I’ll take that with a pinch of salt: and Christmas box

I have been on the cusp of a rant for a long time and a little leaked out last week (though I deleted it later). So I will keep the lid on a little longer until David Cameron’s ego breaks up the UK when it leaves the EU (looking forward to the Queen giving him a good slap and wiping that sickening grin off his greasy face) and none of that being of importance when President Trump is elected and WW3 begins.

But I bought a local paper the other day and was interested to read about salt. What always surprises me is the way that so called ‘health experts’ can get away with talking nonsense and throwing around phrases and words, corrupting their meanings and getting away with claims that would bring down reputable companies in an instant. I have posted about what I consider misleading food packaging before and it really irks me. But the salt debate is something that I find interesting too.

It is strange how a few years ago we were being told to avoid eating fats and now there has been a U turn and now fats are OK (in moderation of course) and sugars are the enemy. Did anyone with more than two brain cells to rub together need to be told that? So butter, that is full of nutrients (as well as calories I know) is better than a low fat spread that is made up of all sorts of additives and 70% water? Well who would have supposed that a natural food product is better (and so much tastier) than one made up in a lab?

But back to salt. I accept that too much salt is probably bad for you but we do need salt, as do most animals. So you think your dog loves you when it licks your hand? You think your cat is kissing you? No – they are just after your salty sweat, not your affection.

I accept that food manufacturers add salt (and sugar) to make their foods taste better or make them last longer and we need to watch our salt intake if we eat lots of nutritionally poor foods – though maybe we should cut down on them because they are nutritionally poor rather than the salt! So we need to consume salt carefully.

So if we are going to eat salt is one better than the other? Pure salt is sodium chloride and that is that. Some salts have iodine added (which has health benefits but I understand if you want a pure product). Then there are sea salts. I prefer these because they might contain trace elements of other nutrients but I buy the flakes because, although I don’t add a lot of salt to foods, I do like a sprinkle on salads or my eggs and I like the little crunch and a little salty tingle. Another advantage is that, living on an island (here in Ireland and when in the UK) it can be locally produced so not a lot of air miles are involved. And yes, I am a romantic at heart and if I believe that some locals have been doing the job for decades and I am supporting a little industry in some isolated part of Co. Clare so they can make a living from the land (well sea!) and not have to sell bags of Polish coal at the petrol station I sorta’ get a warm glow.

But I was given some pink Himalayan salt a while ago and have used it occasionally and that was why the aforementioned article attracted my attention. I was a bit anti-the-pink when I got the salt because although it was ‘mined’ in Pakistan, it was packed in South Africa but bought in Ireland – is that mad or what!

So, in the Gorey Guardian, Clair Whitty, a Bach Flower Practioner, writes ‘Himalayan Pink salt is a salt with many health benefits. It’s pure and natural and contains over 80 trace minerals that the body needs‘. At the end of the article she recommends ‘Add 2 teaspoons to a cup of warm water with the juice and zest of one lemon and sip for migraine headaches and sip’ (sic). I will give Clair the benefit of the doubt and assume this is supposed to cure a headache and not give you one. But 2 teaspoons is way more than the recommended daily consumption anyway.

Apart from the many health benefits she claims for the stuff – and she is not alone so I will not pick on her – if Pink Himalayan Salt is full of 80 trace minerals – in most other cases we would call them impurities – it certainly is not pure salt! If you ate a plum with a grub in it you might consider it natural but I doubt you would grin and extol its purity.

I believe the pinkness of the salt is down to iron compounds – that’s right, rust.

But what about all those 80 trace minerals that give the 250million year old salt crystals their colour. Most of these are present in such tiny amounts that even I, as a non nutritionist, would suspect they are not going to make much of a difference to my health, especially as I consume so little salt. An analysis displays a good chunk of the Periodic table and includes magnesium, boron, sulphur, iron and a whole host of elements found in other foods. But then there are the more interesting things. There are also tiny amounts of lithium (remember that from science lab at school?), arsenic, strontium, polonium, radium, uranium and a splash of plutonium for good measure. Recognise any of the last few? I know that bananas are supposed to be radioactive but I am sceptical that some of these ‘80 trace minerals that the body needs’ are the sort of things that I really want to sprinkle on my scrambled eggs. Hopefully the amounts of these are so low that they are harmless – but then the amounts of useful minerals are probably so low that they won’t do you any good either.

Ever thought you are being had?


Macro Monday Feb 22 answer


Yesterday’s mystery plant was Sarcococca confusa. Did you guess it correctly?  This is an essential plant for any garden (or one of its relatives) because it is a dense, neat evergreen with glossy leaves that will grow in sun or shade. This species is notable because it is the only one that does not sucker, not that the suckers on the other species are an issue. It forms a rounded bush up to 2m high and wide although the plant here is donkey’s years old and not at that height even though it is pretty wide. As I hinted at, this is a plant that you will notice in winter for its fragrance rather than its looks. The tiny, petal-less flowers, which owe their small amount of visual beauty to their cream stamens, blast out sweet fragrance for weeks on end in late winter. They are often called sweet box or Christmas box. There are a dozen or so species, from China, and some have red berries. Possibly the best is S. hookeriana var. digyna which is looser and more upright with almost the looks of a bamboo.


But if I were to choose just the one I would probably plump for ‘Winter Gem’ which is a hybrid of S. digyna ‘Purple Stem’ and S. humilis. It has the purple stems of one parent and a neat habit, all topped off with good fragrance. It was bred by Peter Moore who has created many top notch shrubs including choisya ‘Aztec Pearl’.

But they are all pretty throughout the year with small, glossy leaves and, although their flowers don’t look much, they will fill your garden with sweet fragrance just when your spirits need a lift.


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6 Comments on “I’ll take that with a pinch of salt: and Christmas box”

  1. derrickjknight
    February 23, 2016 at 7:27 am #

    If that is with the lid on, bring on the rant 🙂

  2. joy
    February 23, 2016 at 7:50 am #

    here here …..do we get to see the queen slap him? I do hope so……

  3. Luce
    February 23, 2016 at 12:00 pm #

    Love the black berries on S confusa too. A friend calls DC “slimy chops” – very apt I think.

  4. thelonggardenpath
    February 25, 2016 at 1:23 pm #

    Don’t get me started about so-called health claims! I could join in and rant for Scotland!
    As to Sarcococcas, I’m a total convert, mainly due to the perfume. They are such an accommodating plant, which suits our shady conditions so well. I started with one plant – S. humilis- but now have five different varieties. I wouldn’t be without it!

    • thebikinggardener
      February 25, 2016 at 1:54 pm #

      They are so lovely and often overlooked. Few people would go to a garden centre and pass over the primroses and buy a sarcococca. But they are missing a trick.

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