Wednesday, May 19, 2010

What's in my Kitchen? - Charcoal

Charcoal is not something that most people would expect to find in a kitchen. And no - it's not from burnt supper.

Charcoal is a substance that, surprisingly, is seldom talked about in the health world, except for in a water or air filter. That same thing that filters can be readily available at your fingertips. It's cheap (or even free) and very simple.

I first heard about charcoal several months ago. A friend of mine had moved into their newly purchased home, only to find mold. Not good. She heard about charcoal from a friend of hers and had started reading, "Charcoal (The complete handbook of Medicinal Charcoal and it's applications)". Soon her children started sporting black mustaches and she got a black ring about her bathtub, also her children stopped having bloody noses, and started breathing better. (They did work at repairing their house too.) I got the book from her and started reading it on the airplane on our move over to Australia. It's got me convinced - it helps that I was pretty convinced from my friends experience before I even started reading the book. Since then, the book has now been passed on even more - to New Zealand and then over to the Solomon Islands, because it's a simple remedy that works for such a host of things.

Charcoal isn't new either. Charcoal is mentioned in a 2000 year old, Sanskrit (ancient Indo-Aryan language) text for the treatment of water. Around 1550 BC the Egyptians used it to cure various ailments and poisoning. Hippocrates (ca. 460 BC – ca. 370 BC ) and Pliny the elder (23 AD – 79 AD) also refer to it in their writings. In the 1800's a few scientists, each unto their own, decided to use themselves as Guinea Pigs and took equal amounts of various known poisons (arsenic, strychnine) and charcoal with no ill effect. (A major DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME, or anywhere else for that matter). In the early 1900's activated charcoal became industrialized as a means for dealing with deadly gases from World War I. From their it has taken off, in the manufacturing world at least, for use in water and air filtration. For a more detailed history click here.

So...what's the big deal?

Basically, charcoal is an excellent absorber of all sorts of things. (Click here if you want the technical explanation.)

Charcoal absorbs poisons (natural and man-made) and toxins - including heavy metals - making it excellent for insect bites, poisonous bites, wound cleaning/ healing, water and air filtration, and foul odors. It is used in hospitals for drug overdose, it tames diarrhea and bloating. It is excellent to poultices as it can actually draw poisons out of the body (organs, etc.) through the skin onto the charcoal poultice itself. A specified list of all that charcoal can be used for would be too long for me to write right now.

The great thing is that it doesn't just absorb all these things, it grabs them and keeps them there until the charcoal is eliminated (through your system, or cleaned off).

There are no known allergies, completely safe for newborns and pregnant/ nursing women, and it doesn't cost very much at all. My guess is that the last reason is why many people have not heard about it - nobody's making money off of you, especially if you can make it yourself (and that is mostly what we do). (Note: while it is completely safe, taking too much too, often can deplete your nutrition - remember it absorbs things - including some good stuff you will want to keep).

We did buy some capsules (capsules dissolve better than the tablets) for convenience for internal usage. Although a tablespoon in a glass of water works too. The capsules are great to carry along with you and for ease of use in public, or when your not at home. It just so happens that we went to a restaurant right after buying some capsules, (not that we eat out often, we stopped in LA for a couple weeks on our move). The water in the restaurant was so awful. So I decided to try this charcoal thing for myself. I unscrewed one capsule and dumped it into my husbands glass of water while he looked around to see if anyone was watching - he was a bit nervous about the black water. (As a rule, I generally don't drink the water at restaurants, although he made me try a sip of his to see how bad it was). We waited a couple minutes and tasted the water again. We could not believe how good it tasted! It was great, if you don't mind drinking black water.

So what's it doing in my kitchen?

It is for sure a "medicine cabinet" prize (if I had a medicine cabinet), but I use it a lot in the kitchen. This is of my own invention, I haven't heard of anyone else doing this, and you may think it's pretty weird...

We all know that it's important to make sure the stuff we put in our mouths is clean. Unless you pick it from your own garden, you do not know where that stuff has been or who handled it - with or without washed hands. A lot of people touch your food in the process of getting it to your plate. We used to always buy organic for a variety of reasons, but down here it's not so easy to do so, so we have to make do with what's available. In "Charcoal" I read a story about a man who attempted suicide by drinking pesticides (didn't say which one). His wife found him and somehow she and others managed to get enough charcoal into him and saved his life. With all the pesticides and all the harmful effects of them, this story really intrigued me. If charcoal neutralizes the effect of pesticides and is effective even into deeper levels of (human) skin, even to draw toxins from the liver transdermally, than what can it do for pesticide laden food? Like I said, that's just me thinking. But that's what I do for my non-organic produce and it makes me feel better.

There are many other places to use charcoal including the garden, but I will have to talk about that some other time.

Experiment and research this for yourself, it's a very well kept secret, but it's also a very useful bunch of burnt wood.


  1. That is incredibly fascinating Andrea! I look forward to hearing more and reading about charcoal. I think there is a small little write up in one of my alternative health books - but not the wealth of info you speak of. So sorry about your ant bite! THat sounds pretty horrible!
    Bet you are looking forward to seeing your Canadian friends who should be arriving there soon!
    Love your recipes and posts - keep up the great writing!

  2. Charcoal has such a broad range of uses that it is truly amazing that it isn't talked about more in the world of true health seekers. I am looking forward to our friends arriving soon (if all works well). It will be really nice to see them again.