Salt

LaurieLovesLearning
LaurieLovesLearning ModeratorManitoba, Canada 🍁 zone 3, PrairiesPosts: 6,009 admin
edited November 2020 in Wild Edibles & Medicinals

My husband & I were talking about growing our own food and how it was in the old days...you know, when people were moving across North America to settle. I am focusing on the prairie areas far from ocean water. We also talked about the First Nations populations and what they may have done (and may or may not know today).

Now, as far as settlers, often they bought certain basic provisions...salt & sugar are the first to mind. Sugar was possible to source from saps & honey. They could not source a necessary thing such as salt locally as far as I can figure. Alkali soils don't sound like a likely source for people.

First Nations...well, for some, there was trading...as long as they were not at war with each other. This could help them obtain salt, I suppose, but from talking to a lady of this background, there are deep seated, violent hostilities among certain tribes, from here to the west coast, that exist to this very day. So...not everyone might have been able to obtain salt.

Wild animals, such as bison, must have gleaned salt from certain regions to survive, and maybe they got enough through the native grasses & weeds, and alkali soils (or salt licks? Are there any?). Their digestive system is different from ours, however, and what they might be able to digest might not be as bioavailable to people.

Does anyone have insight/any ideas?

We can grow plants, eat wild meats and wildcraft if everything domesticated didn't exist, and sugar can be obtained through saps & honey...but salt...how to manage obtaining that without trade. That has me stumped.

Comments

  • torey
    torey Moderator Posts: 4,403 admin

    @Laurie There were a variety of salt sources across North America that were used by the Indigenous population as well as Europeans when they arrived. There are several salt lakes in Alberta and Saskatchewan although some of them might be higher in magnesium or calcium salts than sodium. I have a couple of lakes near me that are magnesium sulphate (Epsom Salts) based, that were mined for it at one time. I am planning a trip to try my hand at harvesting some this summer as the lakes start to dry out and you can just dig at the shore. Check out this link to an old document on salt by the Research Council of Alberta. It talks about the salt springs along the Salt River in Northern Alberta. https://ags.aer.ca/document/INF/INF_006.pdf

  • LaurieLovesLearning
    LaurieLovesLearning Moderator Manitoba, Canada 🍁 zone 3, PrairiesPosts: 6,009 admin
    edited September 2021

    @torey Thanks. I didn't know that. I do know of one very shallow "lake" that is more like a marsh that has salt mined from it in southern SK, now that you mention it, but I didn't realize that it could possibly be edible salt. I was always told it was not.

  • dottile46
    dottile46 Posts: 437 ✭✭✭

    In doing family history research I've read a few accounts of natural salt licks in the northeastern U.S. Mostly they come up in wills or when an estate is probated and will say something like "on the east side of Salt Lick Road" or "south of the salt lick". I do recall once hearing about culinary ash being used as a salt substitute. This might explain it a bit better.

    http://udaisd.proboards.com/thread/620/culinary-ashes

  • torey
    torey Moderator Posts: 4,403 admin

    @Laurie I learned about salt lakes on the Prairies reading one of Farley Mowat's books many years ago. "The Dog Who Wouldn't Be", I think.

  • Hassena
    Hassena Posts: 345 ✭✭✭

    Hey Laurie, what an intriguing question. There are a few salty lakes out west. Around Phoenix, in the Sonora Desert, the salt flakes on top of the soil surface. We as horticulturist called it salt. I often wondered if it could be harvested as a salt substitute. It doesn't rain much, so the minerals remain on the surface of the soil. Some folks even recommend running irrigation/sprinklers during a rain event so that the minerals and salts are pushed further into the soil. Away from the root zone of plants.

    Looking forward to reading more of your studies. :)

  • judsoncarroll4
    judsoncarroll4 Moderator Posts: 4,690 admin

    Anywhere near the coast, salt is easy to come by - just boil down sea water. (These day, you'd probably want to filter it first) Inland, you have to find salt mines and other natural deposits. I suppose that Salat Lake is the most well known in the US. But, very near where I grew up is Saltville, VA. This tiny... almost ghost town now, provided most of the salt used by the inland South and for pioneers crossing the Appalachians in their journey west. The occupation of Saltville by the North was one of the essential turning points of the Civil War - salt was essential for food preservation.

  • Obiora E
    Obiora E Posts: 517 ✭✭✭✭

    @Laurie I read a couple of years ago that celery is supposed to have the right amount of Sodium that are bodies need. I was reading about an herb or spice (I don't recall what though) recently that is supposed to be a good source of inland Sodium.

  • LaurieLovesLearning
    LaurieLovesLearning Moderator Manitoba, Canada 🍁 zone 3, PrairiesPosts: 6,009 admin

    @Obiora E If you run across that again, please let me know.

  • Obiora E
    Obiora E Posts: 517 ✭✭✭✭

    @Laurie Will do!

  • VickiP
    VickiP Posts: 586 ✭✭✭✭

    I am from New Mexico originally. There are several sources of natural salt there. I found an article about salt from the Guadalupe Mts. this was near El Paso, very interesting. Salt was a valuable commodity. https://www.nps.gov/gumo/learn/historyculture/saltwar.htm Where I am now there have salt licks and I did read that ashes from some trees can produce salt. Here is an article on coltsfoot salt: https://practicalselfreliance.com/coltsfoot-salt/ Our ancestors were quite resourceful.

  • LaurieLovesLearning
    LaurieLovesLearning Moderator Manitoba, Canada 🍁 zone 3, PrairiesPosts: 6,009 admin
    edited February 2020

    I got confirmation that this is road salt...so, unless somehow trading did get done in spite of factions (I think that is the word I want), I am now wondering if people may have got their salt from ashes of some sort like @VickiP mentioned.

  • torey
    torey Moderator Posts: 4,403 admin

    @Laurie Despite, the warring that may have gone on between certain nations or "factions" within those nations, there was still a tremendous amount of trade happening. The "Grease Trails" that existed here on the west coast allowed trade between Coastal and Interior First Nations where "grease" (Oolichan oil) was a huge trade item. Obsidian was also an extremely valuable trade item here in BC (and around North America). Pieces of obsidian blades that have been identified as originating at Mount Edziza (in Northwestern BC), have been found as far away as Alaska, Kamloops (BC) and Northern Alberta indicating widely spread trade routes. I took a short course in BC archaeology through our local Elder College and it was fascinating to learn about the early economies that were happening, long before first contact.

    Re @VickiP's comment about coltsfoot. I did this a number of years ago to see if it worked. And yes, the resulting ash is quite salty to taste so it would season food. However, I don't think it would work for food preservation. I don't think the ash would do the job like regular crystalline salt. And what a lot of coltsfoot you would need!!!

  • LaurieLovesLearning
    LaurieLovesLearning Moderator Manitoba, Canada 🍁 zone 3, PrairiesPosts: 6,009 admin

    I was reading about kochia (my husband was tilling some down yesterday). Young & cooked and in small quantities (and not grown in drought years), it isn't supposed to be toxic, if I read that correctly.

    I was wondering if this would possibly make for a salt substitute? Salt is important, but here in the Canadian prairies, edible natural salts are hard to come by, as I stated further up in this thread.

  • Monek Marie
    Monek Marie Moderator Posts: 3,231 admin

    Coltsfoot was used by the native americans in this area as a salt substitute. You burn the leaves and use the ash ash salt.

    I am sure there are other plants that can be used

  • MaryRowe
    MaryRowe Posts: 736 ✭✭✭✭

    As I was reading this thread, the question "what about saltwort?" occurred to me--I've heard of it, never used it or grown it, wasn't sure if it was called saltwort because of salt content, because it grew in salty places, or both. So I did a quick search,,..,, and it's going to take a more serious search to answer that. Apparently there are different saltworts, all are edible, but I'm still not clear on whether any are a source of sodium or not. The big surprise for me was the plant I know as tumbleweed, scourge of southeastern Washington state, is a saltwort, and when young has a great number of uses.

    Anybody have experience with any of the saltworts?


  • LaurieLovesLearning
    LaurieLovesLearning Moderator Manitoba, Canada 🍁 zone 3, PrairiesPosts: 6,009 admin

    @MaryRowe The kochia also grows where it is alkali (so, salty ground). It is also known as a tumbleweed once it dries.

  • MaryRowe
    MaryRowe Posts: 736 ✭✭✭✭

    @LaurieLovesLearning Now I'm getting really confused....reading that article about Salsola kali, I thought that was the tumbleweed/aka Russian thistle I grew up with in SE Washington state. But I looked up kochia just now (Kochia scoparia) and I see that one is classified as a noxious weed in Washington state. So I don't know. The S. kali looks more like the one I remember, but then that was 50+ years ago (Now I'm feeling ancient and confused....😕) This will definitely take some research to figure out.

  • LaurieLovesLearning
    LaurieLovesLearning Moderator Manitoba, Canada 🍁 zone 3, PrairiesPosts: 6,009 admin

    @MaryRowe I thought for the longest time that baby's breath was a tumbleweed. I suspect that there is more than one type of plant that is commonly known as that.

  • VermontCathy
    VermontCathy Posts: 1,312 ✭✭✭✭✭

    Any lake or other body of water that has no outlet will become salty over time. The rivers and streams that flow into it will bring traces of dissolved salts, and when water evaporates it leaves the salts behind.

    Whether the result is edible by humans will depend on which salts and other minerals are found in the surrounding souls.

    I suspect that some First Nations tribes never used salt directly, but ate meat from animals that could digest the local sources of salt.

    In some locations in Europe, there are huge caves that have been mined for salt since the Middle Ages.

  • Linda Tanner
    Linda Tanner Posts: 2 ✭✭✭

    This method only works for those who raise dairy animals or have access to their milk.

    A few years ago I accidentally "made" a form of salt. My goal was actually to freeze-dry the whey collected after I strained yogurt through cheesecloth. After straining the yogurt, there are two byproducts: "cheese" without the coagulent, and liquid whey.

    I put the whey liquid in the freezer, spread out over the surface of several large cookie sheets. If anyone wants to try this, be careful to make certain your cookie sheets are well balanced and everyone in the house is aware of them and why they must remain horizontal.

    Now check your white liquid whey periodically. Depending on your freezer and its whims, the water portion of your whey will gradually evaporate, leaving white gritty or even gooey material. The goal is to stir or scrape it around as often as you think it needs until you have something fairly solid and no longer a liquid. The first time will be a real experiment.

    When you have white flakes, lumps, chunks, slivers and pieces you are satisfied with, scrape it all into a clean, maybe even sterile, container, label it and keep in freezer. It might not need to be frozen, but I did.

    Anyway, when I checked the taste I was taken aback at how extremely salty it seemed, and then I realized that when making cheese, all or most all of the salts go out into the whey, which is why cheese that is unsalted is rather (very) bland. And my final realization was that not only did I have whatever proteins are in whey, but I now have a salt substitute.

    Knowing that cattle, goats, etc., that are milked are provided a source of salt, it's a good idea to make certain their salt is very high quality, as you will eventually be ingesting it if you use this method,

    Also learned from a user of "whey protein" that whey protein isolate is not particularly salty, so I have to assume the whey protein is carefully separated out of the whole whey. Hope this helps.

  • monica197
    monica197 Posts: 332 ✭✭✭✭✭

    You all are SO interesting!

    This was so interesting to read through!!

    I could see how salt would have been the most important thing around back then, with its purpose of preserving foods.

    I also wonder if our intake of food tases days (in the US and other industrialized nations) is much more than it was back then. I wonder if they would go a day or more without eating much at all and thus making the amount that they preserved go further - and making their need for stockpiled salt less. I remember thinking about this a bit as I was reading The Little House books. It just did not seem to me like they were eating very much, unless Laura just did not mention quantities accurately.

  • VermontCathy
    VermontCathy Posts: 1,312 ✭✭✭✭✭

    Incidentally, our word "salary" comes from the word for salt. Salt was a valued commodity in Roman times!

  • LaurieLovesLearning
    LaurieLovesLearning Moderator Manitoba, Canada 🍁 zone 3, PrairiesPosts: 6,009 admin

    @Welcome @Linda Tanner! What an interesting observation. I wonder how that translates when you put liquid whey into bread. We use our whey for that and a soup base but in its liquid form I have tended to taste it as sweet rather than salty. I have heard that cows on a municipal water system (with chlorine, etc.) tend to have a salter taste to their milk. That's what we have unfortunately but I don't taste the salt in it either. It makes me wonder what natural water would do now. It's been so many years since we had a working well here, I no longer remember.

    I see you found the intros section. Any time you need a little bit of a tutorial on anything or find that you want to review the rules, you will be able to find those & FAQ here on Our Front Porch:

    https://community.thegrownetwork.com/categories/our-front-porch-welcome%21-%28please-read-before-posting%29

  • RustBeltCowgirl
    RustBeltCowgirl North Coast OhioPosts: 1,404 ✭✭✭✭✭

    Also, "above/below the salt" was a distinction of wealth. At a feast (medieval Europe), if you were seated above the salt, you had money/power.

  • RustBeltCowgirl
    RustBeltCowgirl North Coast OhioPosts: 1,404 ✭✭✭✭✭

    Ashley (Practical Self Reliance) had this older post on her site.

    We've previously posted the "Extracting Salt from plants" article.

  • vickeym
    vickeym Posts: 1,409 ✭✭✭✭✭

    We are only about an hour from the ocean access here. Might have to make a stop one day this summer and give it a try. When we go to "town" we are much closer to the ocean there. May have to bring some containers and gather some water to bring home and boil.

  • LaurieLovesLearning
    LaurieLovesLearning Moderator Manitoba, Canada 🍁 zone 3, PrairiesPosts: 6,009 admin

    @vickeym Be sure to let us know how your experiment goes!

  • COWLOVINGIRL
    COWLOVINGIRL Posts: 954 ✭✭✭✭

    This is all very interesting! I never even thought of this but it does seem like it would be a very important part of pioneer life! Thanks everyone!

  • dipat2005
    dipat2005 Posts: 888 ✭✭✭✭

    Saltwort is an interesting plant that I am not familiar with and so it is an informative article.

  • Monek Marie
    Monek Marie Moderator Posts: 3,231 admin

    There are a few more salt mines in tehr United States than most people know about. I know there was on in Pennsylvania many years ago. I will have to find where it was and the history behind it

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