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Venetian woman with a pomander Pomander 3.jpg
Venetian woman with a pomander

A pomander, from French pomme d'ambre, i.e., apple of amber, is a ball made for perfumes, such as ambergris (hence the name), musk, or civet. [1] The pomander was worn or carried in a vase, also known by the same name, as a protection against infection in times of pestilence or merely as a useful article to modify bad smells. [1] The globular cases which contained the pomanders were hung from a neck-chain or belt, or attached to the girdle, and were usually perforated in a variety of openwork techniques, and made of gold or silver. [1] Sometimes they contained several partitions, in each of which was placed a different perfume. [1]


The term "pomander" can refer to the scented material itself or to the container that contains such material. [2] [3] [4] The container could be made of gold or silver and eventually evolved to be shaped like nuts, skulls, hearts, books and ships. Smaller versions were made to be attached by a chain to a finger ring and held in the hand. Even smaller versions served as cape buttons or rosary beads. [5]

A pomander can be a bag containing fragrant herbs and might be viewed as an early form of aromatherapy. Pomanders can be considered related to censers, in which aromatics are burned or roasted rather than naturally evaporated.


Pomanders were first mentioned in literature in the mid-thirteenth century. [6] They were used in the late Middle Ages through the 17th century. [7] Also a version of the pomander with oranges, cloves, oils, and a golden ribbon may be used as a recovery charm in witchcraft. [8]


Pomanders were first made for carrying as religious keepsakes. [9]


The Archaeological Journal, Volume 31 of 1874 describes on page 339 a 1584 formula for making a pomander that was also published by Frederic Madden in his 1831 history book Privy purse expenses of the Princess Mary, daughter of King Henry the Eighth, afterwards Queen Mary on page 257:

Benzoin resin, calamite, labdanum, and storax balsam were ground into a powder, dissolved in rose water and put into a pan over a fire to cook together. The cooked mixture was then removed from the fire, rolled into an apple shape and coated with a powdered mixture of cinnamon, sweet sanders, and cloves. After this, a concoction was made from three grains each of ambergris, deer musk, and civet musk. The ambergris was dissolved first and the deer and civet musk mixed in later. The "apple" ball was rolled through the musk concoction to blend in these ingredients and then kneaded to combine and molded back into the shape of an apple. [10] [11]


Michel de Nostredame had a similar method and formula using similar ingredients, but a rather different procedure.

"Rose tablets" were made by soaking a pound of roses without the flower heads in deer musk water overnight. The water was then thoroughly squeezed out and the roses ground with seven ounces of benzoin, a quarter of ambergris and another of civet musk. This mixture was made into tablets, which were each sandwiched between rose petals and dried in a cool, dark area [12]

To form the final pomander, two ounces of the purest labdanum, an ounce each of Styrax calamites and benzoin resin, half an ounce of the rose tablets, one ounce of violet powder, and half a dram each ambergris and musk were ground into a powder and kneaded with the rose-musk water from the production of the rose tablets. This produced "an aromatic ball of the most supreme perfume, and the longest-lasting that can be made anywhere in the world." [12]

Pouncet box

In the late 16th century the pouncet box appeared which, whilst retaining the traditional features of the pomander, was designed to hold liquid perfumes, blended with powder and absorbed on a sponge or piece of cotton. It was favoured by the upper classes who appreciated the delicacy of the liquid perfumes. Its name stemmed from the fact that the box was "pounced" or pierced to release the scent. [13]


An orange studded with cloves. Orange pomander.jpg
An orange studded with cloves.

One modern style of pomander is made by studding an orange or other fruit with whole dried cloves and letting it cure dry, after which it may last many, many years. This modern pomander serves the functions of perfuming and freshening the air and also of keeping drawers of clothing and linens fresh, pleasant-smelling, and moth-free.


Other ingredients in the process of making pomanders are:


A pomander is worn by Rosemary Woodhouse, in Roman Polanski's 1968 film, Rosemary's Baby . It figures as a central part of the plot development.

The pouncet box is mentioned in Shakespeare's Henry IV Part I when Hotspur is accused of withholding Scottish nobles captured in a skirmish and in self-defence pleads, in describing the King's messenger:

He was perfumèd like a milliner,
And ’twixt his finger and his thumb he held
A pouncet box, which ever and anon
He gave his nose and took't away again,
Who therewith angry, when it next came there,
Took it in snuff; and still he smiled and talked.


Medieval pomander paste formulas usually contained ambergris. From this came "pomme ambre" (amber apple) and from there the word pomander was developed. [7] Other names for the pomander are Ambraapfel, Bisamapfel, Bisamknopf, Bisambüchse, balsam apple, Desmerknopf, musk ball Desmerapfel, Oldanokapsel, Pisambüchse, and smelling apple.

See also

Related Research Articles

Amber Fossilized tree resin

Amber is fossilized tree resin that has been appreciated for its color and natural beauty since Neolithic times. Much valued from antiquity to the present as a gemstone, amber is made into a variety of decorative objects. Amber is used in jewelry. It has also been used as a healing agent in folk medicine.

Ambergris Substance produced in the digestive system of sperm whales

Ambergris, ambergrease, or grey amber, is a solid, waxy, flammable substance of a dull grey or blackish colour produced in the digestive system of sperm whales. Freshly produced ambergris has a marine, fecal odor. It acquires a sweet, earthy scent as it ages, commonly likened to the fragrance of rubbing alcohol without the vaporous chemical astringency.

Perfume Mixture of fragrant substances, usually in liquid form, used to give agreeable scent to objects, air or living creatures

Perfume is a mixture of fragrant essential oils or aroma compounds, fixatives and solvents, usually in liquid form, used to give the human body, animals, food, objects, and living-spaces an agreeable scent.

Onycha Unknown biblical substance used in incense

Onycha, along with equal parts of stacte, galbanum, and frankincense, was one of the components of the consecrated Ketoret (incense) which appears in the Torah book of Exodus (Ex.30:34-36) and was used in the Jerusalem's Solomon's Temple. This formula was to be incorporated as an incense, and was not to be duplicated for non-sacred use. What the onycha of antiquity actually was cannot be determined with certainty. The original Hebrew word used for this component of the ketoret was שחלת, shecheleth, which means "to roar; as a lion " or “peeling off by concussion of sound." Shecheleth is related to the Syriac shehelta which is translated as “a tear, distillation, or exudation.” In Aramaic, the root SHCHL signifies “retrieve.” When the Torah was translated into Greek the Greek word “onycha” ονυξ, which means "fingernail" or "claw," was substituted for shecheleth.


Labdanum, also called ladanum, ladan or ladanon, is a sticky brown resin obtained from the shrubs Cistus ladanifer and Cistus creticus, species of rockrose. It was historically used in herbal medicine and is still used in the preparation of some perfumes and vermouths.


Galbanum is an aromatic gum resin and a product of certain umbelliferous Persian plant species in the genus Ferula, chiefly Ferula gummosa and Ferula rubricaulis. Galbanum-yielding plants grow plentifully on the slopes of the mountain ranges of northern Iran. It occurs usually in hard or soft, irregular, more or less translucent and shining lumps, or occasionally in separate tears, of a light-brown, yellowish or greenish-yellow colour, and has a disagreeable, bitter taste, a peculiar, somewhat musky odour, an intense green scent, and a specific gravity of 1.212. It contains about 8% terpenes; about 65% of a resin which contains sulfur; about 20% gum; and a very small quantity of the colorless crystalline substance umbelliferone. It also contains α-pinene, β-pinene, limonene, cadinene, 3-carene, and ocimene.

Opium (perfume)

Opium is an Oriental-spicy perfume created for fashion brand Yves Saint Laurent (YSL) by perfumer Jean Amic and Jean-Louis Sieuzac of Roure, first marketed in 1977. Its top notes are a mixture of fruit and spices, with mandarin orange, plum, clove, coriander and pepper, as well as bay leaf. Its floral middle notes consist predominantly jasmine, rose and Lily of the Valley, in addition to carnation, cinnamon, peach and orris root. It is underlined by the sweet woody base note containing sandalwood, cedarwood, myrrh, opopanax, labdanum, benzoin and castoreum, in addition to amber, incense, musk, patchouli, tolu and vetiver.

Chypre is the name of a family of perfumes that are characterised by an accord composed of citrus top notes, a middle centered on cistus labdanum, and a mossy-animalic set of basenotes derived from oakmoss. Chypre perfumes fall into numerous classes according to their modifier notes, which include but are not limited to leather, florals, fruits, and amber.

History of perfume

The word perfume is used today to describe scented mixtures and is derived from the Latin word, "per fumus," meaning through smoke. The word Perfumery refers to the art of making perfumes. Perfume was further refined by the Romans, the Persians and the Arabs. Although perfume and perfumery also existed in East Asia, much of its fragrances were incense based. The basic ingredients and methods of making perfumes are described by Pliny the Elder in his Naturalis Historia.

Eau de toilette

Eau de toilette literally translated as toilet water is a lightly scented cologne used as a skin freshener. It is also referred to as "aromatic waters" and has a high alcohol content. It is usually applied directly to the skin after bathing or shaving. It was originally composed of alcohol and various volatile oils. Traditionally these products were named after a principal ingredient; some being geranium water, lavender water, lilac water, violet water, spirit of myrcia and 'eau de Bretfeld'. Because of this, eau de toilette was sometimes referred to as "toilet water".

Ittar Types of essential oils

Ittar, also known as attar, is an essential oil derived from botanical sources. Most commonly these oils are extracted via hydro or steam distillation. The Persian physician Ibn Sina, known as Avicenna in Europe, was first to derive the attar of flowers from distillation. Attar can also be expressed by chemical means but generally natural perfumes which qualify as ittars are distilled with water. The oils are generally distilled into a wood base such as sandalwood and then aged. The aging period can last from one to ten years depending on the botanicals used and the results desired. Technically ittars are distillates of flowers, herbs, spices and other natural materials such as baked soil over sandalwood oil/liquid paraffins using hydrodistillation technique involving a still (deg) and receiving vessel (bhapka). These techniques are still in use today at Kannauj in India.

Religious use of incense has its origins in antiquity. The burned incense may be intended as a symbolic or sacrificial offering to various deities or spirits, or to serve as an aid in prayer.

Stacte Unknown biblical substance used in incense

Stacte and nataph are names used for one component of the Solomon's Temple incense, the Ketoret, specified in the Book of Exodus. Variously translated to the Greek term or to an unspecified "gum resin" or similar, it was to be mixed in equal parts with onycha, galbanum and mixed with pure frankincense and they were to "beat some of it very small" for burning on the altar of the tabernacle.

Incense offering Offering on the altar of incense in the time of the Tabernacle and the First and Second Temple period

The incense offering in Judaism was related to perfumed offerings on the altar of incense in the time of the Tabernacle and the First and Second Temple period, and was an important component of priestly liturgy in the Temple in Jerusalem.

Peau d'Espagne is a perfume made of flower and spice oils. Traditionally employed to scent leather, it is also used as a perfume for women and to flavor dishes.

Tabu by Dana is a women's fragrance created by French perfumer Jean Carles (1892-1966). Carles worked for Roure Bertrand, a company associated with fashion houses such as Nina Ricci, Christian Dior, Elsa Schiaparelli and Cristóbal Balenciaga.

Scented water

Scented water, odoriferous water or sweet water, is a water with a sweet aromatic smell. It is made of flowers or herbs and is the precursor of the modern day perfume. Scented waters are also used in making other products such as pomanders and body care products.


A sachet is a small scented cloth bag filled with herbs, potpourri, or aromatic ingredients. A sachet is also a small porous bag or packet containing a material intended to interact with its atmosphere; for example, desiccants are usually packed in sachets which are then placed in larger packages.

Scents of Time

Scents of Time was a perfume company which specialized in re-creating ancient fragrances. The company was founded by perfumer David Pybus and based in the United Kingdom. The company was featured in Series 4, Episode 5 of the BBC entrepreneur opportunity programme Dragons' Den on 7 March 2007. Their products were distributed at the British Museum and through online retailers.

The incense offering, a blend of aromatic substances that exhale perfume during combustion, usually consisting of spices and gums burnt as an act of worship, occupied a prominent position in the sacrificial legislation of the ancient Hebrews.


  1. 1 2 3 4 Chisholm 1911, p. 46.
  2. "Pomanders". larsdatter.com.
  4. Corine Schleif and Volker Schier, Katerina's Windows: Donation and Devotion, Art and Music, as Heard and Seen Through the Writings of a Birgittine Nun, University Park: Penn State Press, 2009, pp. 237, 242-244
  5. "Small Wonders – Aromatic Adornments". ganoskin. Retrieved 12 March 2017.
  6. "Project MUSE - The Bulletin of Hispanic Studies - Perfumes and perfume-making in the Celestina". jhu.edu.
  7. 1 2 Groom, p. 274
  8. "Magic and Spell-Casting - Witchcraft - Pagan, Wiccan, Occult and Magick". witcheslore.com.
  9. Jewelry of the middle ages
  10. Longman, p. 339
  11. Madden, p. 257
  12. 1 2 Boeser (chapter 11)
  13. "Small Wonders – Aromatic Adornments". Ganoskin. Retrieved 12 March 2017.