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Dr. Gott: Readers share tales of a drawing salve

Peter H. Gott, M.D., United Media

DEAR DR. GOTT: Recently, you responded to a reader’s question regarding a drawing salve used by her entire family. The product resembled a Tootsie Roll. Your response was that she was likely looking for ichthammol and should request the product from her local pharmacy. Well, I asked my pharmacist for this but was told they no longer make it because they found it harmful. Now what?

DEAR READER: Once the article appeared in newspapers, my Web site was filled with responses from readers regarding this salve. One woman from North Carolina indicated her grandfather called it “grisly salve.” You would heat the end of the stick and apply the product to a bandage. And it is not made in that form anymore.

Another woman from Wisconsin indicated that the local Walgreens told her the product has not been manufactured for many years. She subsequently went online and learned that while Walgreens had not carried the product, it is available in health-food stores.

A reader from Oklahoma indicated the drawing salve is PRID, manufactured by Walker Pharmaceutical Co. in St. Louis, Mo. She got her supply from the Vermont Country Store.

A woman from Vermont stated the name is Griswold Salve, made in Hartford, Conn. It was taken off the market because of its high lead content. “Too bad,” she said. “It worked great.”

A gentleman from New Hampshire is sure it is Hardy’s Salve. He’s 74 years old and grew up with it because his grandfather used it, swore by it, and applied it to his grandson’s various scrapes when needed. His grandfather was from Cornish, N.H., where it was made. While it was once readily available, he has not seen it on the shelves of pharmacies for years. The amber-colored salve was crystalline in nature and melted easily when a lighted match was held to it. The stuff dripped into a teaspoon, from which it could be applied directly to the spot as needed. “Anyway, it was great stuff. All this was in the days when doctors and hospitals were few and far between and people relied on home remedies. People in those days often used herbs and plants they knew grew nearby or on their farms. And they were more active in their own cures and health than nowadays.”

A Nebraska gentleman indicated the salve sounds like something his grandmother used to make many years ago. The sticks looked like hard Tootsie Rolls. He has used it many times, and it does draw out slivers much better and faster than the ichthammol ointment mentioned. The recipe was passed down to him, but he doesn’t believe the ingredients are available anymore, and his supply of rolls, which he has kept for many years, is running low. The recipe calls for 2 pounds rosin, 4 ounces beeswax, 1 ounce cedar oil, 2 ounces mutton tallow and 2 ounces British oil. Melt the rosin, wax and mutton tallow over a hot fire. Stir in the oils. Pour it into a pan of cold water. When it’s cool enough, pull for a half hour. Roll and cut into sticks.

I called several of my local pharmacies and was told the product is available. It can also be purchased through several Web sites. The active ingredient – ammonium bituminosulfonate – is natural, obtained in the first step by dry distillation of sulfur-rich oil shale. It is used as a remedy for acne, eczema, psoriasis and in a 10 percent or 20 percent concentrate as a drawing salve. While it doesn’t “draw,” it softens the skin over a boil or splinter, allowing the boil to come to a head sooner and the splinter to expel itself from the body. It also decreases microorganisms in and around the site.

So there you have it, folks.

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