This section is from the book "Meals Medicinal", by W. T. Fernie. Also available from Amazon: Meals Medicinal: With "Herbal Simples" Curative Foods From the Cook in Place of Drugs From the Chemist.
Not only is Salt a condiment at table for giving a zest, and relish to foods, but it is essential in moderate allowance for such, neutralizing the abundant potash salts which are contained in foods, particularly of the vegetable sort.
"Ley Salt on the trenchere, with knyfe that be clene, Not too myehe, be thou were, for that maks yo lean".
It has been noticed that tribes, and races which subsist chiefly on vegetable diet, have more need of Salt than meat-eating communities; so that vegetarians, in common with herbivorous animals, are great consumers of Salt. The cereals, and leguminous plants which abound in potassium salts, would otherwise cause their copious excretion of soda in the urine (which Salt, taken with food, replaces) to be mischievous; but rice is an exception, as it contains but few potash salts. There is abundant evidence that a liberal use of Salt as a condiment tends to prevent the formation of gravel in the urine. Contrariwise, by some writers, notably Dr. Braithwaite, of Leeds, an excess of common Salt in the diet is believed to induce cancerous deposits. Oliver Wendell Holmes, the American writer, has humorously declared: "I can never stay among the village people of our windy Capes, without now and then coming upon a human being who looks as if he had been split, and salted, and dried, like the salt-fish which has built up his arid organization." In the folk-lore which is to be found among all European peoples, as to the unhallowed feastings, and merry-makings of witches, and demons, it is always noticeable that at such gatherings there was no Salt. And hence has arisen a notion that Salt is a safeguard, and a protection against sorcery, and witchcraft of all kinds; from which belief has been derived the old, and widespread notion that to spill Salt is most unlucky.
Leonardo da Vinci, in his famous painting of the "Last Supper." has most significantly indicated the evil intention, and the unhappy fate of Judas, by representing him in the act of upsetting the Saltcellar, and thus spilling the sacred Salt.
Just lately in this country a new habit of Salt-eating largely has sprung up, and prevails especially amongst women; it even reaches a stage in which the person carries lumps of Salt about, and is continually nibbling thereat; the disastrous effects of which pernicious practice are a peculiar yellowness, and shrivelling of the skin, followed presently by the loss of all the hair, even that of the eyelids; then cancerous disease frequently supervenes. Competent physiologists declare that table Salt has a very considerable power of retarding peptic (digestive) action in the stomach; even in the proportion of one part to a thousand during a meal it has an appreciable effect of this nature, and with one part in two hundred the effect is so great as to almost bring the digestive process to a standstill. "Why," asks Sir W. Roberts, "do we use so much Salt with our food? Animals in a state of nature require none: they find (with most rare exceptions) all the Salt they need in their natural food; but our cooks are always adding Salt in their culinary preparations, and we take it constantly on our plates at meals. This habit is probably dependent on the elaborate preparation, and cooking to which the food is subjected.
In the manipulation of wheat for flour the grain is deprived of its outer coating, or bran, which contains the larger part of the saline matters of the wheat. Potatoes, and green vegetables, are boiled in an excessive quantity of water, and thereby the saline ingredients are washed out. Meat, and fish are boiled, or roasted, and in these ways lose some of their mineral constituents. Salt must therefore be supplied artificially to make up the defect, and to restore to the food so treated, that sapidity, and salinity of which it has been in part deprived." Which cogent reason probably originated the old German proverb, "Saltz und brot machen bachen roth"- "Salt, and bread make the cheeks red." But the addition of some moderate Salt to the water when boiling meat is quite desirable, having a three-fold action: First, it immediately causes a coagulation of the outside surface of the meat, so that the inner juices are sealed up, and retained; secondly, it slightly raises the boiling point of the water; and, thirdly, by increasing the density of the water the exosmosis, or oozing out, of the sapid juices from within the meat is less active.
"The finny treasures of the deep, The flocks which climb the mountain steep, All food spread over plains, and lea, Without some Salt would tasteless be".
Various special uses of table Salt as a curative medicine have been explained previously in Kitchen Physic, as antiseptic, and chemically alterative against gout, whilst specifically curative in minute doses for a sneezing catarrh, preventive of chronic constipation, also of migraine, dispelling melancholy, and exterminating thread-worms. These several topics need not be reconsidered here. The noted old Lord Chesterfield, in his letters to his son, then at Basle (November, 1766), wrote: "I had been dangerously ill of a fever in Holland during 1732, and when I was recovered of it, the febrific humour fell into my legs, and swelled them to that degree, and chiefly in the evening, that it was as painful to me as it was shocking to others. I came to England with them in this condition, and consulted Mead, Broxholme, and Arbuthnot, who neither of them did me the least good, but, on the contrary, increased the swelling by applying poultices, and emollients. In this condition I remained near six months, until, finding the doctors did me no good, I resolved to consult Palmer, the most eminent Surgeon of St. Thomas's Hospital. He immediately told me that the physicians had pursued a very wrong method, as the swelling of my legs proceeded only from a relaxation, and weakness of the cutaneous vessels, and he must apply strengtheners instead of emollients; accordingly he ordered me to put my legs up to the knees every morning in brine from the salters as hot as I could bear it; the brine must have had meat salted in it.
I did so, and after having thus pickled my legs for about three weeks the complaint absolutely ceased, and I have never had the least swelling in them since." When treating kidney disease dietetic-ally the amount of Salt in the food should be diminished as much as possible, because the burden of excreting it falls entirely on the kidneys. A free use of table Salt in the diet makes the urine alkaline, and increases the solubility of gouty acid-products therein; for such reason stone in the bladder is rare amongst sailors, who consume much Salt. That Salt was customary as a condiment in the eighteenth century we may infer from an allusion thereto in the Art of Cookery (1790): -
"Perhaps no Salt is thrown about the dish? Or no Fry'd Parsley scattered on the Fish? Shall I in passion from my Dinner fly, And Hopes of Pardon to my Cook deny? "
The explanation of an almost universal desire for common Salt is to be found in the fact that this mineral is essential to all the fluids of the body, - the blood, the lymph, the chyle, tears, etc. It is a remarkable fact that when nutrient injections have to be given for support (food not being practicable by the mouth, on account of some serious disability) the addition of Salt thereto promotes their absorption; why this is so cannot be easily explained, but the effect is a matter of the first importance. For rheumatic swelling of the joints, and limbs, an application of the Salt-pack is to be highly commended. Some flannel soaked in a saturated solution of common Salt should be wrapped around the affected joints, and covered over with thin waterproof tissue (guttapercha, or oiled silk), upon which a bandage is bound, the whole appliance being kept on during all night, and continued every night whilst necessary. A dry flannel should be substituted around the part by day.
Salt is not present in the body, or in plants, unless conjoined with phosphates. The Cerebos Salt now deservedly in vogue with grocers contains a small definite proportion of the mixed phosphates as found in wheaten bran; it is a remarkably fine and white Salt, whilst it does not cake on a damp, or foggy day. During the course of an attack of lung inflammation (pneumonia) it is a strange fact that the urine (which then becomes scanty, and high-coloured) ceases to contain chlorides, such as are commonly present in healthy urine. At the same time these chlorides are found to be retained in the matters excreted from the lungs. Whilst this derangement persists, table Salt (chloride of sodium) should be withheld from the food, whether liquid or solid, and fresh lemon-juice should be added to the weak broths, or other simple drinks. When the expectoration becomes free, during convalescence, the chlorides are again discoverable in the urine. For serving to cure a catarrhal cold in its continuous stages, common Salt, when triturated, has a remarkable efficacy.
Though probably taken liberally at the same time as a condiment with food, it does not have in such form any similar results as when dried, and patiently rubbed up with dry powdered sugar of milk for half an hour together (one part of the Salt to nine parts of the milk sugar). The mixed powder should be then kept in a well-corked, wide-mouthed bottle; half a teaspoonful to be given on the tongue three times in the day. A dynamic virtue is thus acquired by the Salt resembling that contributed to crude quicksilver (comparatively inert as a medicine) when pounded up with conserve of roses into what is known as "blue pill," a potential drug even by giving only a few grains thereof. Provings of table Salt taken in excess by healthy persons have produced all the symptoms of chronic catarrh.