Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Turpentine Remedy

by Biff Hollingsworth

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.]

IMAGE: 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.

This entry was posted in Collections, Featured Z-Collections and tagged Civil War, diet, hospital, prescription, remedies, treatments, turpentine, whiskey.

From: blogs.lib.unc.ed


A major problem during that war was malaria, and physicians could not access enough quinine for their patients. One doctor came up with a solution that involved wrapping the patients with turpentine-soaked gauze, which did reduce their fevers and at some point the surgeon general recommended that approach to everyone. Later they also used drops of turpentine oil as an oral medicine, and I am less clear about what that was for.

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