Salal - Gaultheria shallon - Health and Healing

I skipped this picture in my travel photos the other day because I wanted to cover it separately. This plant represents my introduction to foraging and wild food. This plant grew at my bus stop when I was in junior high and high school, but I didn't know it for what it was until a trip to Fort Clatsop where I was told about the salal and how it was mashed and dried into cakes by the Clatsop tribe, sometimes even mixed into pemmican for winter consumption.


Whenever I am back in the Pacific Northwest and I see this treat, I am quick to partake.


As a wild shrub, the salal typically grows between about 3 and 6 feet tall. The leaves are typical "leaf" shape, and leathery. As a member of the Gaultheria family (which includes wintergreen and snowberry), the berries begin as white berries, similar to under-developed blueberries and related. They ripen to a blue-black color, with a very rounded shape and leathery texture.

It grows along the Pacific Coast of California, Oregon, Washington and British Columbia. It's been introduced more inland as well, but it naturally grows where the soil is always damp.

(Do find some better pictures of the leaves if you are not already familiar with this shrub. Once you've really met this plant, you're not going to mistake it for anything else, but you need to be 100% certain you have correctly identified this plant.)


Some people aren't particularly keen on the taste (though I was just reading that if you don't like one bush, try another.) I found them pleasant, like under-ripe blueberries, but more earthy.

I have further learned that the young (lemony) leaves are edible, making a good appetite suppressant or flavor for soup or other wild food.

(The Northwest Forager has a lot more suggestions on how to eat this berry - and Wild Food and Medicines even has some recipes.)

Be mindful of the fact that plenty of wildlife love this berry, including bears.

Salal have antioxidants, flavenoids, fiber and even vitamin C.


Depending on who you ask, the salal will grow in partial shade from USDA zones 5-10. I will probably attempt to acclimatize a couple to my part of Wyoming, which is zone 4. If I create a damp area on the south side of my house (when we get moved) and further shelter it from winter cold and summer sun, I might be able to keep it alive long enough to be useful. It's definitely worth a try, anyway.


Salal has long been used medicinally by coastal (Salish and Chinook) tribes including the Klallam, Bella Coola, Quileute, Samish, Swinomish and Quinault peoples.

  • coughs, colds, flu, tuberculosis, sinuses and lungs
  • digestive issues including diarrhea, urinary tract, gastritis, colic, bladder irritation
  • burns, wounds, sores (probably due to drawing properties)
  • anti-inflammatory and astringent (as a tea)

Sources and Further Reading

Gardening Knowhow, Wikipedia, Wild Foods and Medicines (Recipes!) , Native Plants PNW , The Northwest Forager , The Garden Helper, Good Food World (more recipes!), Spilled News (some nutritional information).

Crossposted at Steem, Whaleshares, WeKu

Past issues of Health and Healing

Wild Healing & Foraging

Disease Prevention/Healing

Herbal Medicine

Plants to Avoid

Crystal Healing


I am not a medical doctor. I am a solver of problems. I do the best I can to research and come up with possibilities that you may find useful, but I cannot diagnose your medical issue, nor can I tell you the best way to handle your situation. If in doubt, seek professional assistance.

When turning to nature, especially in the wild, you must take all responsibility to do due diligence. Using the wrong plant/herb/fungi can be extremely harmful or even fatal. When in doubt, seek experienced help. Note that identical plants/fungi found in a different country may be very different.

Lori Svensen
author/designer at A'mara Books
photographer/graphic artist for Viking Visual
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blogging on: Steem, Whaleshares, WeKu

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