The American New Dispensatory pp. 91-92 (1810)
James Thacher

Carbo Ligni. Charcoal of Wood.

Common charcoal of wood, (carbonous oxide) or carbon of the French chemists, is a sort of artificial coal, consisting of half burnt wood. It is in the form of solid masses of a black colour, is brittle, and has neither smell nor taste. It is extremely porous, and therefore absorbs light strongly, which accounts for its blackness; for, the rays of light, striking on the charcoal, are received and absorbed in its pores, instead of being reflected, whence, the body must of necessity appear black. This substance, also attracts air from the atmosphere, which it continues to absorb for a considerable time. It is insoluble in water, and a bad conductor of coloric, but an excellent one of electricity.

This substance is found to consist of 63,86 of carbon, and 36,14 of oxygen.

Charcoal possesses a number of singular properties, which render it of considerable importance in many respects. It is incapable of putrifying or rotting, like wood; and so remarkable is the durability of this substance, that it may be preserved to an indefinite length of time; for there yet exists, according to Dodart, charcoal made of corn, (probably in the days of Caesar), which is in so complete a state, that the wheat may be distinguished from the rye. Besides the great advantage which this article affords to the artist and manufacturer, it has been of late employed with considerable success.— First. In correcting the burnt, or empyreumatic taste in ardent spirits.— Secondly. In depriving rancid oil of its disagreeable flavour.— Thirdly. In restoring putrid meat. For these useful purposes, it should be previously reduced to powder, and that only used which is fresh prepared, or has been kept in close vessels, that it shall have absorbed no fixed air from the common atmosphere. The tainted flavour of ardent spirits, or the unpleasant one of those distilled from grain, may be entirely destroyed, by merely shaking it with powdered charcoal.

Charcoal is of still greater utility for purifying water on ship board. The most offensive water may be rendered perfectly by merely filtrating it through maple, hickory, or oak coal and sand. New made charcoal, by being rolled up in cloths that have contracted a disagreeable odour, effectually destroys it; and the bad taint of meat, beginning to putrify, is in like manner corrected. It is possible that meat surrounded by fresh charcoal, might keep sweet for months. On account of its absorbent and antiseptic properties, this substance promises to be of considerable service in medicine. It has been found to arrest the progress of mortification, when applied in the form of medicated poultice to the affected part, and frequently repeated. In a variety of instances, it has been found to have a remarkable effect, in removing habitual costiveness, without inducing an extraordinary degree of weakness, especially if it be mixed with syrup of yellow roses. Many persons, afflicted with that disagreeable complaint, a foetid breath from a costive habit, have obtained effectual relief, by taking two or three times in a day, a table spoonful of each of the above articles. Charcoal, made from maple wood, or burnt bread, finely powdered, makes a simple, efficacious, and safe tooth powder, which is preferable to any other. It neutralizes, and entirely destroys for a time, any foetor which may arise from a carious tooth. It has lately been found to cure tinea capitis, by being sprinkled over the ulcer in fine powder.

The most eligible process for preparing charcoal for medicinal uses, free from all impurities and disagreeable taste, is, to inclose small billets of wood in an iron cylinder, having a tube fixed to one end, and distil them until no more smoke and water escape from the tube. Then put out the fire, and close the mouth with clay, until the cylinder cool. The barrels of old guns or pistols, may serve for this purpose; or the pieces of wood may be put into a pot not closely covered, and surrounded with live coals, until all smoke from the pot shall cease. Then remove the coals and closely lute the cover with clay, until the pot cool. Or pulverize some well burnt common charcoal, and then heat it in a covered crucible to a glowing red, till it cease to give out any inflammable vapour. It should be immediately secured in well stopped glass bottles, and in that way it may be preserved unimpaired for any length of time.

Charcoal is one of the greatest non-conductors of heat. This quality renders it applicable to a variety of economical purposes.