This section is from the book "Meals Medicinal", by W. T. Fernie. Also available from Amazon: Meals Medicinal: With "Herbal Simples" Curative Foods From the Cook in Place of Drugs From the Chemist.
Tar (Pix Liquida) is extracted by heat from the Scotch fir; it has been long employed by doctors both externally, and internally. Tar-water was extolled in 1747 by Bishop Berkeley (Siris) almost as a panacea; he gave it for scurvy, skin diseases, sores, asthma, and rheumatism. It promotes several of the bodily secretions, particularly the urine. Tar yields pyro-ligneous acid, oil of tar, and pitch, also guaiacol, and creosote. Syrup of tar is an officinal medicine in U.S. America, for chronic bronchitis, and winter cough. Tar ointment is highly efficacious for curing some skin eruptions; but in eczema no preparation of tar should be applied as long as the skin weeps, and is actively inflamed. Dr. Cullen met with a singular practice carried out regarding tar: A leg of mutton was put to roast, being basted during the whole process with tar instead of butter; whilst it roasted a sharp skewer was frequently thrust into the substance of the meat to let the juices run out, and with the mixture of tar and gravy found in the dripping-pan the body of the patient was anointed all over for three or four consecutive nights, the same body-linen being worn throughout all this time. The plan proved quite successful in curing obstinate lepra. The Swedes call the fir "the scorbutick tree "to this day.
Tar-water is to be made by stirring a pint of tar with half a gallon of water for fifteen minutes, and then decanting it; from half a pint to a pint of this may be taken daily. Tar ointment is prepared with five parts of tar to two pounds of yellow wax. Said Mrs. Joe Gargery, in Cheat Expectations (C. Dickens), to her boy brother Pip, whom she had brought up by hand (and a hard one, too!), "You come along, and be dosed." "Some medical beast had revived tar-water in those days as a fine medicine, and Mrs. Joe always kept a supply of it in the cupboard, having a belief in its virtues correspondent to its nastiness. At the best of times so much of this elixir was administered to me (says Pip in after life) as a choice restorative, that I was conscious of going about smelling like a new fence. On this particular morning the urgency of my case demanded a pint of the mixture, which was poured down my throat for my greater comfort while Mrs. Joe held my head under her arm, as a boot would be held in a bootjack.
Joe (her meek, big husband) got off with half a pint, but was made to swallow that (much to his disturbance as he sat slowly munching, and meditating before the fire) because he had ' had a turn.' Judging from myself, thought poor little Pip, I should say he certainly had a turn afterwards if he had had none before."Edward Fitzgerald, writing to John Allen from Boulogne (July, 1840), said: "I have just concocted two gallons of tar-water under the directions of Bishop Berkeley; it is to be bottled off this very day, after a careful skimming, and then drank by those who can, and will. It is to be tried first on my old woman; if she survives, I am to begin, and it will then gradually spread into the parish, through England, Europe, etc., as the small pebble stirs the peaceful lake".
Against the foot-rot of sheep, tar is most efficacious, as the trite saying tells, "Not to lose a sheep for want of a ha'porth of tar".
In chronic disease of the kidneys the removal of a patient for a residence among, or near pine woods will often prove beneficial, by reason of the terebinthinate atmosphere constantly respired. A diet consisting mainly of skim milk, butter milk, and whey, will give material assistance to this cure by saving the kidneys from hard excretory work.