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Thursday - May 20, 2010

From: Vancouver, BC
Region: Canada
Topic: Edible Plants
Title: How was salal (Gaultheria shallon) used by the troops in WWII?
Answered by: Nan Hampton


We live in Vancouver BC. My mother says that during WW2 all the kids in her school were sent out to pick salal. They picked sacks of salal which were then sent to the troops. We are trying to find out why? What use was salal put to during WW2? Thank you.


Gaultheria shallon (salal) is ubiquitous in the Northwest US and Canada.  You can read a beautiful description of the plant in "Simply Salal" by Jocie Ingram.  The plant has and has had many uses over the years.  Landscapers use them as attractive shrubs and florists use their foliage as greenery for flower arrangements.  Historically native peoples collected and used the berries, eating them fresh and also drying them and pressing them into cakes for winter use.  They have used the leaves for medicinal purposes—as poultices for wounds and burns and as an infusion to treat several ailments such as indigestion, colic and tuberculosis.  You can read more about the uses of salal in an article by Brian F. Harrison in the November 13, 2008 edition of  Northwest Coast Magazine.  Unfortunately, I haven't yet been able to find out what the salal collected by children in the Northwest might have been usesd for by the WWII troops.

Did you mother tell you whether they were picking the fruits or the leaves?  I can't think of any possibility for using the leaves unless they dried and sent them to the troops to use for making infusions to drink.   That doesn't seem very likely, however.  If they were picking the berries for the troops, this would make more sense.  Perhaps they were drying them and forming them into granola-like cakes to provide the troops with an easily carried source of vitamins and nutrition.  I am sorry I wasn't able to find any information about collecting salal in World War II. However, I did find references to a recent (2007) book about salal—Salal: Listening to the Northwest Understory by Laurie Ricou from NeWest Press.  You might check your local library for the book.  It might have a reference to uses of salal by WWII troops.




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