Salal is an evergreen, understory shrub found in coastal forests from British Columbia to southern California. It is identified by its shiny, dark green leaves and its purple-to-black, berry-like fruits. Lewis and Clark wrote about salal in their journals, a plant they first encountered on the Oregon Coast near Astoria in 1806. Long before these explorers discovered salal, however, Native Americans used this plant in a variety of ways, including as a medicine, food, dye and utensil. Wildlife including bears, deer, elk and beavers also enjoy salal.
Salal continues to be a good food source for humans today. The berries are loaded with vitamins and antioxidants that prevent degeneration. Berries can be eaten fresh, added to smoothies, pies, jam and fruit leather. They are ripe during late summer – usually August and September. Keep an eye out for this plant next time you explore Oregon’s forests.