Health – Charcoal


What images come to your mind with this one simple word? Burned toast? Roasting vegetables over the Bar-B-Q? Smoldering remains of a building or forest? Artistic drawings? Hmmm, how about pencil lead or diamonds, both of which are derived from carbon, another word for charcoal? How can our wonderful Creator use one simple lowly carbonaceous material to make things as diverse as pencil lead and diamonds? Yet beyond these things we find a material whose properties science has not been able to explain. One realm in which charcoal is highly beneficial to us is that of health and well-being.

Aside from the many ways charcoal exists naturally, there are a number of benefits that can be derived from the use of charcoal in its activated form. What is activated charcoal? Activated charcoal is charcoal whose adsorptive, (not absorptive) properties are greatly enhanced by doing a controlled burn of wood, bone or other natural substances which is then further treated by steam or air at elevated temperatures. Adsorption is “attaching onto” rather than “taking into” as in the case of absorption. In fact, “following activation of charcoal with pressurized steam or strong acid, the surface area of one cubic centimeter is 1000 square meters!”1 Activated charcoal can attract and hold 80 quarts of ammonia gas per one quart of pulverized charcoal!2

Activated charcoal can safely be used internally as well as externally. Because of its remarkable adsorptive properties it is often used internally as a treatment for counteracting drug overdose, ingestion of toxic substances, and mushroom poisoning.3 It is also a treatment of choice for digestive ailments such as diarrhea, nausea and vomiting, as well as adsorption of cancer-producing agents such as methylcholanthrine and benzpyrene.4 Intestinal gas and other intestinal disorders can also be relieved by the ingestion of activated charcoal. Activated charcoal is an effective agent against many different bacteria and viruses, including the E. coli bacteria heard of more and more frequently.5 For those who suffer from peanut allergies, activated charcoal binds within seconds to the allergens, preventing the proteins from causing allergic reactions. It was even able to neutralize peanut protein in combination with other foods such as chocolate and ice cream.6

Do you or someone you know suffer from bad breath? Well, welcome the lowly charcoal, and freshen up! Swish charcoal water around the mouth and bad breath vanishes.4 How about yellowing teeth? Well, simply brush gently with a soft toothbrush and your favorite charcoal powder, followed by flossing or brushing again with a little toothpaste to remove charcoal particles and … say “cheese!”

The indications for the external use of charcoal are equally numerous. Charcoal poultices are recommended for extracting poisons from bee stings, yellow jackets, venomous bites of all sorts, including snakes, fire ants, chiggers, spider bites (including the brown recluse, for which there is no other known antidote), and mosquitoes, among others. It is effective in the disinfecting and deodorizing of wounds, reducing the pain and swelling of cellulitis, treating poison ivy, and drawing out infection. Often pain can be relieved in a very short time for things such as sore throat, earache, sprains, arthritis, pleurisy, allergy headaches and much more. Even abdominal pain should be given the treatment of an external charcoal poultice.

The following charts present general guidelines for some of the most common ailments and their treatments.

Internal Use

1 tsp.

1–2 tablets

1–2 capsules

1–2 Tbsp. stirred in water

Drink this plus 2 more glasses of water

4–10 Tbsp. stirred in water

Drink this plus 2 more glasses of water


3–5 tablets

2–5 capsules

3–4 Tbsp. powder administered same

as above

6-15 Tbsp. powder

administered same as above

Unknown 1–5 Tbsp. powder administered same

as above

5-15 Tbsp. powder

administered same as above

Charcoal; Agatha Thrash, MD, and Calvin Thrash, MD; page 41

External Use










Charcoal Band-aid Charcoal paste

applied to sting

30 minute

charcoal bath

Charcoal soak

followed by …

1. Wash bite area

2. ½ hour cool

charcoal soak

3. Compress to entire area









4. Drink 2 Tbsp.

Charcoal every 2

hours for 6 hours

then 1 tsp. every 4

hours for 24 hours



Until irritation


Change when dry

Change every 10 minutes for 1 hour then leave one on for at least 8 hours or until swelling and pain are gone Change every

10 minutes for 1

hour then leave

one on for at least

8 hours

Change every

30 minutes for 8

hours then every 2

hours for 8 hours

then every 2–4

hours until heal-

ing is complete

Change compress

every 10–15 minutes

until swelling and pain are gone, add

ice packs if pain and

swelling persist

Charcoal; Agatha Thrash, MD, and Calvin Thrash, MD; page 41

To make a charcoal compress:

Adequate amount of activated charcoal and enough water to make a paste. (Begin with a minimal amount of water)

Spread on one half of paper towel. Fold other half over to form pocket. (Sides may be taped to prevent spilling.)

Place over afflicted area and cover with plastic.

The plastic helps retain the moisture. If the problem is severe, change the poultice often. You may mix ground flax seed or corn starch to help retain the moisture. For small bites, a little charcoal paste placed on a band-aid adhered over the bite works well.4

With any given drug available it is well-known that secondary effects are an issue, often necessitating a second drug to control the side effects of the first, and so on. So it is reasonable to ask about the side effects of activated charcoal. Studies show that charcoal is harmless ingested, or when it comes in contact with the skin.7 Inhaling charcoal also seems to show no negative side effects, even over the long term.8 As with any drug, it is better, however, to ascertain the cause of the ailment and eliminate that rather than depend on a drug. In addition, “activated charcoal is rated in Category I (Safe and Effective) by the FDA for acute toxic poisoning. It is recognized as a universal antidote. (Science News 119:3, 1981). It is listed in the U.S. Pharmacopoeia, and the Poison Control Center recommends activated charcoal for use in poisoning.”9

Charcoal comes in several different forms, and can even be made at home. The most common forms of medicinal charcoal are capsules, tablets, and powder. The finer the powder, the more surface area there is for the process of adsorption. In the case of poisoning, capsules and tablets should not be administered. Charcoal should be administered in its powdered form mixed with water.

If you wish to make your own charcoal, the best is made out of doors. Begin with untreated wood, preferably with the bark stripped off, and place in a hole in the ground. After the fire is burning bright, cover it with a piece of tin and pile dirt on top of the tin. This burns out the soft parts of the wood, leaving good charcoal behind. Take the remaining chunks and grind them into fine powder, remembering that the finer the powder, the more adsorptive it will be. The last part of the pulverizing process may even be done in the blender.

Is it advisable to simply “burn the toast” to get your charcoal? No. Charred food such as burned bread or other scorched foods are not charcoal, and in fact can be cancer producing.4 In addition, charcoal briquettes and other treated forms of charcoal are dangerous and should not be used internally or externally.

There are minimal cautions or concerns with the usage of charcoal. However, there are a few that bear mentioning. If you are taking any other medicines, take the charcoal at least two hours before or after taking other medicines, as the charcoal will in most cases adsorb the medication. Also, charcoal should be avoided if you have intestinal bleeding or blockage, or have had recent surgery.10 It is important to note that charcoal is not effective in treating corrosive products or petroleum products, nor is it useful in treating the following poisons: lithium, cyanide, iron, ethanol, or methanol. There is evidence that charcoal placed directly on a fresh open wound may cause a tattooing effect. In that case, simply place the charcoal paste in a poultice and apply.

One might well ask, with all these benefits, why is charcoal not more widely used? It seems there are several reasons. Though it had been used for centuries, when modern medicine hit the scene with its miracle drugs, charcoal was forgotten. Secondly, it is rather messy, and to many, is not as palatable as could be desired. The use of older, simpler remedies also comes with an art in their using—an art that takes time and energy. Charcoal use is no exception. However, given its safety and efficacy, it is wise to become familiar with this gift.

There are many other medical uses for charcoal, in addition to a multitude of non-medical ones. Suffice it to say that God has given us a remarkable resource for our health and well-being that is readily available, inexpensive, relatively easy to use and highly effective. Like many other things, the simplest ways are often the best.

  1. Charcoal; Agatha Thrash, MD, and Calvin Thrash, MD; page 7
  3. Family Pratice News, Feb 1, 2001; Joanne M. Berger
  4. Charcoal; Agatha Thrash, MD, and Calvin Thrash, MD; page 41
  5. Food & Drink Weekly, Oct 9, 2000
  6. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology; July 2003
  7. Home Remedies; Agatha Thrash, MD; Calvin Thrash, MD; page 143
  8. Activated Charcoal, Cooney, David O., New York: Marcel Dekker, Inc. page 63, 1980
  9.; Dr. Walter Vieth
  10. Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine; Mai Tran

Brenda Douay works as a part of the LandMarks team. She can be reached by e-mail at: