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.]

6 Responses to The Turpentine Remedy

  1. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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.

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