Turpentine. Oleum Terebinthinae.

Botanical name: 

Synonyms—Long-leaved Georgia, Swamp, or Pitch Pine.

Occurrence—Turpentine is obtained from the Pinus palustris and from other species of the pine in the form of an oleoresin.

The oleoresin is distilled, and the product is the Oil of Turpentine or the Spirits of Turpentine. The residue is Resin (colophony) .

Description—The oil is a thin, neutral, colorless liquid, with a specific gravity of 0.87, soluble in three volumes of alcohol. It boils at about 330 degrees Fahrenheit.


The oil distilled with six volumes of lime water, produces the Rectified oil of Turpentine (Oleum Terebinthinae Rectificatum). This is the form which should always be used in medicine. Dose, from one to ten minims. It should be given in an emulsion for gastric and intestinal disorders. For respiratory disorders, drop from two to five drops on a square of loaf sugar to be dissolved slowly on the tongue, and swallowed with the saliva.

Terpene hydrate is formed by the action of nitric acid upon the rectified oil of turpentine, and alcohol. The product is distilled; it is crystalline, colorless, nearly odorless; slightly soluble in water, soluble in alcohol. Dose, from one to three grains.

Terebene is obtained by the action of sulphuric acid on the rectified oil. The product is distilled. A colorless, thin, aromatic liquid is the result. It is soluble in alcohol, only slightly so in water. Dose, from three to fifteen minims.

Physiological Action—The oil of turpentine is an irritant when applied to the skin or mucous membranes in any considerable quantity. It causes burning, a vesicular eruption, and deep, stubborn ulcerations. In the stomach it produces warmth, increased from an overdose to a burning pain, nausea, vomiting, purging, eructations of the oil, great gastro-intestinal irritation, amounting to gastro-enteritis. In toxic doses it causes renal hyperemia, great irritation of the urinary tract, violent hematuria and strangury, with suppression of urine and albuminuria.

It stimulates the heart, increases the arterial tension for a time, increases the temperature and exalts the mental faculties. Ultimately there is a reduction of physical strength, muscular insecurity, tremblings, incoordination, great nervous irritation, wandering of the mind, incoherence, insensibility and coma, breathing stertorous and labored, from paralysis of respiration; face cyanosed or flushed, pupils dilated. All exudations contain its odor.

While violent symptoms have often been produced by full medicinal doses of turpentine, fatal results have seldom. occurred. Five ounces have been taken by adults with recovery. Children have died from overdoses in a few instances. The agent is eliminated through the kidneys and mucous membrane, and this fact explains its immediate influence upon these organs and structures.

Specific Symptomatology—In two marked conditions apparently diametrically opposite in their character, this agent is specific.

First. In excessive secretion of mucus—catarrhal discharges from whatever cause, especially if there be relaxed, enfeebled, atonic mucous membranes. It may be given with confidence.

Second; in gastric or intestinal inflammation, or in persistent fevers, with dry, red, glazed tongue, dry mucous membranes—tympanites, with suppression of the secretions of all gastric and of intestinal glands.

It is also indicated by a steady distress or dull grinding pain in the abdomen, a sensation of hardness across the abdomen, with tendency to constipation, with general inactivity of the entire glandular structure of the gastrointestinal tract.

It increases the tone and capillary circulation of all the mucous structures, and in the abdomen of the muscular structures of the intestines also. Its antiseptic powers are great, destroying parasites and germs of disease, and inhibiting putrefaction and fermentation.

In intestinal disorders of childhood it prevents the formation of lactic and butyric acids, and the irritation caused by their presence.

Therapy—The specific indications suggest the use of turpentine in acute and chronic bronchitis when there is an excessive discharge of mucus. Its influence may be observed from the first.

It controls the cough, allays the excessive bronchial secretion, soothes the irritation throughout the chest, relieves the diffused soreness and promotes the cure. In pharyngitis and laryngitis it is of value also.

In acute inflammations within the chest its external application is of much value, especially in pneumonitis or capillary bronchitis with diffused soreness. Soreness and tenderness in acute fevers and inflammations are relieved by the external use of turpentine, while quick, sharp, acute pain is best combated by the external use of mustard and anodyne counter-irritants.

In croup its influence is direct. In both the mucous and membranous forms it has accomplished excellent results. It is given internally, applied externally, and its vapors are inhaled in these cases for a short time, careful watch being kept for evidences of its irritating influence upon the kidneys. In some extreme cases where it has not been previously used, a single large dose of ten or fifteen drops to a child of five years or above, will apparently exercise a prompt influence.

In diphtheria with occlusion of the larynx, throat or nasal passages, from the membrane, it should be dropped on the surface of hot water in a close-mouthed vessel, and the vapor inhaled for a few minutes every two or three hours. It may be used in this manner with excellent results with an equal amount of the oil of eucalyptus. It may be also used in an atomizer for this purpose. In all throat difficulties its external application is beneficial.

It is a remedy for acute and chronic nasal catarrh and if given persistently it will prove most serviceable, even in stubborn, chronic cases. In gastric or intestinal catarrh it is a remedy of much value given in proper doses in palatable emulsion. Pain due to this condition is quickly relieved by turpentine, and atonic, relaxed and enfeebled mucous or muscular structures quickly restored, and normal function attained.

Turpentine is a most excellent remedy in the treatment of typhoid typhus and low forms of fever, and in typhoid complications of acute inflammations. In these conditions, when the tongue is dry, glazed and dark red, the temperature persistently high, the pulse small, wiry, rapid and feeble, with distention of the abdomen from tympanites, the urine scanty and dark, the intestinal glands ulcerated and intestinal hemorrhage present, turpentine is certainly a most efficient remedy. Its antiseptic influence is exercised in conjunction with its restorative power over the mucous and intestinal glands. It is given in doses of from two to five drops every two or three hours.

In peritonitis or appendicitis with any of the above phenomena with tympanites the agent is prescribed with only good results.

In all conditions within the abdomen where its internal use is demanded, especially if there is distention of the abdominal parieties from the accumulation of gases, the external use of turpentine is important. A stupe may be prepared by wringing a piece of flannel out of hot water and sprinkling a few drops of turpentine over its surface as it is applied. This should be kept hot by being properly covered. A popular domestic method is to melt a quantity of lard and add to it an equal quantity of turpentine and apply this freely to the surface. Olive oil is a good menstruum, but an increased proportion of this oil is required because of less density than the lard.

In all cases pain must not be caused by the turpentine applications. Its influence also upon the kidneys must be watched, and if difficult, painful or burning urination, or scanty urination occurs, or the least blood appears in the urine, it must be stopped at once, at least for a time. In large doses it produces nephritis, strangury and priapism. Inhaled constantly it will produce these symptoms in those otherwise healthy.

Turpentine has been used in passive hemorrhages. It prevents the hemorrhage of typhoid and controls hemorrhage in gastric ulceration. It controls hematuria given in small doses, in some cases, and also the hemorrhage of scurvy and purpura hemorrhagica. In extreme persistent postpartum. hemorrhage, after complete evacuation of the womb, it has been painted over the inner lining of the womb with immediate control of the hemorrhage. The conditions demanding its use in passive hemorrhage are great relaxation of tissue, lack of tone, dilated and atonic blood vessels, with constitutional depression-conditions permitting a passive transudation of blood.

In catarrh of the bladder it is an excellent remedy. It may be given in conjunction with other measures or suggested remedies. In all these cases the indications for other remedies should be promptly met to facilitate the action of this remedy.

Turpentine internally is a serviceable remedy for leucorrhea, either of a specific or non-specific character. It has long been used in the treatment of gonorrhea, but is not the best of our remedies. In pyelitis with excessive mucous discharges, in gleet, in subacute gonorrhea, it will allay the discharge occasionally when other agents have been inefficient.

Incontinence of urine from relaxation and feebleness of structure has been benefited by turpentine.

In the treatment of dysentery when the violent phenomena have been controlled, and in some exhausting diarrheas, turpentine will be found of much service. It is best given in small doses in such cases. It has been used in yellow fever and in cholera also.

Turpentine is applied to swellings from chronic rheumatism of the joints, to plethoric swellings, and slow forming abscesses.

It is of much value in chilblains, and, although painful, has been painted over small burned areas. It has been used in gangrene also with good results.

Erysipelas has been treated with turpentine, but we cannot commend its influence.

Turpentine is an efficient anthelmintic for the removal of taenia. It is given in a single full dose of from thirty to sixty minims upon rising in the morning. It may be followed shortly by a tablespoonful of castor oil in a teaspoonful of hot milk. The patient should fast, until the oil operates. All nervous phenomena dependent upon the irritation caused by the presence of the worms will abate with the destruction of the worms. This is not due to any nerve sedative influence of the turpentine, however.

Whitford treated thirty cases of trichina spiralis at one time with the persistent use of turpentine. Five drops every three hours was sufficient. The diagnosis in the larger number of the cases was confirmed by the microscope. As every case recovered which was so treated, his confidence was naturally confirmed in this use of turpentine. At another time two parties were known to have eaten of a certain lot of pork which on examination was found teeming with trichina. Both were affected in the same manner and death seemed imminent. One was treated with turpentine and recovered; the other died. In nearly all of the cases, the beneficial results were plainly traceable to this remedy.

The American Materia Medica, Therapeutics and Pharmacognosy, 1919, was written by Finley Ellingwood, M.D.
It was scanned by Michael Moore for the Southwest School of Botanical Medicine.