Gaultheria shallon

Common name: salal

Scientific name: Gaultheria shallon

Native American names: sallal (Chinook)[1]

Plant family: Ericaceae

Description: Salal is one of the most common understory shrubs that spread along the forest floor. Stems are thick and hairy and are variable in height.[2]  Leaves are evergreen, alternate, thick and leathery, dark green and finely toothed.[2]  Flowers are small whitish/pinkish inflorescences at the branch tips.  Fruits are dark purple/blue berries with ripe seeds in Sept-October.[3]

Habitat and Range: Gaultheria shallon grows in low to medium elevations, from coniferous Douglas-fir forests to rocky bluffs and the coast.  It is found in Western North America from California to British Columbia.[3]

Historical and Contemporary Uses

Gaultheria shallon has been used historically and presently by different Native American tribes in the Pacific Northwest and Western United States.  The Kwakwaka’wakw tribe has used these berries as part of a meal during large feasts.  The Haida have used the berries from salal for thickening salmon eggs, and the Ditidaht have used young leaves as a hunger suppressant.[2] Gaultheria shallon has been used for trading and selling with Native American tribes when mixed with other berries.  The fruits are eaten both fresh and dried, used as sweeteners and in jams and preservatives.[2]

Gaultheria shallon is used medicinally as an astringent, a poultice, and a stomach tonic.  The poultice consists of a mixture of the toasted, pulverized leaves that can be used to help heal cuts, burns, and sores.  The stomach tonic is made from an infusion of the leaves, and helps to treat diarrhea, coughs and tuberculosis.[3]  Salal is also known to be used to create different colored dyes; a dark purple from the berries and a greenish-yellow from the leaves.[3]  Wild harvested salal is used as a floral green in various floral arrangements.[4]

[1] Denes, Andrew H. On the Duration of Salal. American Speech Vol. 53 (1978): 210-214.

[2] Pojar, Jim and Andy MacKinnon. Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast.  B.C. Ministry of Forests and Lone Pine Publishing, 1994.

[3] Plants For a Future Database. 1996-2010.

[4] Ballard, Heidi and Lynn Huntsinger. Salal Harvester Local Ecological Knowledge, Harvest Practices and Understory Management on the Olympic Peninsula, Washington. Human Ecology, 34 (2006): 529-547.