Salal berries are native to North America. These berries are abundantly found in the wild in the coastal regions of western North America but have been localized in Europe too. The scientific name for Salal is Gaultheria Shallon and it belongs to the Ericaceae plant family. The plants are mainly popular in the floral industry where the leaves of this plant are used in floral arrangements, however they’re also known for their berry fruit and health benefits.
The words Salal and Shallon originate from native American languages. The name Gaultheria comes from the name of Canadian botanist, Jean-François Gaultier. The genus Gaultheria Shallon(Salal Berry) was named after him by a fellow botanist named Pehr Kalm.
Gaultheria Shallon(Salal) are small trees or shrubs that grow in thickets and can reach a height of 5m.
These shrubs prefer moist and shaded conditions and that’s why they are commonly found near coastal areas. They are also found growing under the canopy of trees in coniferous forests.
Leaves are dark green, shiny and thick with a leathery texture. Each leaf is about 2-4 inches in length.
The Gaultheria shallon’s flowers are bell shaped, hairy and pinkish-white in color. The flowers are short, about 0.7cm to 1cm in length.
The berries themselves also have a slightly hairy appearance. They grow and become mature in summers. Their color changes to dark-blue when fully ripe, much similar to blue-berries.
However they taste a bit different and are slightly less juicy and sweet than other berries.
In old times, these berries were a staple fruit of the Native people of North America. Salal berries were eaten fresh or sometimes dried up into cakes for consumption in winter.
Some native populations also used the berries to thicken salmon eggs and some would dip the berries in fish grease and eat them during large feasts.
In modern times people eat them raw or use them to make jams, jellies, pies or as dried fruit.
Research conducted has shown that Salal berries are rich in nutrients like Vitamin C, and have a much higher antioxidant content than most of the other berry fruits. Antioxidants are very important for brain and cardiovascular health.
Salal berries are also good for hair and skin health. The berries are rich in vitamins and flavonoids that prevent ageing and skin degeneration.
The leaves of this plant also serve several edible and medicinal purposes. In ancient times, Native American people used the leaves of the plant to flavor fish soup. At other times, the leaves were used as appetite suppressants. People would chew them to suppress their hunger.
Tea prepared by boiling the leaves in water is believed to have positive effects in decreasing and treating bladder inflammation, stomach and intestinal ulcers, heartburn, indigestion, sinus conditions, diarrhea, fever, sore throat, and menstrual cramps.
Apart from being used in tea, the leaves are also used in making poultice that is used to ease pain and discomfort caused by insect bites and stings.
Salal also acts as a food source for animals. Salal berries are consumed by squirrels, chipmunks and bears while the leaves and shrub are consumed by deer and mules.