Salal is a native evergreen shrub that is very common in the understory of Pacific Northwest coastal forests. Salal has large dark green leaves that grow in an alternating pattern along each branch. The flowers are bell-shaped, pink or white, and grow at the ends of branches. The fruits are round and dark purple.
Salal berries are edible, and were used as a food source by many local First Nations groups. The fruit could be eaten fresh, mashed and dried in cakes, or mixed with other foods as a sweetener. Salal berries are very nutritious; they have a higher concentration of antioxidants than most other berries. The leaves also have anti-inflammatory properties, and were used by First Nations people to make tea to soothe sore throats, indigestion, or cramps.
Salal grows well in nutrient-poor soil and is very shade-tolerant, which allows it to grow in the understory where it is shaded by taller trees. Since it is an evergreen, it is an important food for deer and other animals during the winter months when other sources of food are scarce. In the summer, the berries also provide food for many birds and small mammals. Salal is also important for stabilizing soil and preventing erosion.