Salal - Common
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Salal leaves.
Gaultheria shallon
Salal - Common

Acquired: tbd
How started:
Source: Edmonds Farmers Market, Edmonds, WA

Purchased at the Edmonds Farmer's Market from Ian Bush of Bush's Nursery in Arlington, Washington.

Native to the woods around Edmonds. Salal berries were an important food resource for coastal native peoples, who typically ate them as preserves in oolichan (bear fat), or pounded & dried to make salal-berry cakes storable in woven baskets. The coastal Native Americans used to dry them in large cakes weighing 10 to 15 pounds to store for winter use. Later when they wanted to eat them the cakes were soaked and then dipped in whale or seal oil. The Haida mixed them with salmon eggs for a sweetish casserole.

The usual procedure for preparing the berries for winter storage was to mash them and either boil them in boxes using red hot rocks or allow them to stand for a day or two. The thickened "jam" was then poured into rectangular cedar frames set on Skunk Cabbage leaves and dried for a few hours on a rack over an alder-wood fire. The cakes were about 3 cm thick and could be as large as 30 cm wide by 90 cm long. The cooks folded or rolled the cakes and stored them in cedar boxes in a warm area of the house.

Leaves were chewed as a hunger suppressant and to relieve heartburn. Small branches and leaves were used to flavor fish soup. Leafy branches were used to support meats in cooking. Today the berries are still prepared as jam or preserves and eaten fresh. The plant explorer David Douglas, who introduced salal to the west, lived on nothing but fresh salal berries for three days.

In the 1800's, Hudson's Bay employees used to make an excellent wine from salal berries. I think I once read that salal created some excitement in Europe when it was first introduced since the chemistry of the juice (sugars and tannins) were similar to wine grapes. Unfortunately I have not found the reference that states this, so maybe I am thinking of another fruit.

Like the related wintergreen, a pleasant tea can be made from the leaves that contain an oil. A simple recipe is 1 cup of leaves per quart, then boil. This drink has been known as Mountain tea.

One blogger noted this: "the berries have a kind of sticky coating on them. After a while, this gunk builds up on your fingertips. After our first year picking salal, I had to scrub my fingers with pumice until they were raw to get the tacky residue off." What is that stuff? The same author described salal jam as having "a tannic earthiness that grounds the finish of what might otherwise be described as a blueberry-and-mint flavour." [1]

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