Lewis and Clark spent three years traversing the length of the United states by foot and canoe. When they finally arrived on the West coast and finished their journey there was something there they had not yet seen. Both Lewis and Clark wrote about Salal (Gaultheria shallon), which they first encountered in 1806 near present day Astoria, then home to the Clatsop, at the end of their adventure.Considering that Salal is one of the most common understory plants in the PNW, it’s amazing that it wasn't “discovered” by these two great explorers until the very end of their trip.
The sweet, dark purple Salal berries, ripe in July to September, have been traditionally eaten fresh by the Pacific Northwest native people. The Kwakwaka’wakw in British Columbia ate them dipped in Oolichan grease, or dried into cakes and in Alaska, the Haida used berries to thicken salmon eggs. Today, the berries are also made into jams or jellies in combination with other berries including currants and elderberries. Also checkout other Salal berry recipes including Salal berry ice cream sandwiches here!
The Salal’s evergreen, oval-shaped leaves are thick and waxy and have also been used to line cooking pits or rolled into a cone to drink out of. Along with evergreen huckleberry leaves, they are also very popular in the floral industry. Deer and elk consume Salal leaves as winter foliage and is the preferred food by some mountain beavers.
The Salal plant leaves also provide many medicinal functions. They been used for burns and sores by the Klallam, Bella Coola, and Quileute People who placed chewed up leaves directly on wounds. They have also been used for internal remedies. The leaves can be made into a tea and used as an astringent and anti-inflammatory. From the sinuses and lungs to the urinary tract, the tea can be used for ailments all throughout the body. The tea has been used to treat everything from coughs and digestive problems to tuberculosis. They have also been used as a hunger suppressant by the Ditidaht people in British Columbia.