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compiled by Dirk Gillabel, 2017
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On the internet there is a lot of confusion about taking natural turpentine for its healing benefits. Some people report that small doses of turpentine have healed them of their ailments or diseases. Others claims that you should never take turpentine orally, it will kill you. The latter seem to make that statement based on the wrong information, as turpentine has a history of healing benefits, and it is allowed by the FDA as a food additive, and as an ingredient in certain medicines. The vague statement that turpentine is lethal probably comes from a misinterpretation of the scientific data. A lot of information is available about the toxic effects of chronic exposure to turpentine fumes in work places. I have found that in some official documents a lot of symptoms are mentioned for turpentine poisoning, but they don't mention at what dose turpentine become toxic to the body. This creates a lot of confusing at the least, even more so when they don't mention if that poisoning resulted from oral ingestion of from breathing fumes.
At the other hand, there is little scientific information available about turpentine's healing and/or toxic effects of taking turpentine orally.
Turpentine is an essential oil (from the pine tree). Essential oils do have many healing benefits when taken in small doses. Too much or undiluted is never good.
This article aims at providing you with the necessary information about the nature of turpentine oil, the history, the healing and the toxic effects. I have given the links to the relevant sources so you can look up the original documents or information yourself.
Text between square brackets  is mine to clarify certain terms which might not be clear to the reader.
Natural turpentine comes from the pine tree and is made up primarily of two volatile terpenes: alpha-(around 65%) and beta-(around 25%) pinenes. Percentages vary according to the kind of pine tree and the processing method. Terpenes are the dominant odorous compounds emitted by trees, shrubs, flowers and grasses.
The other principal constituents are camphene, limonene, 3-carene, and terpinolene.
Natural turpentine, as a solvent, has been used in the past for thinning of oil-based paints. Also, note that turpentine is a flammable substance.
Mineral turpentine, also called white spirit, mineral spirits or petroleum spirits, is a petroleum-derived clear liquid used as a common organic solvent in painting. It is a mixture of aliphatic compounds (C7 to C12 nonaromatic hydrocarbon molecules). Mineral turpentine is a hazardous substance.
In this article we talk only about natural turpentine.
Turpentine (also called spirits of turpentine, gum of turpentine, oil of turpentine, wood turpentine) is a fluid obtained by the distillation of resin obtained from pine trees (Pinus spp.).
To tap into the sap producing layers of the tree, turpentiners use a combination of hacks to remove the pine bark. Once debarked, pine trees secrete oleoresin (balsam) onto the surface of the wound as a protective measure to seal the opening, to resist exposure to micro-organisms and insects, and to prevent vital sap loss. Turpentiners wound trees in V-shaped streaks down the length of the trunks to channel the oleoresin into containers. The oleoresin (also called gum turpentine, pine gum, pine resin) obtained from these trees consists of 75 to 90 percent resin (gum rosin) and 10 to 25 percent turpentine oil.
picture from LiveJournal
Crude oleoresin collected from wounded trees is then evaporated by steam distillation.
The type and amount of specific constituents is dependent on the type of pine tree, the geographical location of the trees, and the season of tree harvest.
There is a very nice article about the history of turpentine harvest and distillery at the DaysGoneBy website with a lot of old pictures.
Distilling turpentine from the crude resin in the pine forests of North Carolina 1903 (DaysGoneBy)
Turpentine contains mostly two terpenes: α- and β-pinenes. What are terpenes?
Terpenes are not only found in the turpentine oil from pine trees. Terpenes are largely found in essential oils of many types of medicinal plants and flowers. They give the unique smell of aromatic plants. Some examples:
There are also some insects, marine algae, and sea slugs producing terpenes.
Terpenes play an important role by providing the plant with natural protection from bacteria and fungus, insects and other environmental stresses. Hence, their strong anti-microbial properties.
Terpenes are small molecules that are easily absorbed into the blood stream through the nose or lungs, and through the intestinal tract. Terpenes are so small they can easily cross the blood-brain barrier, which means they can be absorbed by the brain and have a direct effect on the brain.
Terpenes are anti-inflammatory and in large doses have anesthetic properties.
Terpenes are also major biosynthetic building blocks within nearly every living creature. "There is a multitude of different forms of terpenes ranging from aromatic and seasoning substances, internal scaffolding of cells up to hormones and vitamins. Nature prefers modular structures (the degree to which a system's components may be separated and recombined). This is clearly evident in terpenes since they all have a branched hydrocarbon called isoprene consisting of 5 carbon atoms. The combination of two isoprene units results in monoterpenes with 10 carbon atoms in all. This array can be continued in analogy: diterpenes have 20, triterpenes 30 and tetraterpenes feature 40 carbon atoms. By stringing together a multiple of these 10 carbon units, natural polyterpenes like caoutchouc (natural rubber) and gutta-percha (natural latex) will generate. A further significant group are sesquiterpenes (10 C + 5 C = 15 carbon atoms). By means of functionalizing the terpene base bodies, alcohols, aldehydes, ketones, ethers and acids will form as well as their esters and, not forgetting, also a multitude of cyclic compounds such as steroids, among others." (Fragrances, vitamins and hormones - the ABC of terpenes)
Some vitamins and provitamins also show a terpene structure: ß-carotene, Vitamin A, E, K1 and coenzyme Q10.
In short, terpenes are pretty important in nature.
There is an interesting scientific paper, published in 2009, describing several healing effects of turpentine based on a long list of scientific literature:
The Essential Oil of Turpentine and its Major Volatile Fraction (α- and β-pinenes): A review, by Beatrice Mercier , Josiane Prost , and Michel Prost, published in the International Journal of Occupational Medicine and Environmental Health, 2009 [Vol. 22, no 4].
This paper provides a summary review of the major biological features concerning the essential oil of turpentine, its origin and use in traditional and modern medicine. It details the safety of the two major compounds of turpentine (the α- and β-pinenes) to human health. Here are a few quotes showing the strong anti-microbial properties of these terpenes:
[Many pathogenic bacteria are Gram-negative; they are an important medical challenge, as their outer membrane protects them from many antibiotics. Gram-positive bacteria are more receptive to antibiotics than Gram-negative, due to the absence of the outer membrane.]
In short the α- and β-pinenes eliminate many bacteria and fungi. Turpentine also looks very promising in eliminating Candida, a yeast organism that apparently is found in most people.
Glessner Company Turpo Free Sample Ointment Tin
Turpentine has a long history in the healing arts. In ancient Greece, Hippocrates, Dioscoride or Galien, used the turpentine oil for its properties against lung diseases and biliary lithiasis (the presence of stones or stones inside the gallbladder).
Wikipedia mentions that "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." (Ferdinand Magellan (1480 – 1521) was a Portuguese explorer who organized the Spanish expedition to the East Indies from 1519 to 1522, resulting in the first circumnavigation of the Earth.)
In the 16th century surgeons put oil on wounds. In 1536, during the siege of Turin, Ambroise Pare, a surgeon, ran out of oil. He resorted to a mixture of egg whites, rose oil and turpentine. (Local Histories)
Turpentine was considered to be effective in expelling worms from the intestines, as an article in The Belfast Monthly Magazine of 1811 demonstrates: Cases illustrating the effects of Oil of Turpentine in the expelling the tape worm, by John Coakly Lettsom, M. D. and president of the Medical Society.
In the 19th and 20th century Europe, it was recommended against "the blennorrhoea (an excessive discharge of watery mucus, especially from the urethra or the vagina) and cystitis (an infection that affects part of the urinary tract). Also, for neuralgias (nerve pain), rheumatism, sciatica (pain going down the leg from the lower back), nephritis (inflammation of the kidneys), drop (sudden fall to the ground without an obvious 'blackout'), constipation and mercury salivation (to produce an excessive secretion of saliva by mercurial poisoning)." (The essential oil of turpentine and its major volatile fraction (α- and β-pinenes))
"In the past, turpentine oil was used medicinally both externally and internally. A clear distinction was made between turpentine oil and the steam-distilled wood turpentine [=from finely chopped stumped wood], with only the former accepted for use medicinally. Externally, turpentine oil was used in liniments as a stimulant and counterirritant. Turpentine to be taken orally was “rectified” by reacting it with sodium hydroxide. Most of the original oil was distilled off the sodium hydroxide/turpentine mixture, and then dried with either anhydrous calcium chloride or anhydrous sodium sulfate. Rectified turpentine was used in human and veterinary practice as a stimulant diuretic [increases production of urine], anthelmintic [killing of parasitic worms and other intestinal parasites], carminative [prevent formation of gas in the gastrointestinal tract or facilitate the expulsion of said gas], and expectorant [helps loosening of mucus in lungs]," (Turpentine, Review of Toxicological Literature, by Karen E. Haneke, M.S., 2002)
Dr. Jean Valnet (1920-1995), a French doctor of Psychiatry, Microbiology, Colonial Medicine and Surgery, has an extensive description of the healing properties of turpentine in his 1983 book La phytothérapie: Traitement des Maladies par les Plantes (Phytotherapy: Treatment of Diseases by Plants) as:
Dr. Thomas' Eclectic Oil, 1920
spirits of turpentine, camphor, oil of tar, red thyme, fish oil
For external and internal use. For coughs due to colds and common sore throat; for lameness and soreness of the muscles; to relieve the pains of simple neuralgia, earache and toothache; to allay inflammation in superficial bruises, cuts, burns and scalds, minor sprains, nonvenomous insect bites, frostbites, chapped hands, corns, bunions, and warts.
As with all products, health or toxicity is a matter of dosage. One tablet of Aspirin, for example, can diminish pain, fever, or inflammation, but twenty tablets will cause problems. The same with natural products. Too much turpentine will cause adverse reactions. It is necessary to be aware of the possible dangers of too much turpentine, because turpentine is a refined and strong essential oil.
A lot of people seem to think that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) considers turpentine to be poisonous and that it will kill you if you consume even one drop, but that is a misinterpretation of the data.
The FDA lists turpentine in Food Additives Permitted For Direct Addition To Food For Human Consumption. This is a list of natural flavoring substances and natural adjuvants that may be safely used in food. Source: [Code of Federal Regulations] [Title 21, Volume 3] [Revised as of April 1, 2017] [CITE: 21CFR172.510]
In regard to using turpentine in medicines, the FDA has been restricting the use of turpentine as an ingredient.
In Turpentine, Review of Toxicological Literature, by Karen E. Haneke, M.S., 2002) it is mentioned that:
"In a broad effort to remove ineffectual ingredients in non-prescription drugs, the FDA began the review of all non-prescription drugs in 1972 (FOI Services, 1989, 1990). In 1987, turpentine oil was considered by the FDA to be a "nonmonograph" ingredient in cough suppressant formulations and not to be used as such without FDA approval (Washington Drug Letter, 1987). Furthermore, in 1989, the FDA ruled that only one ingredient (guaifenesin) was effective as a cough expectorant. All formulations containing turpentine oil had to be reformulated within 12 months, or have sales halted (FOI Services, 1989). Turpentine oil was also banned for use in nasal decongestant medications unless the manufacturer could prove to the FDA that it was safe and effective as a nasal decongestant (FOI Services, 1990).
"In 1992, the FDA proposed banning 415 ingredients in over-the-counter medications because they were not shown to be safe and effective for their stated claims (FDA, 1992). Turpentine was listed as one of the ingredients to be banned for treatment of fever blisters, cold sores, insect bites and stings, menstrual pain, and treatment for poison ivy, oak, and sumac. Most of the ingredients had been in use prior to 1962, when a change in the law required drug manufacturers to submit proof of effectiveness for new drug products. No further information on this action was found."
In the Code of Federal Regulations of 2017 (CFR - Code of Federal Regulations Title 21), turpentine oil is approved by the FDA for these medicinal purposes:
If you are familiar with Vicks VapoRub, did you know that it contains turpentine oil, although it is listed as inactive ingredient. VapoRub is indicated for use temporarily relief of cough due to minor throat and bronchial irritation associated with the common cold. It also temporarily relieves minor aches and pains of muscles and joints.
How dangerous is the oral use of turpentine? Turpentine, Review of Toxicological Literature, by Karen E. Haneke, M.S., 2002) mentions two studies:
Ingestion of turpentine usually results in gastrointestinal (GI) tract irritation and central nervous system (CNS) depression within two to three hours. These effects generally subside within 12 hours except in severe exposure cases. Signs and symptoms of turpentine poisoning include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, weakness, somnolence [sleepiness], or agitation (Lewander and Aleguas, 1998) and in glucosuria [excretion of glucose into the urine], hematuria, albuminuria [the presence of red blood cells in the urine], and anuria [non-passage of urine, usually by failure of the kidneys] (Chapman, 1941).
It is not mentioned how much turpentine was consumed to result in these symptoms. The ingestion probably was of pure turpentine, not diluted.
How much is too much? The mean oral lethal dose (LD50) of turpentine is reported to be 5760 mg/kg for rats (NIOSH). The LD50 iis the dose at which half of the test population dies. It is expressed in the amount of the product per unit of body weight. 5760 mg/kg means 5.76 grams of turpentine per 1 kg of body weight. If we extend this to my body weight, 120 lb or 54 kg. (yes, I am a light=weight), then we have 311 grams. 311 grams of water is 311 ml. Turpentine's density is 0.9 (water is 1.0), thus 311 grams of turpentine is 280 ml. 280ml is 2.5 fluid ounces, or 1.2 cups. Frankly, I cannot imagine anybody drinking a whole cup of pure turpentine. It does give you an idea that consuming too much turpentine can give you a lot of problems. The Delware Health and Social Services writes that: "Fortunately, turpentine causes taste and odor problems before reaching toxic levels in humans." Nevertheless, keep it away from children.
Jennifer Daniels, the big proponents of turpentine for healing, states that one teaspoon of turpentine is the maximum dose she takes, once or twice a week. She started noticing strange effects when she took more than one teaspoon. One teaspoon is 5 ml.
The National Park Service in Colorado writes in its Environmental Contaminants Encyclopedia, Turpentine Entry (1997), (based on scientific literature) that
In a lot of websites, both alternative and governmental, and in toxicological data sheets of turpentine, is mentioned that even 15 ml can be fatal in children. That is not quite correct. The Toxicology Data Network,, Or ToxNet, which is a part of the U.S. National Library of Medicine, writes: "A value range of 15 to 90 ml has been determined to be the mean oral lethal dose for humans through numerous reports of turpentine fatalities. ADULT: A dose of 120 to 180 ml may be fatal if no treatment is obtained. PEDIATRIC: A dose of 15 ml was fatal in a 2-year-old child; however, benzene was present in the mixture. Children have survived ingestions of 2 to 3 ounces."
Benzene is extremely harmful. The American Petroleum Institute (API) stated in 1948 that "it is generally considered that the only absolutely safe concentration for benzene is zero" (Wikipedia). It is more likely that benzene killed the child. Nevertheless, keep turpentine away from children!
It is also interesting to know that there is no treatment for an overdose of turpentine. The doctor or emergency center can only monitor or treat the symptoms.
Turpentine is also used for skin applications. Here too, skin problems can result when over-used. Some people's skin is sensitive to turpentine oil. I have applied pure (undiluted) natural turpentine to my skin many times without any problems. If your skin is sensitive to turpentine, it is best to dilute the turpentine with another oil, like a massage oil.
The CDC mentions on one of its pages (Self-Treatment with Herbal and Other Plant-Derived Remedies -- Rural Mississippi, 1993) that "Although turpentine oil is a nontoxic and effective counter=irritant when applied to a small area of the skin, cutaneous [skin] application of larger amounts has been associated with vesicular eruptions [fluid filled pouch like a blister], urticaria [hives, a kind of skin rash with red, raised, itchy bumps], and vomiting."
There has been a lot of research for exposure to turpentine fumes and skin contact in work places.
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA, 1999), exposures to turpentine occur from the manufacture of turpentine oil and the rosin remaining after removal of the turpentine oil and its primary industrial uses as an ingredient (e.g. flavoring agent), solvent, industrial coatings, and starting material for other compounds. In addition, exposures can occur during pulp and paper processes.
Overexposure to turpentine may cause irritation to the eyes, nose, throat, and lungs.
The CDC has an Occupational Health Guideline for Turpentine.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH),, a department of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, list symptoms of over-exposure in work places, especially its fumes. It has a one-line comment if turpentine is swallowed: "Medical attention immediately". This is such a vague statement. How much has been swallowed? Diluted or undiluted?
If you really want to delve into the issue of occupational exposure, Toxnet quotes several studies of the harmful effects of chronic breathing of turpentine fumes and chronic skin contact.
Turpentine has been used to treat animals. Here are some examples, from Toxnet quoting from scientific literature:
The turpentine used must be natural turpentine from pine trees, pure and no other ingredients added. I use the Diamond G Forest Products Brand.
Turpentine has come into the daylight again by Dr. Jennifer Daniels (MD), who used it to treat her health problems. Since then, she has been publishing the use of turpentine for healing, and has given several interviews. She uses maximum one teaspoon on three sugar cubes, once a week. You can find her interviews on YouTube.
Other people have used different doses and different frequencies. Some have taken it on a daily bases with one or two days off every five or six days. It is suggested to start with a very low dose and work up from there. I started with two drops, and added two drops a day until I got at forty drops (=about half a teaspoon) a day, what I considered to be enough for me. My symptoms cleared up quickly. Every weekend I took one or two days off. I did not take it with sugar cubes, but with my cereal in order to dilute even more.
The reason to start with drop dosages is that when you take a large dose you might get a large die-off of microbes, and the body has to be able to handle this. There is no need to overwork the body.
Some people take the turpentine oil together with castor oil. People with candida tend to use this method as castor oil coats the digestive tract and helps to spread out the turpentine. Coconut oil, olive oil or any oil will also do.
It is also important to understand that while turpentine will kill off parasites and pathogenic microbes quickly, the body needs time to repair the damage they have done. In this light repeated intake of turpentine in low doses (once or twice a week) is often suggested to keep the parasites and microbes at bay while the body is repairing itself.
There is a post on the GoodMedical website about a person who cured his Lyme disease: Turpentine – Healing My Lyme And Chronic Fatigue
EarthClinic recommends turpentine for parasites, fungus and candida, autism, head lice, arthritis, gout, cold and flu viruses, sore throat, sinus problems, urinary tract infections.
A post by a reader of EarthClinic explains how a tapeworm was expelled.
Midwest Compassion Center writes about the effects of terpenes: mild sedative, relaxing effect on users and great for sleep, especially for those with insomnia. Due to its antibiotic properties, it has been shown to treat at least two common strains of malaria caused by Plasmodium falciparum. Ability to fight cancer by killing tumors. Scavenging for free radicals which are responsible for causing inflammation.
A Practical Treatise On Materia Medica And Therapeutics, by Roberts Bartholow lists various remedies using turpentine.
Turpentine can be stored and used in a dropper bottle but over time it will disintegrate the rubber.
This article is for informational purposes only. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.