The Turpentine Remedy

The turpentine, as given to patient, G.P. Milton, who died the following day (January 8, 1865)

The turpentine treatment, as given to patient, G.P. Milton, who died the following day (January 8, 1865). From collection #612-z, Southern Historical Collection.

You never know what you’re going to find in our collections. Today, while looking for something totally unrelated, I happened upon a folder with an intriguing title: “Prescription and Diet Book, circa 1800s.” I thought I might have stumbled on some sort of early new age work. So, I started thumbing through.

What I found was that it was a record book, apparently from a Civil War hospital near Greensboro, North Carolina, that listed daily treatments that were given to wounded soldiers and others convalescing during the war.

In this record book are listings for some run of the mill treatments and remedies that were ordered on patients of the hospital such as, “light diet,” “light dressing applied to wound,” or “beef soup.” But then I started seeing some more, shall we say, experimental treatments listed. The regimen given to one particular patient named G. P. Milton was especially striking (see image shown here).

Sunday’s entry: “Rx…Whiskey and Turpentine every 3 hours”

Monday’s entry: “Died Jan. 8, 1865”

I guess turpentine isn’t always good for what ails you. Anyone know if this was once a common treatment? And if so, for which ailment was it usually prescribed? Was it ever successful?

[The item described comes from collection #612-z from the Southern Historical Collection.]

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20 Responses to The Turpentine Remedy

  1. Julie says:

    i find your discoveries to be a a sort of de ja vu for myself. I am from Kentucky and turpentine was often used for people who had a chest cold. also as a vapo type rub. my grandmother used to give it to me. for coughs flu and head colds, she perscribed what she simply called the remedy, 4 shots of whiskey, 4 tablespoons of sugar, with a half cup of sweet tea, warmed. that would soothe anything. another big one i remember is the tobacco juice remedy for bee stings. whenever a bee would sting me, my dad would go runnin for his chew, and would then apply chewed tobacco to the sting. for any kind of posion from spiders to bees they also used baking soda, this also pulls out the poison.

  2. Julie,
    Thanks for your comment. Believe it or not, I saw a turpentine remedy/concoction for sale recently in an ethnic grocery store. It seems we southerners are not the only ones with a hankerin’ for the turpentine cure-alls.

    Tobacco on bee stings was a big one for me as a kid, as well. The whiskey, sugar, and tea beverage I’ve never heard of before, but it sounds really…let’s say…invigorating.

  3. Richard says:

    Search for Dr Daniels and her turpentine remedy. She researched old turpentine cures and has produced a modern protocol for turpentine useage. I have just tried it with good results.

  4. mary cook says:

    I am 52 yrs old from Kentucky and I can remember my Mom giving us a teaspoon of sugar with I believe was 3 drops of terpintine on as a preventative for worms! I have no idea if this worked for anything except that I burped that nasty turpintine for a couple days after. No I did not give this to my kids and I’m happy to say they never had worms!! Just thought you might like to know my experience!

  5. Gee says:

    Growing up in the hills of Kentucky, I took many a dose of castor oil and turpentine. When you felt the first symptoms of a cold or any sort of ache in the body, you took a tablespoon of castor oil with 9 drops of gum spirits of turpentine. Yes, it is supposedly poison, and it tastes horrible, but it works!
    Nowadays, I omit the castor oil part. I now put 9 drops of the turpentine into a teaspoon of sugar, add 6 drops of lemon juice, and chase it down with grape or cranberry juice. It’s not that bad, except when you burp.

  6. James LaFoe says:

    i was raised up in the mid forties and turpentine,honey,onions and coal oil was used a lot for different ails. tobacco for dog bites and insect stings,forge water for snake bites, of course we drank whole milk and ate real butter,a bowl of bacon grease was always sitting on the back of the wood burning stove to sop our biscuits.we drank spring water that we carried from a spring we dug. we ate out of the woods for the most part and only went to town on Saturday to the sale barn and sold paw-paws,nuts,berries stuff the city people didn’t have,i know these remedies are good.

  7. David says:

    I am currently using a turpentine regiment. It may sound unusual, but turpentine kills many things internally that make me sick such as parasites, biofilm and candida fungus. I have never had any sickness or bad reactions from turpentine. But my health has improved quite a bit. It must be used carefully and in small amounts so the body can handle it without getting sick. Research it if you are interested. Dr Daniels has information on turpentine usage.

  8. Phyllis says:

    If the regimen was every three hours, this was have been an acute situation. Possibly infective. Could have probably used antibiotics if they had existed at that point.

  9. Carolyn says:

    I remember my grandmother giving me a teaspoon of sugar with drops of turpentine for coughing. That was some horrible tasting stuff. I supposed it worked.

  10. chris says:

    Breathing is also a common cause of death. Since 100 percent of the people that die were breathing previous to the affliction.

  11. Christopher says:

    Ummmm… turpentine is a VERY similar to tea tree oil and so if you object to turpentine’s use then stay away from tea tree oil.

    I, myself have used it to rid my children of lice when nothing else worked.

    Many, MANY pharmaceuticals are derived from plants, yes? Well, turpentine is derived from tree resins/sap. Yes, boiled and refined but from tree resins nonetheless.

    I think I’ll go eat some pancakes with MAPLE SYRUP now. :-/

  12. Cookie says:

    As a child we was given 3 drops of terpintine on as a preventative for worms. We was always going with out shoes. Shoes was only for winter time and with 6 kids and no money, mama did what she could to keep us well. We had worms a lot growing up and well terpintine cured what ever we had.

  13. Dan says:

    Nice one Chris, I was thinking the same thing. Correlation does not equal causation.

    I’ve used this many times and it didn’t kill me (I guess it must have been the whiskey that killed the soldier). I had a persistent cough/tickle in the throat. After a few weeks of misery and cough drops, I remembered this remedy. I felt an immediate relief from the tickle and coughed only once in the following 3 hours… amazing stuff. I also had a buddy with crippling stomach pains and after trying baking soda, activated charcoal with no relief, I have him this (mixed in honey) and he was at 80% after 20 minutes!

  14. Renia Abrams Bell says:

    I remember over sixty and some years ago my grandma gave my brother and I the remedy. A teaspoon of sugar with three drops of turpentine on it every summer. I am 66 years of age and my brother sixty four we have never been hospitalized for anything. I only give birth in the hospital we have always been healthy. I have no aches and pains, every two to three years I might catch a little cold, but that’s it. I thank God for my grandma, and the remedy of turpentine.

  15. Renia Abrams Bell says:

    Thank you Dr. Daniels for returning me to my roots.

  16. Abbasway says:

    My Grandmother always gave all of us a teaspoon of sugar with turpentine every spring for parasites and “spring cleaning” I guess. My Papa tapped the pine trees himself and cooked down the sap for his own turpentine. He was a farmer and had need of plenty. Back then parasites were common. They are far more common today than most people and physicians realize. Our animals are being raised overseas where parasites are as common as they used to be here. Immigrants are bringing them in also. I believe some Dr.s are becoming aware of the issue but it is still not at the top of their go to list. We have to be more aware ourselves.

  17. George Eager says:

    Three drops of best quality gum spirits of turpentine on a teaspoon of sugar as a chest cold preventative. This was my family’s traditional recipe from the Louisville Kentucky area. Older patients followed this with a hot whiskey-lemon-and-sweet-tea beverage.

  18. Meme says:

    I’m using the turpentine remedy right now (have been for a month) for an infection of liver flukes. Turpentine works quite well and is very safe in small doses. Parasites are way more common in the USA than you might believe.

  19. Cici says:

    I am currently using turpentine now for a parasite remedy. Where no dr has been able to diagnose or help me with all of my symptoms (candida symptoms to a T). No lab can find them to diagnose either, and when an ER dr tried to prescribe meds for parasites for me the pharmacy stated they had taken it off the market as of 2013 with no replacement (vermox) my dr tried to call in an alternate…..also off the market. My gastro is “baffled” at my symptoms, so absolutely correct the US Drs are not up to date or even consider parasites. Old time remedies hold true in their value, they just didn’t make enough money for those who think they have all the power. BTW thanks Monsanto’s for the Caribbean Seed Bug made from GMO’s you have given me a real challenge with this ropeworm, but no matter. I’m gonna kick em and then spread the word! Turpentine!

  20. Dez says:

    Has anyone had any success with the Turpentine remedy? I’ve been frustrated as well with the Liver Fluke(s).

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