Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Artisan Sea Salt: Organic, Traditional Nutrition, Healing, Medieval Re-creation, & Cleansing Magic!

Organic Herbal Bath Therapy with course Celtic Sea Salt
Sometimes known collectively as Artisan salt, there are several brands which are still harvested in the traditional manner. The Celtic Sea in Brittany and Tavira in the Ria Formasa Natural Reserve in Portugal are just two of the places that still practice the ancient techniques that some suggest can be traced back for thousands of years.  Celtic Sea Salt is in fact a brand name of sea salt that is harvested in the traditional manner.  This brand and some others are certified by Nature et Progrès, one of the oldest PGS in the world, functioning without discontinuity since 1972. Nature et Progrès still operates as a PGS, with its own private organic standard, its own certification procedures (involving peer review and consumers in the inspection process) but is not allowed to call its products “organic” (“biologique” in French) due to the third party certification requirements of the EU regulation.  I still find the designation very useful, however, using this third party certifier to distinguish their products from mined rock salt or evaporated sea salt.

Our bodies run on salt. Without properly balanced salt we run out of electrolytes and our ‘batteries die out’. Refined table salt, however, promotes pathological calcification and a breakdown of cellular tissue. All side effects, warnings, and bad press are based on medical research that has been done with refined, white table salt, which is 99.8% sodium chloride. NaCl can actually solidify the membranes of the human body, cause water retention, headaches, etc. Ordinary table salt can also contain aluminum-based ‘free-flowing’ agents and significant amounts of sugar. When people talk about "salt", they overlook the fact that there are approximately 82 other elements in natural sea salt which serve as a buffer to protect you from the harshness of pure sodium chloride. Those buffers ensure our bodies use the sodium properly, and eliminate it completely and quickly through the kidneys once it has been utilized. Your very blood requires properly balanced salt to function. When the cells of a mammal are deprived of sodium they literally explode attempting to equalize inside and out. Your cells must be bathed in a sodium-based, extracelluar fluid.

Sea salt actually stabilizes blood pressure, whether high or low. It is the primary cleanser of our veins and arteries, keeping our ‘transmission lines’ clean since it has the ability to clear plaque. Proper salt in the blood stream breaks up grease and ensure normal circulatory flow. A study performed in Rotterdam, Netherlands with 100 women and men with untreated mild to moderate hypertension showed that when common table salt (NaCl) was replaced with mineral salt high in potassium and magnesium a reduction in blood pressure equivalent to that obtained with hypertensive reducing drugs was achieved. The reduction ranged from 4.0 to 11.2 mm Hg systolic and 0.8 to 5.8 mm Hg diastolic. (British Medical Journal, 1994, 309: 436-40) A reduction in pulse rate was also recorded for the group given the mineral salts. No reduction in pulse rate was recorded for the group given the placebo and their blood pressures even rose slightly. Although this study was not done with properly balanced sea salt, you can easily see how beneficial a diet that replaced table salt with properly balanced sea salt could be for men or women with hypertension.

Sea salt not only helps to digest and emulsify foods natural oils, helping to scour the artery walls clean, it effects digestion. Proper salt actually creates hydrochloric acid. Hydrochloric acid is made from the hydrolysation of chlorine. Salt also re-enriches your saliva so your body can manufacture the proper digestive juices to break down complex carbohydrates, celluloids and chlorophyll. People used to eat a salty soup before a meal to enhance digestion.

Sea salt also recharges and maintains the cells and energizes the body. Proper salt recharges the cells in much the same way as a battery. The better you maintain the battery, the longer it lasts and the better it performs. Deprived of this vitally balanced saline solution, cells degenerate and age. We are salt-based creatures - tears, blood and sweat are salty. Those who preach a ‘no salt' diet should instead say a ‘no refined sodium chloride’ diet. The general rule of osmosis applies to bodily functions: Water goes where salt goes. If we do not replenish our body’s salt reserves, we throw off the vital balance of salt and water that keeps us operating normally. Your body will begin to secrete water more quickly in order to raise the level of sodium concentration in the bloodstream. Signs of too little salt in the diet may take the form of sweating profusely and loss of appetite, extreme fatigue and/or insomnia followed by muscles that become sore and stiff and begin to twitch. Convulsions can result in extreme cases. Traditinally harvested sea salt is completely unrefined to ensure proper bodily utilization. You will notice that it is moist; dry salt indicates that the magnesium has been removed, because magnesium clings to water. Salt from ancient sea beds and salt mines are also not as beneficial for humans. Millions of years of rainfall through many geological layers will deplete vital minerals from these deposits and introduce other components. Most of the essential elements are driven far below the salt line, thus destroying the delicate, natural balance of mineral, gases, and moisture found in the living waters of the ocean.

Celtic Sea Salt is harvested annually from Brittany, the north western most point of France that borders the Celtic Sea. The government of France considers the region where Celtic Sea Salt is harvested a national treasure and imposes the strictest regulations to keep its resources pure. Twice daily, the ocean water that feeds the marshes is carried inland from the North Atlantic Current by 15 foot tidal waters. Celtic Sea Salt is hand harvested by the paludiers or salt farmers of Brittany the same way it has been for generations. In Portugal, similar traditions are followed by the marenotos (salt gatherers). It takes four years to train a paludier. During the winter months the oeillets or salt beds must be groomed to prepare for the next season’s salt crop. This process involves meticulous raking of the bottom of the oeillets. Each oeillet is lined with a natural layer of clay and sand that helps filter any debris present in the water. Before the water flows into the oeillets it is held in large settling ponds which have their own ecosystems. Brine shrimp and a variety of plants and fish thrive in these ponds. Because these fragile organism cannot live in polluted environments, by monitoring the health of the ecosystems the paludiers can gauge the quality of the brine in the salt fields. In early March, the ocean water is allowed into the field for the first time in the season. This water is directed to the fields via a series of canals. The brine flows through the oeillets which vary in number from 30 to 100. The brine settles in the fields for approximately three months before the first harvest. During this time, the salt is allowed to exposed to the sun and wind, allowing water to evaporate. The paludiers test the salt regularly at every oeillet. Analysis performed periodically ensure there are no detectable levels of heavy metals in Celtic Sea Salt.

When I'm pregnant, I have a strong tendency to water retention and a lack of energy. During my last pregnancy, I was able to easily combat both problems in a healthy way by eating traditionally harvested sea salt. I sat down with some raw carrots and a dish of salt, dipping the carrot into the salt to eat it. By the time the carrot was gone, I was full of energy, and never had any edema this time. I highly recommend it as a safe, gentle alternative to many of even the more severe problems of pregnancy, including hypertension, mineral depletion, edema, constipation, and others.

Traditionally harvested sea salt is a food and should be used as such. Because it has a perfect balance of the essential trace minerals and gases the body requires, in cooking or baking use only 2/3 of what the recipe calls for. Always salt to taste. Because it emulsifies oils, chefs have known for centuries that if they add oil alone to food, it becomes ‘greasy’ and indigestible but if salt is added, it breaks the bonds of the oil giving it a wonderful taste and consistency. Sprinkle it lightly over raw fruits and vegetables to aid digestion and mineral absorption. Some dissolve and drink small quantities in a glass of water, fruit or vegetable juice. Instant mineral water!

Medieval reCreationists should also take note of this traditional salt! When civilizations move inland away from the ocean, many solutions are created to solve the salt problem. Some mine it in available areas as rock salt, which is different in every quarry, or bring it in from the sea directly or as kelp and other products. In much of antiquity, elaborate and impossibly long trade routes were established to carry various forms of salt all over the known world. It's one of the reasons that salt was worth it's weight in gold!

In attempting to reCreate dishes of the past, current table salt is completely inadequate to the task. Not only does the simple toxic structure of modern table salt completely change the chemical reactions of the cookery, the added iodine and "free flowing agents" change the flavour. I can always tell when someone uses table salt in cooking or baking. Even sea salt harvested for modern tastes does not have the necessary consistency. Sea salt harvested in the traditional manner has the correct ratio of constituents and is the best ingredient for replicating the taste, texture, and quality of medieval dishes.

Salt is often used in ritual and spell work. It can be for cleansing a space or object, representing the ocean itself, or as a substitute for adding blood potency to the endevour. Since blood has almost the exact same minerals components as sea salt, and is said to taste the same, the only kind of sea salt that should be used in ritual is traditionally harvested sea salt, with its natural and unaltered ratio of minerals. Table salt, as a toxin and chemical, is an abomination. Though for a simple cleansing, modern sea salt could be used in a pinch... Heh.

In my beauty products, nothing but traditionally harvested sea salt will do, of course. The natural composition is far gentler to the skin, and helps the cells regenerate and heal. I blend them with herbs and use them in the bath, in powders, and in salt scrubs to nourish my body, relax my muscles, and balance my skin. You can check out some of my available blends in my shops!

For cooking, baking, bath salts, and beauty treatments, I personally will never use anything other than traditionally harvested sea salt: for myself, my family's, and my clients' health.

Some data from the work of Jacques DeLangre, Ph.D., Biochemist, and ‘the Salt and Grain Society, Inc.’

Abridged version of this article published on Witchvox, March 3, 2013