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For the United States Navy ship, see USS Pomander (SP-702).
Venetian woman with a pomander

A pomander, from French pomme d'ambre, i.e. apple of amber, is a ball made of perfumes, such as ambergris (whence 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 which contains such material.[2][3][4] The container could be made of gold or silver. Pomander can be a bag containing fragrant herbs. Pomanders were an early form of aromatherapy.


Pomanders were first mentioned in literature in the mid-thirteenth century.[5] They were used in the late Middle Ages through the 17th century.[6] Also a version of the pomander with oranges, cloves, oils and a golden ribbon can be used as a recovery charm in witchcraft.[7][8][9][10]


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.

Pomander creation[edit]


Pomanders were first made for carrying as religious keepsakes.[11]


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 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.[12][13]


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[14]

To form the final pomander, two ounces of the purest labdanum, an ounce each of Styrax calamites and benzoin, 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."[14]

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 several 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:


Medieval pomander paste formulas usually contained ambergris. From this came "pomme ambre" (amber apple) and from there the word pomander was developed.[6] Other names for the pomander are Ambraapfel, Bisamapfel, Bisamknopf, Bisambüchse, balsam apple, Desmerknopf, musk ball Desmerapfel, Oldanokapsel, Pisambüchse, and smelling apple.

See also[edit]

Gallery of pomanders[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d 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. ^ "Project MUSE - The Bulletin of Hispanic Studies - Perfumes and perfume-making in the Celestina". jhu.edu. 
  6. ^ a b Groom, p. 274
  7. ^ Mamma Kay. "Hearth-n-Home: Pomander Recovery spell and charm". hearth-n-home.blogspot.com. 
  8. ^ "A-Magical Pomander ~ Begum Afreeda Ali". begumafreedaali.blogspot.com. 
  9. ^ "Magic and Spell-Casting - Witchcraft - Pagan, Wiccan, Occult and Magick". witcheslore.com. 
  10. ^ "Cure Spells". SpellsOfMagic. 
  11. ^ Jewelry of the middle ages
  12. ^ Longman, p. 339
  13. ^ Madden, p. 257
  14. ^ a b Boeser (chapter 11)


  • Boeser, Knut, The elixirs of Nostradamus: Nostradamus' original recipes for elixirs, scented water, beauty potions, and sweetmeats, Moyer Bell, 1996; ISBN 1-55921-155-5
  • Groom, Nigel, The new perfume handbook, Springer, 1997, ISBN 0-7514-0403-9
  • Longman, Rrown, The Archaeological journal, Volume 31, Green and Longman 1874
  • Madden, Frederic, Privy purse expenses of the Princess Mary, daughter of King Henry the Eighth, afterwards Queen Mary, W. Pickering 1831
  • Schleif, Corine 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, 237, 242-244, ISBN 978-0-271-03369-3

External links[edit]