Irish orphans working on cotton farms in the early 1900's used charcoal from fires for pain relief and wound care.
Sometimes, you just have to use what you have...
This is an interesting story about the pain relieving properties of charcoal as told by Mary, a paralegal in Sacramento, California.
Mary said she remembered as a child, her grandmother would tell her stories about growing up at the Broken Arrow Orphanage in Oklahoma at the turn of the last century. As an orphan, she was required, along with all the other kids, to work in the cotton fields all day long picking cotton during the cotton-picking season. The fact that these orphan kids (at the time mostly Irish) as young as nine were forced to do this back-breaking work for long hours and no pay was the subject of social outcry in its day.
And it's no wonder. It was a painful existence. They were required to walk up and down the cotton rows, usually barefoot, dragging a large bag slung over one shoulder, picking cotton with one hand and holding the bag from sliding off the shoulder with the other. The bags would end up weighing over 50 lbs (as they filled with cotton) and these small children would make their hands bloody holding the bag over their shoulders as they dragged it along.
At the end of the day, scratched, often bloodied and bruised, the kids would gather around the campfire where they would eat, socialize, and sleep on hot summer nights. Grandma doesn’t know where the tradition started but before they would light the fire, she said everyone would grab handfuls of charcoal from the fire (cooled from the night before) and rub it over their wounds and all over their feet and hands. Grandma stated that the charcoal had a soothing effect on the pain and everyone believed it helped with healing.
Over the years Grandma lived at the orphanage, she doesn’t remember herself or any kid getting an infection from wounds even though they were always getting cuts and lived in dirty, dusty conditions without access to running water or regular baths. This is a modern-day corollary to how ancient civilizations reportedly also used charcoal for pain relief and wound care.
If you’ve experienced something like this with charcoal, or know of someone who experienced something to do with charcoal, we would love to hear your story. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org