[SAL’-AL] — noun.
Meaning: The salal shrub or its berries.The salal berry; fruit of Gualtheria shallon.
Origin: Chinook klkwushala ‘salal berries’.
Sometimes called ‘sallal’ or ‘shallon’, the salal (Gaultheria shallon) is an evergreen shrub, restricted mainly to the Cascadian coastline which possess clustered dark-purple berrylike fruit about the size of the common grape. Before the coming of Euro-Americans, it was one of the most valued native fruits, and was gathered in large quantities by the coastal First Nations. Both its berries and young leaves are both edible and are efficient appetite suppressants, each with a unique flavor. Salal berries were a significant food resource for the people of the First Nations who would eat them fresh, make a sort of syrup, from them, or dry and press them into tick, brick-like cakes for winter storage. They were also used as a sweetener, and the Haida used them to thicken salmon eggs. The leaves of the plant were also sometimes used to flavor fish soup.
In modern times, salal berries are used locally in jams, preserves, and pies, and are often combined with Oregon-grape because the tartness of the latter is partially masked by the mild sweetness of the salal.
Gaultheria shallon has also been historically used for its medicinal properties; the leaves have an astringent effect, making it an effective anti-inflammatory and anti-cramping herb, and a poultice of the leaf can be used externally to ease discomfort from insect bites and stings. Furthermore, the leaves prepared in a tea or tincture are thought to decrease internal inflammation such as bladder inflammation, stomach or duodenal ulcers, heartburn, indigestion, sinus inflammation, diarrhea, moderate fever, inflamed / irritated throat, and menstrual cramps.