Just what is salt? As common as salt is to our tables, we have come to accept its presence in our lives as ordinary. But in the not-too-distant past, wars were fought over its possession and civilizations rose and fell in pursuit of what came to be called “white gold.” In times past, common rock salt was given to the common people and the highly valued crystal salt, like Original Himalayan Crystal Salt®, was reserved for royalty.
Primitive man had no concerns about salt. He got his daily requirement of salt from consuming the blood of the animals he ate.
We know that blood consists of mostly salt and a full complement of minerals. In this way, early civilizations received the benefits of salt and its included mineral nutrients.
As humans became civilized and moved towards agriculture and the domestication of animals, the demand for salt increased. Besides being valued as a seasoning, we discovered the ability of salt to preserve food. This freed us from our dependency on seasonal availability of food as we could now preserve our food. This opened the possibility for traveling and carrying our food with us.
But salt was always difficult to come by and it became a highly valued item of trade. So valued in fact, that it served as a monetary exchange. The early Romans controlled the price of salt and would increase the price to fund their wars then reduce the price so as to make salt available to the common citizen. In fact, Roman soldiers were paid in salt. The word salary comes from the Latin world salarium, which means payment in salt. Sal is Latin for salt. This is also the time when the phrase “worth ones salt” originated. The Romans actually built roads specifically for making the transportation of salt more convenient. One such road, the Via Salaria, led from Rome to the Adriatic sea, where salt was produced by evaporating sea water, a common method still used today.
There are stories surrounding salt throughout American history. Salt is thought to be a major factor in the outcome of many wars fought on American soil. During the Revolutionary War, the British used Americans who were loyal to the British crown to intercept the rebels' salt supply. This action destroyed the rebels’ ability to preserve food. During the War of 1812, soldiers in the field received salt brine as payment because the government was too poor to pay them with money. Prior to Lewis and Clark’s expedition to the West, President Jefferson referred in his address to Congress about a mountain of salt believed to lie near the Missouri River, which would have been of enormous value if the two pioneers could verify the story.
If it were not for Mahatma Gandhi’s famous “salt march,” in 1930, an act of non-violent protest to the British salt tax in Colonial India, India might still be forced to buy salt from England. At that time the British controlled the trade of salt among most of the world. The British monopoly on the salt trade in India dictated that the sale or production of salt by anyone but the British government was a criminal offence punishable by law. It became illegal for any Indian to produce salt. They were forced to buy their salt from the British government even though salt was readily available to coastal area dwellers. As the tax had an impact on the entire country of India, Gandhi knew that his decision to protest would gain national appeal across regional, religious, class, and ethnic barriers. Even the Indian government, aware of the commercial importance of their own salt and the public sentiment towards the issue, stood in support of the protest. At the end of his 240 mile, 23 day walk to the sea on April 5, 1930, Gandhi picked up a handful of salty mud and proclaimed, “With this, I am shaking the foundations of the British Empire.” He proceeded to boil some seawater, illegally producing the controversial commodity. He then implored his followers to begin making salt all along the coast, wherever it “was most convenient and comfortable” to them, not to the British Empire.
There are even Biblical references to salt. In the New Testament, Matthew 15:3, Jesus speaking to his disciples, “You are the salt of the earth.” It is commonly believed that he was telling them how valuable they were. My personal interpretation is that he meant to remind them that they, as physical bodies, are nothing more than salt. Their real value lay within them, as spirit or soul. He was reminding them not to pay too much attention to the physical body, but give higher regard to their spiritual essence. Interestingly, what remains when a human body is cremated is nothing but a pile of salt.
Salt has a long history of use in rituals of purification, magical protection, and blessing. Salt has been used throughout the ages as a ward against negative energies or evil spirits. In Germany, salt was put into the corners of the home where newlyweds were to reside to dispel any “bad” or negative energy. In Jewish tradition, they dip their Challah or bread in salt on Shabbat. We remember in the Old Testament that Lot’s wife was turned into a pillar of salt. Again, the reference to salt as a basic elemental component of the physical body.
How about the word “salvation”? Sal is Latin for salt where salt has been used traditionally in the Catholic church for a number of purifying rituals. Take a close look at Leonardo Da Vinci’s painting of The Last Supper. You’ll see how Jesus’ disciple, Judas, has spilled over a bowl of salt, an absolving and an omen of the evil or wrong deed about to be perpetrated. We still keep this tradition alive today when we throw a pinch of salt over our shoulder to ward off any evil spirit that may be behind our backs.
Sumo wrestlers of Japan throw salt into the ring before a match to purify and sanctify the area and drive away any evil spirits.