Our noble native salal is called t’áqa in Lushootseed, the Native American language spoken around much of Puget Sound (1). The berries are, in fact, edible, despite the claims of some sources. Salal grows well in shade and sun. This picture is of some salal on a pretty bare and exposed landscaping area, where the adjacent ferns completely died due to dry soil and too much sun.
In April 2011, I pulled a couple of shoots of salal out of the ground near where the above photo was taken. I read that you shouldn’t try to propagate salal until the summer, and some even say to just scatter the berries for seed (2), but I’m impatient. I divided the roots into four pieces and planted two outside in a partially shaded area of the front yard, and two inside in pots. The indoors ones will eventually go into the back yard. This is of course assuming they live. A week later they all look pretty much the same. Not growing but maybe not dying either.
By August 2011, two of the shoots are still alive, and I planted them in my front yard. They don’t seem to be growing very fast, but I suspect they are still settling in and I’ll see more vigorous growth in the next year. (Update: they completely died! I should be more patient next time with planting.)
August starts salal berry picking season! I picked 32 ounces of salal berries in early August and expect to start collecting even more in the next few weeks as more berries ripen. It appears that like other berries, the ripe ones are the ones that are relatively easy to pull off the plant. Most of the berries will come off with a short stem attached, which you’ll need to remove if you eat the berries raw or cook them.
updated May 22, 2014