Nature Connection: Saltwater Heals Everything

By: Mary Richmond

Mary Richmond photo

If you grew up on Cape Cod, your mom or dad probably told you the same thing mine did whenever I got a scratch, cut, or bump at the beach. “Just go soak it in the water,” they said, “saltwater heals everything.” And so, we did, and they were right. Within minutes we forgot about our pain or itch and became firm believers in the same mantra.

I’ve since read that this is not a true thing, that indeed saltwater does not heal anything, let alone everything, but who listens to such nonsense? Some have even gone so far as to list various bacteria and other distasteful things in the water that confirm their stand, but I, like my relatives before me, just laugh. They know not what they say. We will stand by our prescription, no matter what proof they bring to the table, because we are Cape Codders and well, we know stuff.

Whether or not saltwater actually medically heals us doesn’t really matter. It heals what ails us enough times that it is part of our mental if not physical medicine cabinets and first aid kits.

As children, going into the water distracted us from whatever else was bothering or hurting us. To be clear, our parents didn’t send us into the water with injuries that were gushing blood or anything like that. These were the minor cuts and scrapes kids get at the beach, usually from a shell fragment in the sand or a pinch from a crab. For jellyfish stings we got to visit the lifeguard and get doused with ammonia but even then we were sent back into the water to let the saltwater do its thing. Even jellyfish couldn’t spoil our fun for long.

As adults, saltwater heals us in different ways. Some of us swim every day, putting in many miles over the warmer months. Some others of us simply wade, wiggling our toes in the sand as we let the saltwater soothe our tired feet. There are those that simply walk alongside the water, letting the sight and sound of the waves do their magic on sad or bad moods.

Whether we go to the shore for fun and frolic, contemplation and meditation, or exercise, we feel a connection with the sea that begins with the salty water but goes much deeper than the sodium content.

One can argue, of course, that we are made mostly of water, predominantly saltwater. Our blood and sweat are salty, as all children can attest. Our tears are salty, too. I’m just throwing this out there, but don’t they give you a saline solution by IV when you’re in the hospital as well? See, there really is something to this saltwater thing. That’s my story anyway, and I’m sticking to it. We obviously have an affinity with salty water even if we can’t drink it or use it to wash our dishes or make coffee.

As I’ve gotten older I’ve morphed from the child who soaked her scraped feet in shallow water to the grandmother who encouraged the kids to do the same. Like me, they now believe in the power of the saltwater just as their mother did so many years ago.

These days I find most of my saltwater healing by walking the beach, sitting on the beach staring out over the ocean, or staring at the sea from my car on miserable days full of wind and rain. The sea has healed me more times than I can count and I’m sure if I asked my fellow walkers, sitters, car-bound coffee drinkers, and others that find solace in saltwater, they’d agree. Those naysayers are simply wrong.

On a recent walk I watched a storm cloud approaching over the water. I gauged my time carefully, knowing full well that I could be wrong and end up soaked, but I continued my walk anyway. It had been a long week, a long day, and I needed my dose of saltwater more than I needed to remain dry. The gulls watched me as they hunkered down in the sand. The ducks dabbled in the seaweed near the jetty and a lone lobsterman gunned his engine, probably hoping to get into port before the rain came. No one needed radar for this one. The storm clouds were big, black, and trailing ribbons of rain in the distance that was quickly become more close than distant.

It didn’t matter. I’d been caught in rain and wind at the beach before. Sometimes it was exactly what I needed, too. The ocean was a steel gray, the sky almost white around the rain-filled cloud. The air was crisp and salty, so damp I could taste the salt on my lips. I rounded the point and headed back toward the parking lot, about half a mile away.

The rain cloud raced closer and closer, so close I could feel the drops of rain as they began to randomly splat down from the sky. Unlike the salt spray, these drops tasted almost metallic, like ice cubes made in old fashioned ice trays. 

I was back in my car just as the sky opened up and washed away all thoughts of a longer walk. It didn’t matter. The saltwater had done its work. I felt much better as I turned the ignition key than I did when I arrived. It’s true, saltwater does heal what ails us, even if the doctors don’t believe us. Not all medicine can be clinically tested and proven, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t work. Don’t take my word for it. Check it out for yourself.