Carbon is one of the chemical elements of the periodic table.  Carbon compounds form the basis of all known life on earth; it is part of the framework for all living materials, including animals, plants and humans.  Next to oxygen, carbon is the second most abundant element after oxygen in the human body. How versatile is carbon? Both a diamond and a pencil lead are made from carbon, with the only difference being how the charcoal atoms are structured in each. A diamond is the hardest naturally-occurring material known, while graphite is soft enough to form a streak on paper.


Simply put, charcoal is the black hard lumps left behind after a fire has completely burned up any living material, including the wood in your campfire. Essentially all the water and a number of other chemicals have been evaporated off, leaving behind the familiar crusty, crumbly black chunks. Charcoal is made up of carbon atoms and other chemical residue. However, what makes charcoal so unique is the way that the carbon atoms are structured. In charcoal, the carbon atoms lay in an intricate lattice-like design with no recognizable pattern. As you can see in the illustration, magnified many times, a charcoal particle is irregularly shaped, with many folds, cracks and creases; this irregular shape increases the surface area by a vast amount. This large surface area is what makes charcoal such a unique substance and this property of charcoal ensures its usefulness in natural healing treatments. We will learn later as to why this is the case.

But, is charcoal from burnt wood or even charcoal briquettes that we use in barbecues the one that we should be using in our natural remedies? Can we just burn a pile of wood and use that charcoal to treat our ailments? No. Do not be tempted to go to your nearest fire pit and take charcoal from there to use medicinally. Wood, briquettes, and other plants have impurities that remain behind in the charcoal that could be harmful to us. Charcoal from burnt food is not effective, as it is a product of charred proteins, fats, carbohydrates and mineral salts which are harmful to the body.

Common charcoal can also be made from the bones of animals, or coal, but for medicinal use it has historically come primarily from plant-based sources such as hardwood, bamboo, coconut, olive pits or peat. Before we can make medicinal charcoal we need to purify it.


The form of charcoal that is used for medicinal purposes is referred to as “activated charcoal.” The process to purify the charcoal involves subjecting the raw charcoal to the “activation” of oxidizing (using oxygen) agents such as air, steam, or oxygen, at high temperatures. By doing this, the internal structure of the charcoal particle is further eroded, even more cracks, pores and folds develop, creating an even greater surface area. Activated charcoal is a tasteless, odorless powder. Charcoal particles have a disproportionately high surface area compared to its size. One teaspoon (5 ml) of activated charcoal powder (about 3.3gms) has about the same surface area as a football field. Now that we know the unique property of charcoal, how can we take advantage of it?


The activation of charcoal increases its adsorption capacity by creating an internal network of even smaller pores rendering it two to three times as effective as regular charcoal. This tremendous surface area provides charcoal with the potential to adsorb large amounts of other products. Adsorption is the process by which an ultrathin layer of one substance can stick onto the surface of another substance via an electrical reaction. In relation to charcoal, many substances can adhere or bind to its surface. But think of how large that surface is. . . .  Charcoal can “adsorb” substances many times its size because of its large surface area, to almost 100 times its own weight. Examples of substances that can be adsorbed by charcoal are gases, bacteria, chemicals, toxins, poisons, or pollutants, primarily those that are poisonous to life. For example a 1 quart jar of activated charcoal powder can adsorb 80 quarts of ammonia gas! Once charcoal adsorbs these harmful substances, their harmful effects are neutralized.

In the case of either accidental or purposeful ingestion of poisons, the charcoal attaches to the poison so that it is passed out of the body by elimination and prevents it from being absorbed into the blood stream. Thus it renders the poison harmless. Charcoal does not work with every poison therefore a poison control centre should be consulted. The powder must be stored in a tightly sealed container, as it readily adsorbs impurities from the atmosphere. Activated charcoal adsorbs most organic and inorganic chemicals that do not belong in the body, but no studies have been able to prove that it adsorbs nutrients, as some people are afraid of

It is this tremendous surface area that science began to more fully harness during the late 1800s leading to the “activation” of raw charcoal.


Charcoal has been used for centuries as a remedy for a variety of ailments. Records show that carbon  or activated charcoal has been around for thousands of years. The first recorded use of charcoal for medicinal purposes comes from Egyptian papyri around 1500 B.C. The principal use appears to have been to adsorb the unpleasant odors from putrefying wounds and from within the intestinal tract. Charcoal was used in medicinal treatments by Hippocrates (400 B.C.), considered the father of western medicine. And in later centuries by Pliny (A.D. 50), a naturalist, who discovered that “It is only when ignited and quenched that charcoal itself acquires its characteristic powers, and only when it seems to have perished that it becomes endowed with greater virtue.” Pliny discovered “activated” charcoal by burning it and recognizing how the powers of charcoal increased. What Pliny observed and noted so long ago is the very uniqueness of charcoal that science continues to use today. Hippocrates and Pliny recorded the use of charcoal for treating a wide range of complaints.

After the study of the sciences was discouraged, first by pagan Rome and then by papal Rome through the Dark Ages, charcoal re-emerged in the 1700s as a prescription for various conditions. Charcoal was often prescribed for bilious problems (excessive bile excretion). The use of charred wood was also mentioned for the control of odors from gangrenous ulcers.


By the mid-1800s charcoal suddenly became a well-known treatment for a number of health conditions. The Spirit of Prophecy books provide us many examples of how Ellen White used charcoal to treat people who were expected to die. Through her interventions using charcoal, she saved lives and restored people to health.

“One of the most beneficial remedies is pulverized charcoal placed in a bag and used in fomentations. This is a most successful remedy. If wet in Smartweed [linseed] tea, it is still better. I have ordered this in cases where persons were suffering great pain, and when the physician has confided to me that it was the last before the close of life. Then I suggested the charcoal and the patient slept; the turning point came, and recovery was the result.

“To students when injured with bruised hands, and suffering with inflammation, I have prescribed this simple remedy, with perfect success. The poison of inflammation is overcome, the pain removed, and healing goes on rapidly.

“The more severe inflammation of the eyes will be relieved by a poultice of charcoal, put in a bag and dipped in hot or cold water as will best suit the case.” –Manuscript 162, 1897

“My mother had told me that snake bites and the sting of reptiles and poisonous insects could often be rendered harmless by the use of charcoal poultices.” –Letter 90, 1908

“A brother was taken sick with inflammation of the bowels and bloody dysentery. The man was not a careful health reformer, but indulged his appetite. . . . This man who was suffering from inflammation of the bowels, sent for me to come to him. My husband and I decided that it would not do to move him. Fears were entertained that mortification had set in. Then the thought came to me like communication from the Lord, to take pulverized charcoal, put water upon it, and give this water to the sick man to drink, putting bandages of the charcoal over the bowels and stomach. . . . The sick man’s son went to a blacksmith’s shop, secured the charcoal, and pulverized it, and then used it according to the directions given. The result was that in half an hour there was a change for the better. We had to go on our journey and leave the family behind, but what was our surprise the next day to see their wagon overtake us. The sick man was lying in a bed in the wagon. The blessing of God had worked with the simple means used.” –Letter 182, 1899

“I felt impressed to recommend for your consideration the use of charcoal as a powerful agent for removing poison from the system. I have on several occasions been impressed to suggest the use of charcoal, and it has often brought relief when every other means had failed.” –Letter 158, 1907

“Brother Thompson. . . brought his boy to Cooranbong with a swollen knee. The lad had fallen on a stone, and the knee was seriously injured and much enlarged. The doctors had attended him, but had done him no good, and he was then going about with a crutch. . . About one hour a day was occupied in giving him treatment. It was a stubborn affair, but for weeks most thorough treatment was given him with hot and cold applications, and pulverized charcoal dipped in hot water and used as a poultice. . . . The swelling is now removed, and he is as active and healthy a child as you would wish to look upon. . . . We have our reward in seeing him restored to health. We thank the Lord for this.” –Letter 72, 1898


Any inflammation, any area that is red, painful, swollen, and hot, responds to charcoal. It is given as a poultice if the inflammation is on the outside of the body, or given by mouth if the inflammation is in the digestive tract. By the application of moist activated charcoal compresses and poultices, bacteria and poisons are drawn through the skin and into the charcoal. Poultices must be kept moist and warm to allow this healing process to take place.

While charcoal is not commonly found in people’s medicine cabinets any more, it is widely used in hospitals and medical research facilities! There are few if any natural products (the exception being water) that have been as extensively studied, researched, experimented within the field of modern medicine as activated charcoal. In hospitals, it is the first line of treatment for drug poisonings, it is used to dress wounds in burn victims; it is used in the lab, in research, in surgery. The list of medical applications continues to grow.

Meanwhile the number of progressive minded health care professionals who regularly use and recommend activated charcoal as part of a comprehensive health program of prevention and treatment is also growing.

Charcoal can be used to treat the following ailments:


  • for poisoning, drug overdose, and food poisoning
  • to counteract bad breath
  • treatment of headaches, menstrual pain, sore throats
  • eliminates toxins that cause anemia in cancer patients;
  • filters toxins in people with kidney or liver disease
  • for diseases such as gout, tetanus, diphtheria, arthritis, and cholera
  • for digestive and other gastrointestinal problems: such as acid reflux, indigestion, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, gas, infections
  • jaundice in babies/children


  • for poisonous bites: including bees, hornets, brown recluse spiders, scorpions, and as an antidote to the venom of poisonous snakes
  • to control bleeding
  • for allergic reactions to poisonous plants: such as poison ivy and poison oak
  • for infections: including pink eye, diabetic ulcers, abscesses, gangrene, cold sores, tooth abcesses
  • disinfects wounds, heals sprains
  • for purifying water, air, and food
  • removes tartar and plaque build-up when used as a toothpaste


  • Skin disorders such as eczema, skin irritations, atopic dermatitis, infection, and inflammations. Activated charcoal’s purifying, detoxifying, deodorizing, and anti-bacterial properties will wash any impurities on the skin
  • Charcoal baths will remove impurities, relieve fatigue, and recharge you!

Charcoal can even be used to treat similar ailments in animals, including poisoning, infections, odors, and as a digestive supplement.

As opposed to a lot of the medications that doctors prescribe for various ailments, charcoal is safe:

  • it has a safety record that goes back 3500 years
  • rated Category 1 (Safe and Effective) by the Federal Drug Agency
  • recommended by Poison Control Centers, Pediatric & Toxicologist Associations
  • has no known adverse side effects, doesn’t cause allergic reactions, harmless when used on skin or swallowed
  • non habit forming
  • indefinite shelf life—does not age or spoil if properly stored


Externally: To make a poultice, mix 3 tablespoons of ground flax seeds or cornstarch with 3 tablespoons of activated charcoal powder in 3/4 cups of hot water. Stir until blended and cool to room temperature. Place mixture generously on a strip of gauze large enough to cover the area and tape the sides so that the mixture does not leak. Leave on 3–6 hours or overnight.

Internally: For adults, take between 1–3 heaping tablespoons of charcoal powder in a large glass of water (mixed well) until symptoms are alleviated. Drink one more glass of water after each glass. If using tablets, take a minimum of 6–10 as there is generally less charcoal in tablet form. Drink water with tablets to avoid constipation. (Ground up flax seed can also be added to avoid constipation. Repeat this process every 6 hours until relief. In addition, be drinking 2.5 litres or 8 glasses of water throughout the day). Children under 12 should take half an adult dosage. Activated charcoal should not be taken regularly for more than 6 weeks at a time.

Baths: Put about 6 cups (2 lbs.) of granular charcoal in a cloth bag, tie it, and place it in the tub. Fill the tub and soak yourself. After the first use, dry the bag. When using a second and third time, add a cup of granular charcoal to the cloth bag. Discard after the third use. Placing charcoal first before filling the tub with water will help the body to get warm faster, keep the water warmer and cleaner, and make the skin smoother.

Since activated charcoal absorbs substances in the stomach and intestines, taking activated charcoal along with medications taken by mouth can decrease how much medicine your body absorbs, and also decrease the effectiveness of your medication. To prevent this interaction, take activated charcoal at least one hour after medications you take by mouth.

Activated charcoal is universally available around the world. You can purchase it in many pharmacies and in most health food or natural food stores. It can be purchased in tablets, capsules, or powder form. Tablets have one-half the potency of the powdered charcoal and the capsules are expensive but are easy to use. About 14 capsules equals a tablespoon of powder. It is most easily mixed in a small portion of water and is most effective if one tablespoon is used with one to two glasses of water. While some drugstores sell activated charcoal tablets, the most economical way to purchase activated charcoal is in powder form.

Finally, it is easy to use, either by mouth or used as a poultice or bath. Always have a supply of activated charcoal at home to use as necessary. Accidental poisonings should be treated immediately, keep charcoal on hand especially if you have small children. When you are sick, suffering pain, or battling some infection, you should first consider a simple and natural remedy like medicinal charcoal instead of pharmaceutical drugs.

“Our Saviour is the restorer of the moral image of God in man. He has supplied in the natural world remedies for the ills of man, that His followers may have life and that they may have it more abundantly.” –Selected Messages, bk. 1, p. 289