Silver (Ag), argentum in Latin, is a mineral that has been known to have natural antibiotic and antibacterial properties. It has been used historically for thousands of years by ancient civilizations to disinfect and treat diseases. It also helps to preserve foods and liquids from contamination. The ancient Greeks and Romans stored perishables in silver vessels. Before the the invention of refrigeration, a silver coin dropped into milk storage would help delay spoilage.
For centuries European royalty exclusively used silver utensils (“born with a silver spoon in her mouth”), plates, goblets and vessels to eat and drink from, and were often called “blue bloods.” The term was coined from the characteristic bluish tint of their blood and skin due to minimal traces of pure silver. This was probably magnified with their pale, untanned skin, a sign of aristocracy not having to work outdoors. Regular constant use of silverware actually leached ionic and colloidal silver particles into the body. It was noted that this noble class did not become as sick as the less privileged common class that ate from earthenware dishes and used iron utensils, often becoming diseased. However, an excess of silver ion particles deposited in the body causes a condition called Argyria, turning skin a permanent blue-gray color.
Colloidal silver and silver nitrate were commonly prescribed especially in the 1800s until 1938 when penicillin took center stage. The antibacterial properties in silver successfully treated a long list of ailments, infections, and disease conditions. The widespread use of silver lost popularity with the invention of modern antibiotics. Colloidal silver is still being used today as an alternative approach to support the immune system and to treat many illnesses, with controversial opinions of its usage.
Other current uses of silver, its compounds and nanoparticles can be found in medical applications and devices, dental procedures, electronic components, photosensitive emulsion, and even infused into clothing and domestic applications to help resist bacterial forming odors.
There are so many important historical and symbolic characteristics of silver and a varied array of practical, medicinal, and creative uses of this precious metal, but I think I’ll stick to jewelry making.