“Hungary Water” is the name of the first alcohol-based perfume made in Europe. It is not known for certain when it was made for the first time nor what was a precise recipe for its making and its history is almost legendary.
Tale of the Hungary water has many heads and many tails but that doesn't mean that it is not an interesting one. It is known that it was made for the Queen of Hungary in 14th century. One text says that it was “Saint Elisabeth, Queen of Hungary” but Saint Elizabeth was not a queen. Queen Isabella appeared too early in the history (13th century) so she couldn't be one who ordered creation of this perfume. It is assumed that the queen from legend of Hungary water was Elisabeth of Poland (1305 – 1380), Queen Consort of Hungary and sister of Casimir the Great of Poland. As to why this perfume was invented one story says that it was made to be a cure for rheumatism or gout which the queen suffered in her old age or as a rejuvenation treatment for this 70-years old queen which made 25-year old grad-duke of Lithuania propose her. Water was used as a face and hand wash, as a rubbing alcohol or consumed.
Who precisely invented it is also not certain. It is very unlikely that it was an invention of a queen herself. In one texts, a quote says that queen got a recipe from a hermit she never saw before and that she was promised that it will restore her youth and preserve it “until her death”. Other story is that it was made by Gypsies and sold as a panacea that cured headache and other ailments and could be used as perfume, aftershave, mouthwash and foot bath. French Charles V le Sage who ruled as King of France in 14th century was the first foreigner to receive “Hungary water” and he got it in 1370.
Since then Hungary water (or “the Queen of Hungary's Water”) was very popular perfume. Many wrote texts about it and tried to record recipes for it seems that, again, no one can agree what ingredients for Hungary water should be. One recipe calls for “aqua vitae” (concentrated aqueous solution of ethanol) to be distilled four times. 3 parts of this should be mixed with 2 parts of tops and flowers of rosemary, warmed for 50 hours and distilled. This mixture was taken once a week with food and limbs were washed with it. Other text says that this perfume was made of rosemary, orange, mint, and orange flower water. Some other added lavender. There are recipes that use lemon balm, lemon peel, chamomile, rosemary, calendula, roses, sage, vinegar and witch hazel extract. Other variants called for grape spirit and “esprit de rose”. It was applied to the handkerchief and used for refreshment but also as a face wash or as an addition to bath water.
Until the 18th century when “eau de Cologne appeared”, Hungary water was very popular perfume. Its popularity gave it a dimension of a remedy (and because it had alcohol lit worked as antiseptic so that was not too far off). Hungary water is still made today and sold by various manufacturers. There are even recipes for variants that can be made at home.