There are dozens of ingredients, tools, and medicines that you store to be ready for a survival situation. However, many people neglect one of the most important and versatile items: salt! Our ancestors regarded salt as a valuable commodity, much like oil is now, and used it for everything from food preservation to medicine. Although our modern world has largely relegated salt to a mere flavoring for your french fries, when the power goes out and the chemical factories close salt will once again become extremely valuable. Make sure you know what uses it has and how to store it properly so you’ll be prepared!
A little clarification: what kind of salt?
Before we go into uses and storage, let’s clarify what I mean by “salt”, since there are quite a few different kinds and not all are good for human consumption.
Salts fit for human consumption
- Table Salt is the white stuff you’re used to. “Sea salt” is just an unrefined version of the typical stuff, and includes other minerals from the mining/saltwater dehydrating process used to reclaim it. Table salt has iodine added to it, for reasons that will be explained in detail below.
- Epsom Salts are used for a variety of purposes, including improving the natural magnesium content of agricultural soils. It is also used for a variety of medical reasons, particularly as an agent for helping with cramps and arthritis when added to a bath, which is why they are commonly known as “bath salts” (though they are not the same as the bath salts that cause you to go zombie on innocent bystanders!)
- Canning salts are more expensive owing to the fact that they are specially ground to dissolve easily in canning liquid. They also don’t discolor canned foods owing to a lack iodine and other additives found in typical table salt.
Salts not recommended for human consumption
- Road or De-Icing Salts begin life as edible salts, but the chemical additions that make them so effective at clearing roads also makes them rather poisonous to people and animals.
- Ice cream salt, despite its name, is typically labeled as non-edible! It can touch food, but you usually rinse any mixture of ice and salt away before eating.
- Water Softener Salt can be edible, depending on who you ask, but it is risky. Some softener salts are basically just less refined table salt particles smooshed together into a brick for better use. However, others have additional additives in it that might be harmful if you were to rely on a bag of softener salt for all of your food-related needs. At the very least, it tends to be dirtier with particles from mining still left in it, since it’s not prepared with your dinner plate in mind.
When talking about generic “salt”, I’ll be referencing common table salt, since that is most common in your average household.
The controversy about iodized salt
While we’re clarifying, let’s look into the addition of iodine in your table salt. Iodized Salt has been sold in the United States since May 1, 1924, when the first batch was sold commercially in Michigan. This addition was encouraged by research from several entities, including the University of Michigan, that indicated that regions lacking in iodine (largely mountainous regions far away from the sea which is a rich provider of iodine) were suffering from thyroid problems and other medical ailments owing to iodine deficiency. The solution was to simply add trace amounts of iodine into the national diet, and by the end of 1924 Morton was already selling iodized
This has caused some controversy over the years because much of the decision making behind the addition of iodine to salt is done between scientists, government officials, and big businesses in the interest of “public health”. Many opponents fear that incidences of hyperthyroidism, among other ailments, are caused by the ubiquitous addition of iodine into a major food ingredient. Much like the controversy surrounding flouride in public water, many fear that iodized salt might cause more harm than good as new research gives deeper insight.
In my personal opinion, you should still buy and use some iodized salt in your preparedness stockpile unless you live near the ocean. Although I definitely don’t approve of the way our food supply is often manipulated, the advantage of easily accessible iodine cannot be overstated for those of you living inland. Goiter can cause your throat to swell to enormous size, while cretinism can cause retardation in both physical and mental growth, and both are caused by iodine deficiency. Furthermore, natural barriers or frequent flooding can prevent the natural addition of iodine to the soil by rain, meaning that certain regions are simply incapable of getting enough iodine to properly support people. Unless you plan on growing kelp or eating a lot of seafood during an emergency in order to get the iodine you need, many of you will need a supplement, and your bodies are already accustomed to getting iodine with salt anyway. If you elect to avoid iodized salt in any case, you’ll have to look harder and possibly even pay a premium for iodine-less salt.
The uses of salt
Now that we’ve finally got through all the clarifiers, let’s look at the uses of salt!
- Improving the taste of many foods, particularly meats. Shocking, I know, but salt adds an excellent flavor to many foods that otherwise are rather lacking and bland.
- Canning salt can be used to preserve goods by canning.
- Testing eggs for freshness. 2 teaspoons of salt in one cup of water give you a solution that causes bad eggs to float while good eggs to sink to the bottom. Much easier than cracking open a nasty bad egg!
- Smothering Grease Fires. Without a fire department to call upon, you’ll need to handle your own household blazes and salt does the job well when water can’t help you. Throw some salt on the grease fire and watch it slowly burn itself out.
- Easy shelling of whole nuts. Every bit of nutmeat is valuable in an emergency, so just soak the nuts in a saltwater mixture for a few hours and the weakened shell should peel away much more easily.
- Preserving cheese and milk. Without refrigeration to slow molding, keep your cheeses wrapped in a saltwater soaked rag to preserve them. Milk just needs a pinch of salt added to the container to slow bacterial growth.
Essential Cleaning and other “Householdy” uses for your Retreat
- A saltwater mixture can help get blood out of clothing when your washing machine is a non-functional paperweight.
- Dipping candles in saltwater can keep them from dripping. If you plan on using a candle to light your way to the latrine, make sure all of your new candles are dipped in saltwater first so you don’t end up burning yourself with hot wax drippings.
- Salt sprinkled on a countertop can help drive away ants. Those little buggers get into your food stocks, and even bite. Use salt to drive them away.
- Reducing pain from bee stings. Wet the spot and cover it with salt, and the pain will be relieved much more quickly.
- Relaxation. Add a few handfuls of salt to bathwater to help relieve the stress of the day. This may seem silly, but reducing stress really is a big deal when you consider the additional terrors of living in a world without most of the modern conveniences, medicines and safety you’ve had all your life.
- Keeping teeth clean. Pulverize the salt into tiny granules, then add 1 part salt to 2 parts baking soda for a simple makeshift toothpaste that is good for your teeth and gums. Be careful not to add overmuch salt, as the granules are gritty, which can wear down enamel in your teeth and weaken their structure if you use too much.
- Relieving a sore throat. A simple saltwater gargle can give a great deal of relief to someone suffering from a sore throat without costing you valuable medication.
- Treating bug bites. A mixture of lard and salt works well at healing bits from chiggers, mosquitoes, and other pests.
- Keeping your feet in good shape. After a long day of walking, add some salt to a pan of hot water and soak your feet. This relieves aches and pains and keeps you ready for another day of hard work. Always be sure to wash the salt off afterwards, since salt drains moisture and that can cause cracks in your feet.
- Keeping feet dry on the march. Depending on where you live, trench foot may be a serious threat to you if you plan of walking long distances. Cold, wet, and sweaty conditions can all contribute to horrible blisters and infections in the feet, but salt helps keep the feet dry by sucking away moisture when placed in your shoes. Also has the added advantage of reducing the stick of foot sweat.
- Cleansing minor wounds and keeping infection at bay. Minor wounds like cuts and scrapes can benefit from the addition of a salt rub to prevent disease and infection, though it can be somewhat painful. Larger woulds should be inspected and cleaned up before a salt bath or rub is applied: make sure that the wound is stitched, treated, or that the bleeding areas have coagulated before any salt is administered. Not only does this reduce pain, but the grittiness of the salt can actually be a hindrance if the wound will be treated soon.
And really there are thousands more uses available. Old housewives and grizzled soldiers alike would throw salt at almost any problem just to see if it helped, so there are literally dozens upon dozens of uses for salt in everyday life.
Storing salt properly
Of course, that doesn’t do you much good if you can’t store it correctly, right? Fortunately, salt is probably one of the easiest food ingredients to store. Where other foods need Mylar bags and special oxygen absorbers, salt only needs these few things:
- Keep it away from contaminants like dirt, dust etc by putting it in a sealed container. Plastic bags are great for this, and you can put the bags in 5 gallon buckets or plastic tubs for increased durability when transporting or storing it for a long time. No oxygen absorbers are necessary.
- If you do use common table salt instead of sea salt, know that the iodine and anti-caking ingredients will break down over time (usually about 5 years). This salt is still usable after that point, but it won’t have the same iodine content and will be more likely to clump in moist air.
- Keep it away from moisture. This is more a convenience and texture thing, as you can just dry the salt out again and it’ll be perfectly usable. However, salt does attract moisture, so if you prefer to keep it from clumping up store it in a dry place or in an airtight container.
And that’s about it. Really. Salt is a mineral, so it doesn’t “rot” and it’s a natural cleaning agent anyway so it can’t become dangerous over time so long as you keep dirt and dust away.
Now that you know the advantages of having salt and how to use it, go out and make sure you have enough for your needs, so that you can be prepared.
Let us know what you do.
Salt has thousands of uses: let us know how salt helps you!
This article first appeared at Prepared For That: How to Use and Store the Most Versatile Item In Any Emergency Stockpile