Salal Berry Facts; How Mutch Important, Benificial And Interesting?

Salal, a backdrop in Northwest woodlands, is so common that many people barely notice it. Its shiny deep-green leaves remain beautiful all year. Stems are long-lasting when cut and are a valued addition to floral arrangements. This mirrors salal berry's qualities as a powerful preservative. They are loaded with vitamins and antioxidants that prevent degeneration and help us to live a long and sustaining life.


    Eating Salal Berries

    Salal is one of our most common and most overlooked berries. They are ripe during late summer - usually August and September. Flavor varies from delicious to bland and boring, depending on soil and sun conditions. Taste the berries before you gather them, and if they do not suit you, try traveling to a different bush. A short distance can make a big difference in taste.

    It amazes me to hear how many people think salal berries are inedible or even poisonous. Admittedly, they are not quite as delicious as thimbleberries, huckleberries and other Northwest favorites, but they are readily available and have good flavor. My palate recognizes them as grape-like with an earthy and complex undertone. They are mealier than other berries, but can get really juicy if they are growing in the right conditions. I often add lemon juice to brighten their flavor.

    Here is the special thing about salal - it has great preservative power. Salal berries are high in antioxidants and they dry really well. I use them as a base in making fruit leather one of our favorite family snacks. It is easy to make and lasts for a year or more. I have found that if I mix about a third salal berries with other berries the fruit leather dries much faster and is less likely to spoil.

    Salal berries were used in this way among Salish People. They were a staple food that could be mashed, dried into cakes and then stored and eaten in the winter months. The cakes were dried on cedar boards or skunk cabbage leaves (also called Indian wax paper). According to Erna Gunther in Ethnobotany of Western Washington, the Lower Chinook People's salal loaves weighed as much as 10-15 pounds! Many people preferred to rehydrate the cakes in water or dip them into seal, whale or eulachon oil. Salal is still a beloved berry among many native families and I know several people who make delicious salal jam.

    Humans are not the only ones to enjoy salal berries. A group of gatherers at Quinault reservation noticed an area of bushes where the berries had been removed. Close by, they saw a huge pile of bear poop. One man recounted a story of watching the largest bear he had ever seen eating salal in that same area. Many berry pickers say that they are accustomed with sharing the harvest with other creatures. You may be on one side of the patch, while the bears are on the other.