The history of salt is the history of the earth. More than 500 million years ago many areas of the globe were under the vast oceans. As the sea retreated from the land mighty deposits of salt were left behind, often hundreds of feet thick. In some areas of the world salt could be picked up from the surface of the land. In other locations mines or salt wells were needed to procure salt. Sometimes the miracle element was found in remote salt springs.
Salt is so common and plentiful that hardly anyone thinks about it. However, a great postcard or two came along showing the salt harvesting process and the cards inspired research. It seemed that salt is not so common after all. There is so much information available about salt, along with Biblical references, stories and legends it could comprise volumes, so this is the short version.
Salt can exfoliate, decorate, recreate, medicate, and make one salivate. All creatures have a natural craving for it. Without salt, life could not exist. There’s nothing new about animals and humans recognizing their need for and the value of sodium chloride.
At one time entire economies revolved around the production of salt. In ancient Europe roads were built expressly to facilitate the salt trade. It has been used for thousands of years in recipes, remedies and rituals. Social status was indicated by meal time seating arrangements—no one wanted to sit below the salt. Obviously those folks were not worth their salt, a reference to Roman times when it is said slaves were paid for in salt.
Native Americans – The Watkins Glen, N.Y., refinery is owned by US Salt, and is still using a brine producing well more than 1,500 feet underground. It was discovered in 1882 by settlers – who were actually given the location by Native Americans. The Indians considered the water a sacred “healing springs” and generously shared the information with the new comers.
Many Native American legends exist about a Salt Mother. The Zuni of New Mexico have a sacred salt lake said to be home to the Salt Mother. The area has for centuries been a sanctuary where all are welcome and no weapons are allowed.
Some tribes believe the Salt Mother was a holy woman who traveled the land leaving salt deposits wherever she rested.
In the Broome County area of New York a legend survives claiming that the Native Americans considered salt a treasured trade item and kept secret the location of a hot salt springs. Days when the substance was needed two men would leave their village early in the morning running in a southerly direction and returning late the next day with a leather pouch filled with still-warm salt. Many times settlers tried to follow the Indians but never succeeded in finding the site. The spring was supposedly located in a dense forest and covered with a flat rock so large it took two men to lift it.
Salt sculptures – Lott’s wife is probably not among this collection, but in Austria a popular tourist attraction is a famous cavern containing glistening works of art carved from rock salt. Craft people in the U.S. often carve small blocks of salt so that a tiny electric bulb can be placed deep inside each piece – when turned on light dances within the semi transparent crystals.
Military – Wars have been fought for salt sources and there have been numerous government power ploys to obtain access to salt. An ancient military tactic was “salting the earth.” The results are similar to scorched earth to make land of no use for growing crops.
In the War of 1812, the United States needed a domestic salt supply when importation of the substance became impossible during the 1812 war with England. The brine wells on the shores of Onondaga Lake near Syracuse, N.Y., helped sustain American salt consumption through the crisis.
During the Civil War the North destroyed the salt works of the South to make life as difficult as possible for the Rebel soldiers and their mounts. Uninterrupted salt production in Syracuse, N.Y., helped the North supply their own troops and win the war.
Production – The United States can produce more than 50 million tons yearly. Kansas has enough salt deposits to supply entire world for 250,000 years. Hampton Corners Mine (owned by American Rock Salt) is capable of producing 3 million tons of salt per year for the next 80 years. Today China leads world production of salt.
Legends – In days gone by salt was considered a very appropriate gift to bring luck to the recipient.
Some folks stand within a circle of salt to remain safe while performing ancient rituals.
Others believe salt can be effective in cleansing and purifying objects and places.
Spilling salt has always been considered bad luck because of its great value so as an evil eraser any spilled salt was, and sometimes still is, thrown over the shoulder to scare off troublesome spirits who might be lingering around the disastrous spill.
Salvation was a word created because religious writings were often “sealed with salt.”
Salt taxes – Everyone needed it, so salt was the perfect substance upon which the government could levy a tax. (Let’s hope today’s legislators don’t salt away this idea for use in the near future.)
Erie Canal – In 1825, one half of the funds needed to build the Erie Canal came from a tax on salt, thus it became informally known as the “ditch that salt built.” The canal made it easier to distribute salt to other areas of the country and this availability of salt stimulated the pig raising industry that depended on salt to cure meat.
Naturally the tax on salt created another business – a thriving black market.
Mahatma Ghandi – Ghandi organized the salt march to the Arabian Ocean in 1930 – a symbolic event to protest the British tax on salt and their rule of India.
Manufacturing of paper
Setting of dyes
Tanning of hides
A salt solution is used in making PVC polyvinyl chlorides, which are especially useful in construction.
For recreation and relaxation try bath salts, visiting a salt springs, or a dip in a salt lake.
Preservatives for meat – the only way to keep food before refrigeration
Fire and ice – Fire: Toss crystals of salt on a fire and the flames will become more brilliant. Or use a large quantity of salt in water to douse an unwanted fire (recommend sending for the fire department instead of trying this)
Ice melt: Hail Halite! Glad we’ve got it to melt ice; sad it corrodes roads and rusts cars.
Syracuse – In 1784 salt was discovered in the local swamps. Soon the area came to be known as “Salt Port” on the Erie Canal. Eventually the city had to choose an acceptable name for the U.S. Post Office system. Syracuse, Italy, which had its own salt industry, was the inspiration for the new name. The mines closed in the 1920s after contributing to environmental damage to Onondaga Lake.
Great Salt Lake, Utah – The Great Salt Lake is the largest dead sea in the world. It is approximately 22 percent solids. There is no production of table salt at this site but there are lots of other applications for their salt. It is sent for use in fertilizers, as a chemical used in the manufacture of magnesium metal, as a dust suppressant and sodium sulfate.
One of the postcards shows the huge amount of salt produced by the solar evaporation process at the Great Salt Lake. It is so plentiful it can be scooped up with bulldozers. Interesting marketing tools from Utah were vintage postcards attached to tiny bags of Great Salt Lake salt.
Seagulls: The gulls have nests on Bird Island in the Great Salt Lake. These winged avengers “saved” early Mormon pioneers whose farm lands were besieged with crickets. Fortunately, seagulls considered the crickets, probably dusted with salt, a tasty tidbit. Flocks of gulls descended on the insects and inadvertently saved the crops from destruction.
Medical – Hippocrates recommended salt water baths to aid healing, and today we know that salt possesses great medicinal as well as antiseptic properties.
Intravenous saline solution is a common step in aiding the injured.
Iodine is added to salt to prevent goiter in an attempt to reach everyone in the attack on this affliction.
Sodium is a primary electrolyte in the body and helps regulate water content.
Death may occur from lack of salt because it leaves the body open to disease and causes difficulty in healing.
Cures – Please take the following information with a grain of salt. It is said that salt can thwart the Angel of Death: To restore a soul from stroke or lightning, shower with cold water for two hours. If the patient does not show signs of life put salt in the water and continue to shower an hour longer. This usually works.
When I was a child with a pet goldfish, grandmother Hanrahan extended the ichthyologic life span by liberally sprinkling the finny critter with salt if it began to float belly up; many times this worked to revive a fish—but as a treatment for humans calling 911 is a better bet.
1856 – If this be known in many cases of a disordered stomach a teaspoon of salt is a certain cure.
1856 – If this be known drinking a quarter of a teaspoon of salt in a glass of water at each meal for three weeks will make a wonderful improvement in the complexion.
1856 – In the case of a mad dog bite, wash the part with a strong brine of salt for an hour and then bind on more salt with a rag for a sure cure.
Remember the tip about taking the data with a grain of salt as you enjoy the accompanying postcards, as they can become addictive.