Beauty recipe: The Queen of Hungary’s Water (the world’s first cure-all skin tonic!)

You know the best part about travelling? About being a “gypsy” – beauty or otherwise? The friendships you develop with people from across the world. Unshakable, everlasting friendships. Because midnight conversations deep in the lush rainforests of Amazon and bone chilling treks up the fjords of Alaska have a way of forging bonds that withstand geographies and calendars.

And they pay the most beautiful dividends. Like the time Anna Csaszar, my pálinka-drinking-soul-baring-limbs-freezing buddy from Hungary introduced me to her country’s cult Queen of Hungary’s Water. I’ve often seen this beauty tonic in various forms on the shelves, from brands as varied as Omorovicza, Caudalie and Lush. But somehow, despite the “gypsy” antecedents, had never really investigated it. My bad.

Turns out Queen of Hungary’s Water (or Hungary water, as it’s known in short) was the world’s first distillable perfume – predating Eau de Cologne by almost five centuries.

And it wasn’t just a perfume either. Nope! Rather, it was a cure-all beauty tonic, bestowed with near-magical properties: the early recipes advise the user to drink the tonic, rub it on skin, bathe in it and inhale it in order to receive the most benefit. In fact, according to legend, it was so effective at reversing the old queen’s appearance that 25-year-old Grand Duke of Lithuania asked for her hand in marriage when she was 70!

Whether that’s true or not, fact is that the herbal composition of Hungary water is a wonderful astringent for all skin types. It gently tones, tightens pores, soothes itchy or acne-prone skin, normalizes the skin’s pH, smoothens the skin texture and protects it from bacteria and other infections.

The potent blend of volatile oils, flavonoids and phenolic acids, which are antiseptic and anti-inflammatory, also make it a superb hair rinse.

But Hungary water may also be one of the most controversial beauty products in history. Claims about its origins range from the perfume-tonic having been given to Queen Elizabeth of Hungary (1305-1380), either by a monk, a court alchemist, or a band of roaming gypsies.

It’s believed that the recipe for Hungary water remains written by the queen’s own hand, in golden alphabet, in the Imperial Library at Vienna. And that’s what the people of Hungary, who call upon this tonic water for everything from acne and eczema to headaches and indigestion, base this easy home brew upon. Anna gave me my first bottle and since then, I’ve always had one sitting on my side table.

Thankfully, given the number of bottles I go through (it’s addictive in what it does to your skin!) Hungary water is easy to make and you can get the ingredients just about everywhere.

And even if you can’t find everything in this list, just use what you have (except for rosemary – that’s crucial). Also, you can opt for either dry or fresh herbs. Though I’ve found that the fresh ones tend to make the mixture a little more cloudy. Personally, I stick to dry herbs – making sure they are organic, though.

You will need

  • 6 tablespoons lemon balm
  • 1 tablespoon rosemary
  • 4 tablespoons rose petals
  • 3 tablespoons calendula or marigold
  • 3 tablespoons mint
  • 1 tablespoon lemon peel
  • 1 tablespoon sage
  • 4 tablespoons chamomile (optional)
  • Cider vinegar to cover (preferably organic)
  • Rose water or witch hazel
  • Essential oil of lavender or rose (optional)

How to make Queen of Hungary’s Water

1. Pour all the herbs into a widemouthed glass jar

2. Add enough vinegar that it rises about two inches above the herbs; close the jar tight and let it sit in a warm or sunny spot for 2-3 weeks

3. Strain out the herbs with a fine mesh – try and get all the bits out as any fragments may turn rancid over time

4. Add either rose water or witch hazel in a ratio of 1:1 to the remaining liquid

5. Add the essential oils, if you so desire

6. Rebottle the mixture and store in a cool, dry place

Have you ever come across the Queen of Hungary’s Water? Tried it? Liked it?

Beauty DIY: How to make lotion bars (the perfect gift for yourself or someone else!)

As summer transitions into Fall and we enter gift giving season, the mind turns to… lotion bars.

Yes, simple but utterly scrumptious lotion bars that literally caress the skin to buttery smoothness and leave behind the most beautiful glow.

And you can so easily make them at home, customised to your own specific tastes. Plus, unlike the store-bought versions, there are no added chemicals, making them beyond perfect for your skin.

Handmade lavender soapYou will need

1 cup beeswax pellets
1 cup grated shea butter, kokum butter or cocoa butter
1 cup almond oil or extra virgin olive oil
25-30 drops essential oil of your choice
A collection of molds (empty Altoids tins are just the perfect size but cupcake molds, cookie cutters and yogurt containers work just as well)

How to make the lotion bar

1. Assuming you don’t have a double boiler (I don’t!) rig up your own by boiling water in a large pot and rest another pot over the same. I place a thin sieve over the large pot and place the small pot on top of the sieve.

2. Pour the beeswax into the small point and stir till it begins to melt.

3. Add the oil; continue stirring till the beeswax is completely melted.

4. Add the butter of your choice; stir till everything is melted then quickly remove from the heat.

5. Pour the mixture into the moulds while it’s still of liquid consistency.

6. Add the essential oil (before it sets) and stir it in using something super-slim, like a knitting needle.

7. Leave the moulds in a dry, cool place to set – this can take from a few hours to a day.

8. Once the mixture is set, pop it out of the mould.

9. Wrap in plain butter paper or baking pan liner paper. Or add some pretty bows and sparkles to make them look as pretty as they are functional.

And you are done!

Royal fables: A tryst with Udaipur and its cult skincare recipes

The city: Udaipur, India. The most legendary of towns in Rajasthan, known as the “Venice of the East” due to its stunning lakeside location, rambling old palaces and stunning architecture painted in every shade of white known to mankind.

The quest: Soaking in the ancient beauty of the landscape and going to the very roots of the glorious indigenous beauty recipes that have originated in this land and been adopted by literally every brand, from Aveda to Estee Lauder.

The quandary: A missing camera that’s left sitting on my desk approximately 7,467 miles away. In a land that begs a photo at literally every turn of its winding paths.

The solution: Yes, thankfully there is one. In the form of the ubiquitous smartphone that’s almost surgically attached to my hand 24 x 7. Which is a blessing, it turns out, in more ways than one. Not only do today’s smartphones almost rival DSLRs in their photo quality (the Coolpad Note 5 comes with a 13 MP rear camera) but it’s also small and inconspicuous enough to get into tight spaces to capture a micro-detail, take candid shots without making people feel too self conscious and light enough to take literally everywhere without yoour shoulder falling off. And, of course, then there is the fact that I have yet to meet a camera that lets you take the perfect selfie, complete with a forward facing lens AND night mode to chase away the darkness (hello again, Coolpad Note 5, with your 8 MP front facing camera with flash!).

The result: A wealth of traditional beauty recipes that have made Rajasthani women some of the most revered in the world, along with a treasure trove of photographs that will make for the memories of a lifetime.

Enjoy them both here!

tbg15

Playing princess for a night 🙂 #CoolPadNote5

Indian beauty recipe #1: Sandalwood & almond face scrub

Rose water is purifying, while almonds and saffron represent fertility. But that’s just the ritualistic part. The reason Indian women have revered this scrub since the times of Ayurveda is because almonds contain essential fatty acids for smooth and super-supple skin. They are also packed with antioxidants, including vitamin E, to neutralise environmental toxins and keep skin healthy.

Rose water and saffron, in the meantime, are packed with skin soothing and complexion perfecting ingredients, like Vitamin C and polyphenols, which can erase fine lines, boost collagen, clear blocked pores, soften the complexion and hydrate cell tissues.

4-5 almonds
3-4 strands of saffron, dissolved in a few drops of warm water
few drops of rose water

1. Rub the almonds on a coarse stone with rose water till you get a paste

2. Mix this paste with the saffron water

3. Apply the mask to your face; let it dry, then rub it off with wet hands. Weeks of accumulated grime and dead skin will come off with the paste

tbg4

…. but simply can’t compete with the originals painted on the walls of the City Palace #CoolPadNote5

Indian beauty recipe #2: Heal chronic acne

Sandalwood has potent antiseptic, astringent, anti-inflammatory and disinfectant properties that make it a treat for flawlessly glow-y complexions. It’s also superb at reducing skin scarring of all kinds. Vetiver is antiseptic and very effective in treating chronic acne. Added bonus: this paste smells divine!

1 small bunch vetiver
few drops of vetiver essential oil
2 tsp sandalwood powder 

1. Soak the vetiver in a little water overnight

2. Next day, strain the water and mix it with the sandalwood powder

3. Add few drops of vetiver essential oil to the paste

4. Apply this paste on your face, paying special attention to the affected areas; wash it off once dry. Repeat daily till for 2-4 weeks; the left over paste should be kept refrigerated

Falling in love with the fabrics of the region

Falling in love with the fabrics of the region #CoolPadNote5

Indian beauty recipe #5: Whole body mask

This traditional body mask (called an ubtan) is applied to both bride and groom for seven days before the wedding. It’s messy but superb for making skin smooth, flawless and glow-y. Turmeric cleanses, disinfects and glosses; sandalwood is antiseptic, astringent and anti-inflammatory; gur (jaggery) is packed with glycolic acid for exfoliation and humectants to keep everything moisturised; yogurt’s lactic acid helps slough off dead skin cells; chickpea flour busts grime and toxins; and ghee deep cleanses, moisturise and heals.

2 cups besan (chickpea flour)
1 tbsp sandalwood powder
2 tsp turmeric powder
2 tsp gur (sugar cane jaggery)
2 tbsp yogurt
2 tsp ghee (clarified butter)

1. Mix everything together to form a paste

2. Apply the paste to clean skin; wait till it dries (approximately 15 minutes), then rub it away with wet fingers. Finally, rinse clean with lukewarm water

No wonder they call it the Venice of the East

No wonder they call it the Venice of the East #CoolPadNote5

A room with a view... at the Fatehprakash palace

A room with a view… at the Fatehprakash palace #CoolPadNote5

A peep through the arches

A peep through the arches #CoolPadNote5

Touched by the hand of God

Touched by the hand of God #CoolPadNote5

The beauty lies in the details... often made up of millions of glass mosaics

The beauty lies in the details… often made up of millions of glass mosaics #CoolPadNote5

Kokum comes of age: The perfect-skin secret you’ve never heard of!

Now, this is an Indian ingredient I never imagined seeing on an international platform  – that too, courtesy one of my favourite brands. I just picked up Burt’s Bees Ultra Conditioning Lip Balm With Kokum Butter and it’s anchored around, of all things, kokum butter – a little known fruit that is native to India’s Western Ghats (think Mumbai and the surrounding areas) and is rarely seen beyond this area. And it’s not just Burt’s Bees… a quick search shows this fruit cropping up majorly in skincare products nowadays.

In fact, I had never heard of kokum till it was introduced to me by my grandmom-in-law in Mumbai. Scientifically known as Garcinia Indica, the kokum tree is a tropical that’s pretty low maintenance and needs few – if any – chemical fertilisers or pesticides. It bears dark red fruit, which look a little like small plums. In the kitchen, it is used as a souring agent (like tamarind) and has a sharp, acidic flavor with a fruity aroma.

Kokum fruit

Kokum fruit

And what does kokum have to do with skincare?

But it’s in the realm of skincare that kokum really comes into its own. The seed contains 23-26% oil (extracted as butter), which has made it the traditional moisturiser for the local population since centuries. It also has high levels of Vitamin E, is non-comodegenic (non-pore clogging), reduces degeneration of skin cells and restores elasticity.

And most ideally for a hot land, kokum butter has a relatively high meting point, which means it remains solid at room temperature and does not need refrigeration. This is what makes it perfect for an organic brand like Burt’s Bees, where it allows for the use of less wax and more butters for maximum skin benefits.

Exactly how to DIY your skincare with kokum?

When used in its purest form, kokum butter is held near a flame and the melted oil is applied straight to the skin (it’s especially great for tackling rough patches or cracked heels).

This is how you will see it being used in most traditional homes, where the women swear there’s nothing better to keep skin glowing, hydrated and wrinkle-free than this simple formulation.

Kokum butter is also excellent for healing burns and allergic rashes, since it simultaneously cools the skin while hydrating.

Kokum butter

Kokum butter

Don’t people drink kokum juice as well?

Absolutely! Kokum juice – made by steeping the fruit in water – is used to relieve gastric problems like acidity, flatulence, constipation and indigestion. It is also helpful in controlling diabetes and is especially popular during summer as it has a cooling effect and shields the body against dehydration and sunstroke

Besides this, kokum also contains rich amounts of anti-oxidants that bind with free radicals and prevent oxidative damage to body cells. It also helps promote cellular repair and regeneration.

One of the easiest ways to enjoy this delectable, multi-benefit-laden fruit is through the appetizing sol kadhi, which is a much-in-demand summer drink as it cools the body internally, thereby reducing sun damage and keeping heat-related problems like acne at bay.

Kokum is easily available in Indian stores across the world – when buying, look for dark, soft, pliable rinds that release their juices easily. Then just dunk in the water and enjoy!

Have you ever tried kokum butter or kokum juice?