[Sca-cooks] How old is barley water?

Johnna Holloway johnna at sitka.engin.umich.edu
Thu May 17 07:41:30 PDT 2007

I was going to do this soon anyway.

I ran this through EEBO-TCP this am.

Barley water as the search terms in a proximity search.

Looking at the printed record, early on there are a number of references 
that read “barley Brede / and Water.”

There are early 16^th century medicinal or remedies that mention barley 
water, minus the bread.

 From The noble experyence of the vertuous handy warke of surgery by 
Brunschwig, Hieronymus, (ca. 1450-ca. 1512.) printed 1525.

"his drynke shall be made with barleywater sodden with parseley ro+tes"

Brunschwig, Hieronymus, (ca. 1450-ca. 1512.) is also credited with The 
vertuose boke of distyllacyon of the waters of all maner of herbes 1527 

"Water of batley Ca .ci.

ORdeum in latyn. The best tyme of his dystyllacyon is in the ende of the 
Maye A The water dystylled of the herbe barley is good to be put in the 
iyen against all euyll i…..for it clenseth them and …. them."

The 1534 edition The castel of helth gathered and made by Syr Thomas 
Elyot knyghte mentions it at least 3 times.
Such as: "onely wasshe his mouthe, and his throote with barleywater, or 
small ale, or lye downe..."

It’s in Alessio. 1558 The secretes of the reuerende Maister Alexis of 

"giue the pacient drinke of it, with a litle Barleywater,"

The 1560 Second part urges that “To make wemens milke encrease.: TAke 
Fenell seede, and seeth it in barleywater, and giue the woman drinke of 
it, and her milke shall encrease abondantly.”

This association of drinking barley water to make milk increase appears 
then quite frequently in most of the late
16th century and then into the 17th century medical texts.

A WORLDE of Wordes, Or Most copious, and exact Dictionarie in Italian 
and English, collected by IOHN FLORIO. 1611
includes this definition:

"Ptisana,· Ptisan or Tysan, that is to say barley husked and sodden in 
water , or barley water such as phisitions commonly giue to sicke folkes 
to drinke."

There’re 7 mentions in the 1616 Maison rustique, or The countrey farme.

There’re 9 mentions in the 1633 edition The herball or Generall historie 
of plantes. Gathered by Iohn Gerarde

A number of references appear in The Queens closet opened from 1655 but 
again they are medicinal.

Recipe wise there’s THE CLOSET Of the Eminently Learned Sir Kenelme 
Digbie K^t. OPENED 1669 where barley water starts showing up in recipes 
such as

A Barley Sack Posset.

Take half a pound or more of French-barley, (not Perle- barley ) and 
pour scalding water upon it, and wash it well therein, and strain it 
from the water , & put it into the Corner of a Linnen-cloth and tie it 
up fast there, and strike it a dozen or twenty blows against a firm 
table or block, to make it tender by such bruising it, as in the 
Countrey is used with wheat to make frumenty. Then put it into a la•ge 
skillet with three pints of good milk. Boil this till at least half be 
consumed, and that it become as thick as hasty pudding, which will 
require at least two hours; and it must be carefully stirred all the 
wh•le, least it burn too: which if by some little inadverrence it should 
do, and that some black burned substance sti•keth to the bottom of the 
skillet, pour all the good matter from it into a fresh skillet (or into 
a b•sin whiles you scoure this) and renew boiling till it be very thick; 
All which is to make the barley.

It’s also mentioned in a cream, a pap, a nourishing broth, and to feed 

I’ve already posted The Accomplish'd lady's delight in preserving, 
physick, beautifying, and cookery’s recipe.

Hope this helps


Volker Bach wrote:
> Now I'm wondering whether barley water
> makes sense. it sounds interesting and gets mentioned
> quite a bit in 'period' contexts, but is it
> documentable? 

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