Twitter is useful for finding out what others are researching.
This is a good example:
A blog post from the useful and interesting Recipes project. It discusses a book called Tabula Medicine, which has various distillation recipes, and, importantly from my point of view, was written between 1416 and 1425, by English friars, drawing upon older recipes.
A perennially interesting question regards the transmission of knowledge across Europe, and in my case especially that of techniques and recipes related to alchemy and allied activities such as distillation. A related problem is that there is a mass of material which has not been fully studied. Therefore all we can say about some recipes is that they are first written about over there, in say 1340, and next seen copied out near here in 1400. So what has happened to them in the meantime?
In the case of the recipes used by the friars, since they include ones from John of Rupescissa’s Book of the quintessence, we can say securely that copies of his work were in England by the early 15th century. Moreover, given that some recipes are attributed to older friars in the period 1370 – 1420, that also indicates that distilled recipes were in England by that time, although the article doesn’t go into enough detail for me to be totally sure. This therefore pushers my understanding of the transmission of the text back by several decades. It seems therefore too that it first arrived in Latin, being translated into English later in the centuries.
Moreover, it provides documentary evidence to back up the archaeological evidence, that distillation was well known amongst the educated sections of society. Having said that, I think we are still lacking widespread evidence of distillation from firaries etc, but certainly by mid-15th century the remains of alembics are found in various secular sites, as the practise moved from the religious people to the secular medical men. (Not that they were all secular as such, but having taken minor orders at university few kept up such stations in life)
As an aside, an apothecary or medical man carrying out distillations is entirely period, but not very well represented in the re-enactment world, due probably to the difficulties inherent in carrying out distillations in a field.