Plant Profile: Salal

NW Plant Profile #2 – Salal (Gaultheria Shallon)

In my previous Oregon-grape post I briefly mentioned another berry native to the Northwest called the salal. Salal (gaultheria shallon), also known as shallon, is a perennial shrub native to the west coast of America and Canada, ranging from California through British Columbia and Alaska. In the Northwest salal was eaten by the native Haida people after being mixed with Oregon-grape, salmon eggs, or dried into cakes, while today it is used in preserves, jams, or pies.

Salal berries, while referred to most commonly as such, are actually sepals, a type of leaf that grows at the base of the flower. In most plants the sepals will wither, but in some species they instead swell into an edible fruit-like form. In the case of salal, the sepals ripen in August and September into a shape and color that resembles dark blueberries. Fans of foraging find the salal in abundance in Oregon, and describe the taste as similar to blueberries yet unique. In the spring, before the berries have formed, young leaves will be available that are also edible. Just like the berries, the young leaves are an appetite suppressant, and make for a quick snack while on the trail or in your garden.

If you aren’t a fan of foraging, salal is easily grown (sometimes to the point of invasiveness), providing a versatile hedge that can be allowed to grow wild or trimmed into neater hedgerows that will offer blooms in spring and summer followed by your own patch of salal leaves and berries to gather and eat, bake, or preserve.