Carmelite water is an alcoholic extract of lemon balm and other herbs. It has been formulated by the Carmelite nuns from the Abbey of St Just in the 14th century and called Eau de Carmes. It was used mainly as a perfume which was in a product in high demand at the time due more to practicality than the need to allure through scent.
Carmelite Water helped to cover the stench of unwashed bodies as bathing was considered an “opening” for sinful thoughts due to exposure of naked skin to the eyes of the bather. As most people of that time period only bathed once a year, or in some cases once a lifetime, the need for sweet smelling perfumed waters was very high. Carmelite Water also covered the smell of disease (plague), death, and filthy living environments so rampant at that period of human history.
The recipe for Carmelite Water was so prized that patents for it, under the name ‘Eau de Melisse des Carmes’, were granted by Louis XIV, XV, and XVI of France. This perfume patent was kept inviolate secret by the Carmelite friars who made it. All that is known of the patent recipe now is it was comprised of lemon balm flowers, coriander seeds, angelica root, nutmeg, cinnamon, and cloves pounded together and steeped in wine, Carmelite Water was also used as a internal and external remedy for just about all ailments suffered in that period of history.
Other herbal concoctions brewed by monastic monks are known to modern man as fine liquors and aperitifs. Many of these complex herbal formulations were used as general tonics and disease cures in the Medieval and Renaissance periods. Two such formulas that contain lemon balm are the liquors known as ‘Chartreuse’ and ‘Benedictine’. ‘Benedictine’ contains twenty-seven herbs and spices of which lemon balm is one.
In the early 1500’s lemon balm was used by a Venetian monk, Dom Bernard Vincelli, to create the liquor ‘Benedictine’. He did this in an effort to revive his fellow monks and even claimed his herbal elixir cured the local populace of malaria. Whether through the liquor itself or the medicinal qualities of the herbs used in it, a supposition can be made that whoever took this elixir was bound to feel better in some form or another!