Salt is a mineral compound that is found in most of our diet. Ham, pizza, seafood, cheese, and more all have high natural sodium content, and, while not all, most processed foods have a bit of salt added in for flavor. Dieticians would advise avoiding such high sodium foods, stating that too much salt isn’t good for your long-term health. While true, too little salt can be bad for you, too.
The easiest way to get salt in the wild is by boiling saltwater, most commonly found in the ocean. If you’re further inland, burning or boiling certain plant leaves and roots or, if all else fails, consuming animal blood can be your salt substitute.
Salt is an electrolyte found in both the blood and lymph fluid, creating a balance of healthy blood pressure and blood fluids that is essential for muscle and nerve function. When there is a sodium deficiency in the body, it is called hyponatremia. In America, the prevalence of hyponatremia is around 1.1% to 2.1% of the total population.
Common causes of hyponatremia are:
- Certain medications/drugs
- Certain medical conditions
- Heart/Liver/Kidney problems
- Too much water
- Severe vomiting or diarrhea problems
The effects of hyponatremia are:
- Muscle Cramps
In extreme cases, prolonged hyponatremia can also lead to shock, going into a coma, and even death. So while keeping track of your hydration and food is important out in the wild, sodium intake is also crucial to monitor.
Salt is most commonly found near sources of saltwater. Seas, oceans, estuaries, and bays all have salt, which one can boil directly from the water or sift through on their beaches. One can also find salt in dry lake beds, where large bodies of water once sat before evaporation occurred.
Further inland, certain plants can be burned, boiled, or eaten raw for their salt content. Plants and vegetables like hickory roots, dandelions, walnuts, pecan roots, and the coltsfoot weed can all provide that salt content needed to maintain the right blood balance.
Barring seawater or salty vegetation, animal blood does contain sodium. If you’re out in the wild, then killing and not draining animals of their blood can provide you with enough sodium to not trigger hyponatremia.
Plants can be hard to differentiate, especially if one’s without experience or without a survival guide. Here are some short, key identifiers to keep in mind while in the wild searching for salt:
Walnuts, pecans, and hickory trees are pretty easy to spot once their respective seeds start dropping during autumn, but once winter sets in, all the trees lose their leaves as well as their seeds, leaving them harder to identify.
Walnut trees can range from 50 to 100 feet tall depending on the type with a comparable crown width, while its trunk width ranges from 2 to 6 feet. Walnut bark ranges from brown to dark gray and has deep ridges running vertically along the trunk. Their leaves are pinnate, with most having a large single leaf at the end of the twig. Their leaves turn brown or yellow in the fall. The walnut itself is covered in a husk that looks like a small round or oval green balls.
Pecan trees can be as tall as 70 to 100 feet with a crown width of 40 to 75 feet while having a trunk width of 6 feet. The bark can range from grayish to reddish-brown. Pecan shells are thin and green in the summer but become brown and oblong-shaped in the fall.
Hickory trees are 60 to 80 feet tall with a crown width of 40 to 60 feet, while their trunk width ranges from 1 to 3 feet. Hickory bark has vertical patterns which can flake off as they mature, the bottom bark curling upward to create a splintered look. Their leaves are usually 2 to 8 inches long, with serrated edges or rounded serrated edges. The hickory nut will have a green husk but will harden to a brown with a seam around the middle.
Dandelions are pretty identifiable: A yellow flower with leaves that only grow from the bottom stem and white seed heads that blow away with the wind. They grow on all seven continents, in the rural areas and the cities, so
Coltsfoot is a plant that looks similar to a dandelion: A yellow flower and green stem, but the coltsfoot’s yellow bloom actually disappears before the leaves ever emerge; a key differentiating factor between the two.
Coltsfoot is named after its hoof-shaped or heart-shaped leaves, which grow in a circle at the base of the stem. The leaves are usually 5 to 25 centimeters long while the plant itself averages around 10 to 15 centimeters in height. Its leaves appear waxy at the top, but the underside is covered in white, wool-like hairs. The plant is usually found in open, undisturbed areas, including ditches, riverbanks, and forest edges.
Aside from a few methods, obtaining salt usually requires a process to extract the mineral from either the water or from parts of plants. These extraction methods require items, which include:
- a boiling pot
- a campfire/stove
- a firestarter
- a knife
- a pan
- a shovel
- weapon of your choice
One can separate salt from saltwater in two different ways:
- Boiling the saltwater.
- Placing saltwater in shallow trays during the day and allowing the sun to evaporate the water.
One can also collect water from shallow tide pools at the end of the low tide without having to boil it.
Sand in or near salt water can also be extracted for salt in two ways:
- Adding water to the sand, separating the saltwater from the sand, and from there extract the salt from the water as listed previously.
- Physically separating the salt from the sand by either panning for the sand until the salt rises to the top or picking it out one by one.
To extract salt from the roots, one must:
- Collect the roots. Pecan, hickory, and walnut might require a shovel to dig up their bigger roots, but one can follow the roots until they’re smaller to collect them by hand. Make sure if you’re collecting smaller roots, to collect more of them to get the required sodium you’ll need.
- Clean the roots.
- Cut the roots into around one-inch pieces.
- Boil the roots in one-inch water.
- Once the water turns black, remove the roots. Should take around 10 minutes.
- Continue the boil until the water evaporates. Once it evaporates, you’ll have a usable salt substitute.
By boiling the roots, you’ll be extracting the nutrients from the roots and these nutrients, while bitter, can provide you with sodium.
To gain salt from Coltsfoot leaves:
- Collect as many leaves as you carry because there’s a small amount of salt in the leaves. The drier the leaves, the better.
- Dry the leaves until they’re brittle to touch.
- Roll the leaves into a bundle carefully.
- Light one end of the bundle on fire.
- Tap the ashes into a container like you would a cigarette. The ashes are your salt substitute.
Animal Blood is the most straightforward to obtain: hunt an animal and don’t drain its blood before you cook it. This could be done with your weapon of choice, knife, or gun, but be aware of the season, the animal you’re hunting, and your local hunting laws. Most animals have a hunting season in which you’re allowed to hunt and hunting them outside of that season can result in hefty fines.
The problem with animal blood isn’t the possibility of too few nutrients, including the much-needed sodium, but too many. Animal blood is high in iron, which can lead to hemochromatosis or a buildup of iron in the body. It can also be prone to bacterial growth, causing illness or infection. The best way to get the sodium you need without risking your health is to consume animal blood in small quantities over a longer period.
While packing up the bare essentials to prepare for a survival trip, salt is rarely considered, but besides water, food, warmth, and shelter, salt is a much-needed mineral for our body. It helps us maintain our blood pressure and blood fluid balance. Luckily, getting salt in the wild is a matter of either finding the nearest saltwater body source, right vegetation, or animal.