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What is Gaultheria Shallon?

By Douglas Bonderud
Updated May 17, 2024
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Gaultheria Shallon is a shrub found most commonly on the west coast of North America. It is a member of the heather family, and is also known as salal or simply as shallon. The plant itself can grow in almost all environmental conditions, and is often found in parking lot planters and as roadside greenery in North American cities. For optimal growth, it should be placed in a cool, shady environment. In these conditions, typically found in densely forested areas, the plant can grow up to six feet in height.

This plant has a wide root system that also reaches deep into the ground. A full-grown specimen can have roots that reach several feet into the soil, making removal of the plant difficult. The gaultheria shallon shrub grows back quickly after a forest fire, in part due to its root system and its adaptability to various weather conditions.

In 1828, the gaultheria shallon plant was transplanted from North America to Great Britain by David Douglas. The plant was brought to England for decorative use, but spread into the wild and grew easily in many patches of heathland. It is regarded as a weed, but is eaten by cattle, and this limits the amount of growth of the plant on heathland properties.

The berries of this plant are also edible, but they are more accurately described as sepals, which lie under the petals of flowering plants. Sepals on the gaultheria shallon are blue in color, and have a mildly sweet taste. They, along with the young leaves of the plant, can be used as an appetite suppressant. The sepals are also used for making preserves, most notably in the northwestern United States, where they are combined with the tart-tasting Oregon grape.

Native Americans used this plant to treat cramps and inflammation, as the leaves are astringent. The leaves can also be made into a tea used to soothe stomach ulcers or heartburn. This plant is still harvested, but is typically sold for use in floral arrangements and not as a form of medicine.

Oil of wintergreen can be distilled from gaultheria shallon. This essential oil is often used for pain relief, and, in many formulations, is known as liquid aspirin. It is most often used to treat joint and muscle pain, but can also be used to mitigate excessive mucous discharge. This oil should not be ingested, can cause allergic reactions, and has adverse effects on pregnant women. For these reasons, people should consult a healthcare professional before using it.

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