Wildroot And Turpentine

Old bottle collection

The Blind Pig Gang congregated in the coffee/tea area of the Keith House while we waited for our concert to start last week. While the community room was filling, several folks came to wish us well. I saw my friend, Tom, coming through the hallway.

Tom is one of our costars in the movie If I Had Wings To Fly-and he happens to be one of the funnest contra dance partners ever! I was happy to see he had come for our concert, but I was especially excited when I noticed he was carrying a brown paper bag because I had a good idea what was in it-something for me.

Old bottles from union county ga

Tom knows I’m obsessed with old bottles and if he runs across an interesting bottle he picks it up for me. He said the 4 he found weren’t that old, but I said they’re old enough for me!

Wildroot cream oil hair tonic

Two of the bottles still had liquid in them and part of their labels were still intact. This one is near mint condition. The other side of the bottle has detailed instructions for how one should use the product and claims it is perfect for training children’s hair. Makes me wish someone had trained my hair when I was little then maybe it’d look better today!

Pure gum spirit turpentine

The label isn’t as nice on this one, but you can still see it’s called Pure Gum Spirit Turpentine. In the past turpentine was used for coughs, worms, cuts, lice, bug bites, toothaches, headaches, leg cramps, colic in babies, and other aliments throughout Appalachia.

I found one of the strangest uses for turpentine in the book Folk Medicine In Southern Appalachia which was written by Anthony Cavender. The remedy was for pneumonia. The technique was called cupping. Turpentine was placed in a cup, set on fire, and then turned upside down on the side where the patient was experiencing pain. The hot turpentine formed a blister which I guess was supposed to burn or pull the sickness away.

If you have other information or memories about the bottles I’d love to hear it and I know Tom would too-so please leave a comment!



You Might Also Like


  • Reply
    January 1, 2022 at 1:30 am


  • Reply
    Suzi Phillips
    October 14, 2012 at 10:37 pm

    My mom still has very beautiful fingernails-she is very proud of them. When she got a fungus on her thumbnail a couple of years ago it was a cause for immediate medical attention! Prescriptions came, prescriptions went, the fungus stayed. Finally, my mom had had enough-she rooted around through her closet & found an ancient bottle of turpentine. Fungus went & quickly, too!

  • Reply
    Sandy Carlson (USA)
    October 13, 2012 at 10:21 pm

    I love the way these bottles become portals to history that lives and resonates in the present.

  • Reply
    October 13, 2012 at 2:39 pm

    I used Wild Root Cream Oil in the mid to late 50s. When I started to high school I didn’t have time to deal with hair in the mornings before the bus came. Milking and feeding all the livestock on a farm led to flat tops and burr cuts. My grandmother used turpintine and sugar on deep cuts and just turpintine on minor cuts and scrapes. I remember one cut I had when she was out of turpintine. She cleaned the area, poured sugar on it, wrapped it tight and poured coal ol on it. A few days later she removed the bandage, cleaned the area again and applied some salve and a fresh bandage. I think of her every time I see that scar.

  • Reply
    October 13, 2012 at 1:38 pm

    It’s interesting how certain things are used in such varied regions of the world. My husband is getting acupuncture and for the past 2 sessions has had cupping used on him and is getting immense relief from the pain and numbness in his left arm caused by a recent motor vehicle accident. I too love old bottles, but don’t have many of them any more…seems like every time we moved we always lost a few. However, right now I have an inkwell bottle, a lovely small bottle that I have no idea what it is, just that it is getting a greenish tint to it, an old milk bottle, one of my favorites is an old milk of magnesia bottle….love those cobalt blue bottles…have another smaller cobalt bottle that I have no clue what it was for either, oh and an old soda pop bottle from a local bottling place in Iowa that I got in a box of canning jars that I bought at an auction years ago when the kids were little. I have one bottle that’s not old but it’s fun…it’s the shape of a maple leaf….maple syrup came in it a few years back, but of course the store doesn’t cary that kind any more…I thought it would make a lovely bottle tree if I could get a bunch of those. LOL

  • Reply
    October 13, 2012 at 12:35 pm

    Cupping sounds like a real horror! I have only heard of turpentine (or kerosene) for toothache and cooties.

  • Reply
    October 13, 2012 at 11:46 am

    You know, reading about all these comments today I remember something I heard this guy saying once. He said boys I can remember when my wife and I were first married and how things have changed now. I remember at night when we went to bed the air was filled with the smell of perfume, bath powders and other nice scents. Now when we go to bed, all you can smell is turpentine, mustard plaster and Ben Gay!

  • Reply
    October 13, 2012 at 11:34 am


  • Reply
    October 13, 2012 at 11:11 am

    Get Wildroot Cream Oil Charlie……it keeps your hair in …………..? Forgot the rest.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    October 13, 2012 at 10:22 am

    Until quite recently the place I work sold medicinal turpentine and spirits of ammonia in tiny bottles. Now we have only sweet oil, castor oil and iodine tincture. Bradley is right about the ammonia curing a headache. You only need to smell it. But it can also cause a headache similar to a dynamite headache. Spirits of Ammonia is what they used to call smelling salts.

  • Reply
    October 13, 2012 at 9:59 am

    I’ve used Wildroot Cream Oil a lot
    when I was little and I remember
    how good it smelled. It was the
    style to slick your hair back like
    those gangesters of the 30’s.
    My daddy put turpentine on our
    feists when they got snakebite, and that happened alot.
    But my favorite hair tonic was
    Bryllcream…a little dab’ll do

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    October 13, 2012 at 9:48 am

    As a teenager I used Wildroot Cream Oil to make my hair part where I wanted it to. As I grew older the part grew wider and wider until now it is below my ears on both sides of my head. So now I use only soap and a razor to solve all my hair problems. No combs, no brushes, no gray, no hairstylists, no barbers, no clogged drains, no JFM, no spray, no wind, no comb-over. Just a bit of glare. Ahhhhhhhhh!

  • Reply
    Sue Crane
    October 13, 2012 at 9:27 am

    the turpentine treatment you are talking about is very similary to a technique called “cupping” which dates back to ancient times.
    I have a milk bottle or two which I have kept — my children were amazed as they had never seen milk in bottles, always cartons!

  • Reply
    dolores barton
    October 13, 2012 at 9:06 am

    That was very interesting. I don’t think I would ever have considered medicinal use of turpentine. I guess having unmanageable hair was a negative and someone found a help. Hummm! I wonder if it smells good! Happy day!

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    October 13, 2012 at 8:56 am

    I got my DVD in the mail yesterday, Yea!! I’m anxious to see it again.
    The first bottle, the big one, is familiar to me but I can’t remember what was in it. I can remember the bottle shape but not the contents. Maybe some kind of cologne.
    My mother always used turpentine for cuts and such.
    There is a Chinese treatment that involves burning mugwart under a glass, over a meridian point. It sounds similar to what your talking about with the turpentine. It creates a suction.
    Tipper, you need a barn wood shelf to display all those pretty bottles you have!But then you might need a bigger house, cause you have lots of bottles and such.

  • Reply
    Teresa Cole
    October 13, 2012 at 8:45 am

    I wish I had some of that liquid in a bottle when I was young also. Maybe it would have helped those wild frizzies from home perms that my well meaning Mom gave me.

  • Reply
    Tim Hassell
    October 13, 2012 at 8:36 am

    I remember Wildroot hair tonic but not the turpentine bottle.
    Tipper, with your fascination for bottles, do you have a bottle tree? They were a common sight in my childhood and are making a comeback now. They are taking a more sophisticated form now using metal branches and wine bottles. I like the old ones, made from cedar trees and smaller bottles, better. But the metal ones gave me an idea for combining two collectables. Using the old wire/metal corn driers to hold small medicine-type bottles, then hanging the whole affair maybe on the porch so the sun could shine through the bottles. It’s a thought to add to my “Some day I’m Gonna” list.
    Hope ya’ll all have a great day.

  • Reply
    Ed U Cates
    October 13, 2012 at 8:31 am

    So, let me get this right. You put a flammable liquid in a cup, ignite it, the vapors inside reach extreme temperatures, you place it tightly against the afflicted flesh, the lack of oxygen extinguishes the flame, the vapors cool inside the cup and form a vacuum, the vacuum pulls against the skin and draws the misery through it, along with blood and other bodily fluids. So ain’t the result similar to what teenagers do to each other, only on a grander scale. I can picture the pride on the face of a 17 year old young man walking into homeroom with a cup sized hickey.

  • Reply
    Tim Cuthbertson
    October 13, 2012 at 7:57 am

    I used Wildroot Cream Oil when I was a kid in the 50’s and 60’s. I can still hear the man in the TV commercials calling out, “Wildroot Cream Oil Charlie!” I always liked the way it smelled.
    The only thing I remember using turpentine for was paint thinner or cleaning oily things.

  • Reply
    Mike McLain
    October 13, 2012 at 7:44 am

    I remember Wildroot Cream Oil well. Never used it because my hair in those days was completely untrainable by anything. It is better behaved these days.
    I never heard of using turpentine for medical purposes, though. It was for thinning oil-based paints and for cleaning the same paints from brushes..

  • Reply
    B. ruth
    October 13, 2012 at 7:13 am

    I remember when hair tonic was popular for men…As a kid, a bottle of hair tonic, aftershave or Old Spice cologne was a selection for a birthday or Christmas present for Dad…
    Most of your bottles look to be from the forties or fifties…Always a good thing to have the intact label and lid..Most of the time the lid has rusted away and the label etched away by insects and moisture…
    I love old bottles too. The large square bottle could be an old hand lotion bottle…Reference manufactures of those products (say lotion companies of the fifties) in the past era and then each specific site for some pictures of each companies product bottles…Helena Rubinstein, Lancombe, Max Factor, etc…Worked for me one time, anyhow..LOL
    I like to use rice and a good bleachy suds and shake, shake to clean the inside of my bottles…sometimes you have to go to aquarium gravel and swish it several times to loosen the crud…Be very careful of the label. I usually wash the front with a damp cloth and let it dry real good and coat it with a matte covering several times. Then if it should get wet cleaning the inside maybe it won’t come loose as easy.
    Wow, I didn’t mean to write a book.
    Thanks for a great post Tipper,
    PS…If you gut feeling tells you that you have a rare bottle, use extreme care in washing, etc..

  • Reply
    October 13, 2012 at 5:57 am

    This is not about turpentine but rather spirits of amonia. One morning a number of years ago a girl came to the room where I was working. we knew each other and she ask me if I had a quarter she could borrow. She said she had a headache and she had left her purse in the dorm and she didn’t want to have to walk back across campus to get it. She said she wanted to go down to the corner drug store and buy a bottle of spirits of amonia; it cost a quarter (tells you how long ago that was). She went on to say that if a person put several drops into a cup of water and drank it, it would instanly stop a headache; I gave her the quarter. I can’t remember how many drops she said now. Let me say that this is all hear say but, I know she said she and the other girls did this all the time. The spirits came in an amber one once bottle. The picture of the turpentine bottle made me think of it. I always thought that stuff was poison but it didn’t seem to hurt her that morning. Infact, she came by and gave me the thumbs up and smiled and said “Headache’s gone!”

  • Leave a Reply