If you've ever been in New Orleans or Miami and happened to find yourself in a smells-and-bells shop that sells knick-knacks and nostrums aimed at the witchcraft set, you probably have noticed the garishly ornate little bottles of the puzzling perfume known as Florida Water, and registered a dull sense of free-floating wonderment. Maybe you've even subsequently gone home and googled its purpose, and come away even more bereft of a frame of reference than before.
The stuff dates back at least to the year 1808, when a company called Murray & Lanman introduced it in New York City as a sort of Americanized Eau de Cologne (Cologne Water). Like Cologne Water, Florida Water is citrus-based, but really emphasizes the sweet orange - along with notes of lavender and clove oil.
The product's name derives from Murray & Lanman's marketing of the fluid as more than just a bottle of smellum-good, but rather an all-purpose tonic and cure-all. Hence, "Florida Water" was chosen as a nod to the life-giving properties of the mythical "Fountain of Youth" fabled to be located somewhere near St. Augustine.
Given that Florida Water's genesis was in a New York marketing scheme to sell perfume by appropriating Ponce DeLeon's myth of magical springs, I wonder then what mssrs. Murray and Lanman must have thought when they realized that Florida Water began to really take off as an ingredient in practices of Voudoun (Voodoo) and Santeria. Florida Water started showing up in rural deep-south traditions as a "drawing" ingredient, meaning drawing money, love or luck toward you. Some would pour Florida Water into a metal or porcelain cup and ignite it, warming their hands over its flames and letting the evaporating elixir work its thing. Other rituals call for it to be used as a floor wash, as a cleaning fluid to wash implements from one's altar, to scent bowls of water left out for spirits of the dead, or as an ingredient in making your own ink-dyed scrying solution.
You can still find Florida Water today at any hoodoo-ish sort of place, from the silly ones to the serious ones. I keep a bottle around; you never know when it might come in handy. Especially with all the other kind of "Florida water" around here - the sewage-scented reclaimed water that is unfortunately ubiquitous in the Sunshine State.