There’s an old Seinfeld episode where Kramer tries to get the smell of the beach bottled and turned into a perfume. The perfume executives in the episode ridicule him saying that nobody likes to smell like the beach. Well, I’m with Kramer.
To me, the beach smells like that indescribably sweet smell found only in South Carolina mixed with the saltiness of the water and the coconut smell of sunscreen. In essence, it’s the best smell on earth.
But there’s one scent associated with the beach, or more specifically the marsh, that most people probably wouldn’t want to smell like, and that’s the scent of the plough mud.
Plough mud is that rich, dark, soft and highly aromatic mud of the marsh. It’s the home to creatures big and small including fiddler crabs, snakes and alligators. It’s also full of biodegrading microorganisms that make it chock full of nutrients – and that sulfur smell we all know so well.
I enjoy the smell of the plough mud because it reminds me of home, but even I’ll admit that it can be a bit overpowering. However, without that mud, the south wouldn’t be what it is today.
Plough (pronounced pluff) mud helped farmers back in the 1800s get crops thriving after the cotton era was over. Cotton caused the farm land to be depleted of nutrients and the growing of good crops was an issue until the nutrient-rich plough mud was used.
This mud put nutrients back into the ground and made crops of all kinds grow better than they ever had before. The best thing was that this natural resource was easy to come across seeing as it was and still is all along the coast of South Carolina.
Using the plough mud in the crops is actually how it got its name. Back then, it was called “plow mud.” However, it was spelled “plough” back then. Over time, for whatever reason, people began calling it “pluff” mud and that’s the name that’s stuck after all of these years.
So the next time you’re down south and get a whiff of that rotten-egg scent while crossing over a marsh on a bridge or driving along Highway 174 here on Edisto, know that without it the south – and Edisto –wouldn’t be what it is today without it.