Turpentine and sugar, tonic or toxic

Every time the now retired brothers get together they commiserate about their childhood’s annual spring purge for pin worms. Sitting around the table they shake their heads over the teaspoon of turpentine and sugar each had to swallow.

It was a tablespoon of turpentine,” one insisted.

The others scoffed, “It was a teaspoon.”

They all agree it was the most awful thing that their mother made them take. Thankfully, the annual spring purge ended once the family attained indoor plumbing.

Still the memory lingers and one wonders, “How did she ever come up with that idea?”

She didn’t come up with the idea on her own. Turpentine and sugar have a long history as a traditional home remedy for worms. Just type “turpentine and sugar” into Google and the search engine quickly pulls up hundreds of websites.

At least as far back as the 1800s, sugar with a small teaspoon of turpentine received high regard as the best home remedy to purge out any bad elements in the body. It still does if one listens to the advice of one Internet doctor of questionable qualifications. Even that doctor, while praising the mixture emphasizes only one teaspoon and adds a cautionary note that it does not take much to do serious harm to a child. Obviously the doctor read the side of the turpentine bottle, “Poison, do not drink. If consumed call the poison control center.”

For those who believe all the hype about detoxing their body, another website details a five week detox featuring lots of fluids every day and a sprinkle of turpentine over three sugar cubes five days a week. The stomach churns just thinking about it.

Still many consider turpentine good for what ails you; or as is quoted on curezone.org “My grandma used to say ‘if ya cain’t be cured with turpentine, ya probly ain’t worth curin’.” and goes on to say, ”Turpentine and sugar was a sure cure for strep throat and tonsillitis.”

Home remedies follow one rule, “If it’s awful, it must be good medicine.”

During the 1918 influenza plague home remedies included: herbs, groundhog grease, onion poultices, mustard packs, turpentine fumes, smoke from burning straw, orange peel, chamomile tea and zinc painted on the inside of the nose. You took the medicine and then prayed, according to Sandra Opdycke’s book, “The Flu Epidemic of 1918: America’s Experience in the Global Health Crisis”

The brothers thought they suffered alone with their mother’s turpentine cure. They didn’t. It was just one concoction and experience recorded by Charles Bannister on the civilwartalk.com website: “we took catnip tea and sassafras tea. Turpentine and sugar was given for worms and sometimes people dosed straight with turpentine, as in the case of my brother who died of diphtheria. It was the doctor who doped him, and he gave him too much.”

Evidently that doctor never read the information reported in the Yankee New England’s Magazine, “Professionals and laymen caring for persons – found the whiskey functioned as a pain-killing tranquilizer. Its effects were certainly more reliable than many of the homemade cures such as inhaling turpentine fumes, sniffing camphorated vaseline, or lying beneath poultices of garlic and onions. Whiskey was more effective even than the various vaccines that were widely distributed by doctors to cities and military hospitals.”

For the brothers, it didn’t kill them and maybe it cured them. For the rest of us, read the side of the bottle of turpentine, the part that says, “Poison, harmful or fatal if swallowed. Keep out of the reach of children. If ingested … call the Poison Control Center immediately.”

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