Turpentine is an organic solvent. Its vapor can irritate the skin and eyes,
damage the lungs and respiratory system, as well as the central nervous system
when inhaled, and cause renal failure when ingested, among other things. Being
combustible, it also poses a fire hazard.
Turpentine and petroleum distillates such as coal oil and kerosene have been
used medicinally since ancient times, as topical and sometimes internal home
remedies. Topically it has been used for abrasions and wounds, as a treatment
for lice, and when mixed with animal fat it has been used as a chest rub, or
inhaler for nasal and throat ailments. Many modern chest rubs, such as the Vicks
variety, still contain turpentine in their formulations.
Taken internally it was used as treatment for intestinal parasites because of
its alleged antiseptic and diuretic properties, and a general cure-all as in
Hamlin's Wizard Oil. Sugar, molasses or honey were sometimes used to mask the
taste. Internal administration of these toxic products is no longer common
Turpentine was a common medicine among seamen during the Age of Discovery,
and one of several products carried aboard Ferdinand Magellan's fleet in his
first circumnavigation of the globe.
Turpentine was a common additive in cheap gin until the 20th century and gave
it its characteristic juniper berry flavor without the need for pricier
distillations with aromatic spices and berries.