces              60 drops             118.4 ml
Oil lemon                                  6 fl. ounces              90 drops             177.6 ml
Oil cloves                                  6 drachms               11 drops              22.2 ml
Oil cinnamon                             6 drachms               11 drops              22.2 ml
Oil lavender                              1 fl. ounce               15 drops              29.6 ml
Alcohol (pure ethanol)              3 ½ gallons             14 fl. ounces        13,244 ml
Aqua (distilled water)                  6 pints                  3 fl. ounces          2,838 ml
Total Yeild:                               4.35 gallons         17.37 fl. ounces      16,452 ml
Mix the oils into the alcohol and shake to blend. After two days, add the water. Keep away from strong light. The blend grows better with age. For external use only.