Sunday, August 21, 2011

Kerosene, Panacea of Medicine, 160 Yrs Ago

Kerosene, Panacea of Medicine, 160 Yrs Ago

Back during the years of folk medicine, folk lore and superstition, about 160 years ago, kerosene was the new magic potion in healthcare.  Folk medicine saw kerosene mixed with molasses and used to treat coughs in Newfoundland.  One recipe reads, make cough drops by boiling a mixture of molasses, kerosene oil and ginger, let it cool until it solidifies and cut into candies.

First Aid
Kerosene is often used as a replacement for alcohol to treat cuts and burns, stop bleeding, and reduce the swelling and bleeding of hemorrhoids. Folk medicine sees kerosene as a powerful antidote for snakebites. Home health representatives of yore often used kerosene; it was a popular rub/liniment for rheumatism.  Cold sores have long been treated with kerosene.  Dip a clean cloth or paper towel in Kerosene and dab it on your cold sore.

More Serious Ailments
A teaspoon of kerosene and a sweetener for whooping cough, along with onions fried soft in chicken fat, wrapped in a fat-soaked cotton cloth and applied to the chest and back.  Kerosene was early recognized as good medicine: The 1918 Flu pandemic left many convinced that a level Tablespoon full of sugar, kerosene and a dab of Vick’s Vapor Rub would stave off the flu and colds, both viral infections. 
Internal parasites
Many accounts by Vietnam POWs say they would as often as possible secretly grab a kerosene lamp and swallow a slug of the fuel to fight the intestinal worms they got from
the food and water they lived on in the prison camps.  Grandmothers offered a teaspoon of kerosene, taken internally for parasites.  Drink 2 tablespoons of kerosene but no more. If necessary, you can repeat this treatment in 24 to 48 hours. Be careful not to inhale the fumes. The fumes may cause lung irritation.  Take a soup spoon of caster oil with 3 drops of kerosene to treat infestation of tapeworms.

 In New Zealand, pioneers consumed lump sugar dipped in kerosene which, when exuded through the pores kept the hordes of sand flies away.  Kerosene was once widely used to kill head and body lice.  It has been used to prevent mosquito breeding in malaria-ridden areas. Kerosene is known as an excellent bedbug wash.  Wear a kerosene soaked thread around your ankles to repel chiggers

Kills Fungus
For Athlete’s Foot, some believe soaking your feet in Kerosene will kill fungi involved in Athlete’s Foot, moccasin fungus and toenail fungi.

Cleaning product
A 19th century Ogilvie book advises homemakers that a spoonful of kerosene oil added to a kettle of hot water will make “windows, looking glasses and picture glasses bright and clear”.  Ogilvie claimed that kerosene would accomplish other little miracles around the house as well. For example: “When your kitchen sink is rusty, rub it over with kerosene; kerosene will clean your hands better than anything else; squeaky shoes are cured by dipping the soles in kerosene; the white spots appearing in the spring on the lining of your refrigerator will disappear if you rub the zinc with kerosene.”

Cosmetic Kerosene
Cosmetic kerosene is sold today on the internet.
It is described as folk medicine, with the addition of castor oil, egg yolk and a few drops of lemon juice, to strengthen the hair.  The same site touts cosmetic kerosene that is used on the skin of the scalp acts against static electricity in the hair, facilitates combing and modeling.  They go on to say that vitamins added to kerosene, chamomile oil, trace elements and castor oil improves the appearance and condition of hair.  The cosmetic kerosene being sold is called:  nafta.

In the UK, kerosene is called 'parafin.' They also have a medicinal product called 'liquid parafin'.  These are two different products.

[Use of petroleum distillates as medication is not common but some cases are documented. A study (Crowder, 2001) showed kerosene sugar and candy ingested for colds, kerosene application for toothache and kerosene vinegar and pepper for rheumatism. Inhalation because of an unusual use of kerosene as folk medicine for upper respiratory tract infection was shown to result in pneumonia combined with contact dermatitis (Nussinovitch et al, 1992)…]

Today in Africa, limited studies have been conducted on people who are using petroleum products as medicines.  Kerosene seems to be the most popular product for sore throat; a cube of sugar is placed in a teaspoon of kerosene and slowly sucked.  The second most popular use is to dress wounds; it is applied full-strength and directly on the wound.  Other illnesses, such as whitlows, toothaches, poisonings, sores, boils, conjunctivitis, swollen lymph nodes and diarrhea have also been treated with Kerosene.

Shebolith’s personal experience with the use of kerosene as a home remedy began in the early 1950’s, down around Asher, Oklahoma.  The grandparents had a massive vegetable garden, not a piece of ground lay bear during the growing season.  Following the planting, growing and fruiting of the vegetables were a plethora of crawling and flying insects.  It was inevitable that the grandchildren who came to visit would be bitten or stung by some creature.  Kerosene was the first line of defense after a bite or sting.  However, some bites and stings were treated with saliva wet snuff or chewing tobacco.

In my opinion, Kerosene alleviates pain almost instantly; it relieves itching and reduces swelling in all kinds of insect bites and stings.  I also remember having the warmed flannel cloth, treated with Vick’s Vapor Rub and Kerosene tied around my neck during bed rest while recovering from colds, coughs and sore throats.  Shebolith does not ever recall ingesting Kerosene.  Although in the 1990’s a denturist did say, I should rinse my mouth in Kerosene to kill gum disease.  I did and it worked.  One must be so careful though not to inhale the fumes and not to swallow the kerosene.  Kerosene ingestion can cause great injury and even death.  As always, Shebolith encourages moderation in all things.

The information provided here is for entertainment purposes only.  It is not intended to be relied upon or used as a substitution for advice from your physician or other health care professional. 


  1. Anonymous11/18/2012

    Can you still use this to help with a cough?

  2. Wonderful information you have provided here. Thank you so much.

  3. Anonymous10/29/2015

    Just spent a fun dinner with my siblings and cousins. We are all in our 50's and 60's now. When I asked if anyone remembered our Texas born Grandma giving us a drop or two of kerosene on a sugar cube, I thought they would laugh me out of the restaurant. I suffered severe respiratory problems from birth on and Grandma's recipe was more effective in ridding me of the mucous than all the medicines and inhalers I used later.

  4. Anonymous1/14/2016

    As a child I remember my mother giving us a teaspoon of sugar with a few drops of Kerosene when we came down with a cold. She would then put Vick's on our chest and under our nose. I don't remember if it worked but I don't think it tasted any worse than the cough medicines you get today.