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Tar water

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Against allopathy
Alternative medicine
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Clinically unproven
An authentick narrative of the success of tar-water, in curing a great number and variety of distempers: with remarks and occasional papers relative to the subject: to which are subjoined, two letters from the author of Siris, shewing the medicinal properties of tar-water, and the best manner of making it.
—Thomas Prior, 1746[1]

Tar water was a quack remedy popular in the medieval period, consisting of pine tar and water.


By all accounts it was foul-tasting and of course entirely ineffective, so it died out, but enjoyed a brief resurgence in the 18th and 19th centuries; it was heavily promoted by Bishop Berkeley,[2] notably in his book Siris (1744).

It is mentioned in Charles Dickens' Great Expectations: young Pip and his brother-in-law Joe were often force fed it by Mrs. Joe.

The tar aroma is popular in Finland, and is available as an aqueous solution. It is used in candies, liqueurs, soaps and shampoos. This kind of tar water isn't usually associated with health claims. However, tar shampoo is advertised as being effective for dandruff.