Salal, along with the tree that it often associates, Douglas fir, is one of the most iconic plants of the Pacific Northwest. You might even say it’s a well known shrubbery. And if saying this word makes you want a shrubbery, well then you might just have to watch this.
Back to salal. The binomial is Gaultheria shallon. It’s a member of the heath family, Ericaceae. In researching this post, I was surprised to learn that the so-called berries are not technically berries at all—they’re swollen sepals. The leaves are edible, too, and were used by Native Americans. I haven’t tried them myself. Salal’s main economic use today is for floral displays. The foliage is harvested by brush pickers and exported all over the world.
Most hikers aren’t enamored of salal. A thick understory of salal can be nearly as impenetrable to the bushwhacker as a forest of devil’s club, and while the berries are much sweeter than that other iconic Northwest shrubbery—Oregon grape—they’re also pulpy and nutty in a way that is unfamiliar.
It’s getting late in the lowlands of the Pacific Northwest to harvest salal berries, but you’re likely to still find some at higher elevations, along with Oregon grape. I gathered mine a few weeks ago and made preserves. Not quite jelly and not quite jam, this is more like a salal spread. I used a limited amount of sugar to retain the salal flavor and tartness. It will be perfect for breakfast scones and dinner cheese plates.
8 cups salal berries
2 cups water
4 tbsp lemon juice, divided
1 cup sugar
1/2 pouch liquid pectin
1. Simmer the berries, water, and 2 tablespoons of lemon juice for several minutes. Mash with a potato masher. Strain through fine-mesh seive and/or cheesecloth. My yield was 3 cups.
2. Return strained berry juice to pot. Add sugar, 2 more tablespoons of lemon juice, and pectin. Bring to boil.
3. Pour into sterilized jars. Secure lids and process 10 minutes in hot water bath.
My yield was 4 half-pint jars.