The Physiomedical Dispensatory by William Cook, M.D., 1869    


Sulphur exists extensively in combination with numerous metals, especially with arsenic, iron, copper, and antimony. Though easily separated from iron and copper by sublimation, these pyrites always contain a notable quantity of arsenic, from which it is as yet impracticable to free the sulphur. The chief source of the world’s entire supply, is from the lava and rocks of volcanic regions. These substances are broken up, and placed in erect retorts, from the top of which a tube communicates with a close chamber. On applying a suitable heat to the retort, the sulphur sublimes, passes over into the chamber, and there condenses into a pulverulent mass known as flour of sulphur. If the tube be turned downward into another vessel partly filled with water, the sulphur will condense in molds under the water; and this is called roll sulphur, or brimstone. It is a non-metallic substance, of peculiar chemical interests; but too well known, in its physical qualities, to need description here. The sublimed or powdered article is most used for medical uses; but is always contaminated with a greater or less quantity of sulphuric acid, formed during the subliming process, which is objectionable. To purify it, it must be washed thoroughly with boiling water, till the trace of acid is so effectually removed as to cause no stain with litmus paper.

Properties and Uses:  Flour of sulphur, when well washed as above directed, seems to be an utterly harmless agent; and may be used internally, even in excessive quantities, with apparent impunity. It acts as a gentle laxative, securing solid stools; but especially passes to the skin, increasing invisible perspiration, and leaving the surface open and liable to contract “colds.” After a few days use, it will turn black any silver article worn about the person; and its odor may be detected on the surface. The internal use has been commended in chronic rheumatism, gout, catarrh, and piles; but it is of little worth in such cases. Slowly burning sulphur, conveyed around the body below the neck, is called a sulphur bath; but is simply the vapor of sulphurous acid gas mixed with air, and is an unadvisable remedy, no matter how highly praised for rheumatism and skin affections. The only worthy use to which it can be put, is in the treatment of itch; and it effectually destroys the itch animalcule. For this purpose, it is best applied as an ointment, thoroughly rubbed in after a good bath of soap and water once in twenty-four hours; though some also prescribe it in doses of one to two drachms, in molasses or milk, once a day, but this is needless. For eczema, and other skin affections simulating itch, it is of little value.

Sulphur ointment is readily prepared by mixing one ounce of sulphur with two ounces of lard. This is usually applied to the surface at bed-time, at the same time changing the under clothing. It should be rubbed in well, and four applications usually effect a cure. The addition of a few drops of bergamot oil will cover most of its unpleasant smell. The combination of sulphur with potassium, (sulphuret of potassium,) used as a wash, is more effective than the ointment. In the absence of this sulphuret, six ounces of sulphur may be mixed with three ounces of unslaked lime, a gallon of water added, and the whole boiled till the liquid looks orange-red. As the water evaporates, it should be replaced. The operation is quite unpleasant; but it yields a very efficient solution of bi-sulphuret of calcium, which may be diluted with from two to four times its own volume of water, and which rarely fails to cure the itch on two applications two days apart.

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