Before the Avon Lady, There Were a Bunch of Monks With a Bottle of Vinegar

santa maria novella church in florence, italy, at sunset
Photo by Giuseppe Moscato via Flickr (CC BY NC-SA 2.0)

Hunter Oatman-Stanford, writing in Collectors Weekly, introduces us to the lifestyle and wellness hawkers of 13th century Italy: the Monks of Santa Maria Novella, in Florence.

One of the company’s most fabled products is Aceto Aromatico (or Aromatic Vinegar), which was known as Vinegar of the Seven Thieves in the early 15th century. “The story says that one part of the recipe was known by each of seven thieves, so they could only make the product when they were all together,” Foà says. “They used the recipe to protect themselves so they could rob people affected by the plague, but only when they were all together could they create it. Later, it was used as a cure for fainting. Back when our grandparents were young, it was very common. We called it the salts, as in, ‘Give me the salts!’” Today, the pungent liquid is sold as a stimulant and air freshener.

Other traditional recipes include pastilles called Pasticche di Santa Maria Novella, an antispasmodic sedative called Acqua di Melissa (or Lemon-Balm Water), and the pharmacy’s signature calming tonic called Acqua de Santa Maria Novella, originally known as Anti-Hysterical Water.

Read the story