Application of gurjan oil

Application of gurjan oil, an oil extracted from the gurjan tree in Asia, is perhaps the most curious of all the treatments Danielssen describes in his triennial reports. In the summer of 1874, he had the oil sent from superintendent Roepstorff in the Andaman Islands, with a report from a Dr Dougall, who claimed to have achieved good results when using the oil to treat leprosy. Danielssen was critical of the report and believed that the oil had not cured anyone who was truly afflicted with leprosy. As always, he nevertheless wanted to conduct his own trials.

In the Lungegård Hospital, nine men were selected to trial Dougall’s gurjan oil treatment. The women were also offered the treatment, but Danielssen points out in a note that they would not undergo the treatment until they had seen how the men fared.

The men would apply the oil to each other in a locked room kept at 26–28°C, for a full four hours each day. The treatment was divided into two sessions, from 09–11 in the morning and from 17–19 later in the day. The ointment they rubbed into each other consisted of one-part gurjan oil and three-parts lime water and resembled freshly churned butter. When they were finished, they would go about their daily work. The next morning, they had to remove the resinous, sticky mass from their skin using dried soil. This was in accordance with Dr Dougall’s recipe and was the only thing that worked. Like Dougall, Danielssen first tried soap, but that didn’t work. After cleaning their skin with soil, they would take a lukewarm bath, and then begin applying the ointment to each other again.

Although all nine men were in the early stages of the disease and should be in the best possible position to be cured, the experiments yielded no results. Danielssen concluded that the gurjan oil treatment was completely ineffective, and it was not attempted again.

Illustration of the Gurjun tree from an old flora.
Illustration of the Gurjun tree from an old flora.
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