halite

Salt of the Earth

The history of civilization is closely connected to salt. Up until about 100 years ago salt, Sodium Chloride, was one of the most sought after commodities known. The word salary derives from Latin salairum or salt money. Roman soldiers were paid in salt.

The importance of salt pervades our language with numerous expressions: not worth his salt, salt of the earth, back to the salt mine,

salt mine diorama

salt mine diorama

rub salt in the wound, and others.

The Catholic church dispenses not only holy water but also holy salt, Sal Sapientia, the salt of wisdom. In the Torah, the book of Numbers, is written: “ It is a covenant of salt forever before the Lord…” A custom in medieval Europe was to put salt in the mouth of a newborn, as evil spirits apparently feared salt. Protection against the bad luck of spilling salt was to throw salt over ones shoulder to “cover your back” from evil spirits.

So why the importance of salt? First and foremost it is essential to life as indicated by the fact that we have a taste bud dedicated just to salt. Salt, more specifically the Sodium ion, is used to control nervous transmission in all forms of life. Substances which interfere with Sodium binding at specific surfaces within cells, called Sodium channels, are powerful poisons.

Too much of good thing however is a problem and the human population has a problem with salt. Because salt readily dissolves in water it can’t be stored in the body for future use but must be replaced daily. The world health organization (WHO) set an upper level of salt consumption at five grams – a scant teaspoon- per person per day. WHO surveys show that global salt consumption per capita nearly twice the recommended amount.

“Nearly all populations across the world are consuming far more sodium than is healthy,” said Dr Dariush Mozaffarian, from the Harvard School of Public Health. “Clearly, strong government policies are needed, together with industry cooperation and collaboration, to substantially reduce sodium.”
Heart disease is the leading cause of death worldwide and is impacted by high blood pressure which correlates with high salt consumption. Also stroke, kidney failure, and blindness are all indicated in hypertension (high blood pressure).
An additional use of salt which becomes a health issue is its use as a food preservative. Fishermen from Scandinavia were able to market Cod across Europe and beyond via salting as a preservative. Salt dehydrates tissues which makes them more stable to bacterial spoilage. Salt cured ham, corned beef, pickles, and Kimchi are just a few of salt preserved foodstuffs.
The historical importance of salt cannot be over emphasized. The Doges of Venice and Genoa acquired wealth and power from the sale of salt collected from solar evaporation ponds on the Mediterranean and Adriatic sides of Italy.

Landscape with Mill near the Salt Ponds

Landscape with Mill near the Salt Ponds

One of the reasons Jefferson sent Lewis and Clark west was the rumor of a salt mountain near the Missouri River. The collapse of British rule in India began when Mohandas Gandhi lead a protest against a salt tax.
Sequoyah

Sequoyah


A local connection with salt is the big black cauldron in the center of Dover, AR. Sequoyah, creator of the Cherokee syllabary, lived north of Dover on the Illinois Bayou in the 1820s. He used the pot to boil down brine from a saline seep to make salt.

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