Canopy and Understory was created in 2018 to showcase the bounty of forests managed to support clean air and water, healthy trees and forest floor, carbon storage, and vibrant rural communities.
The name “salal” comes from the Native American Chinook language. The berries were historically an important staple of Pacific Northwest Native American diets.
If you have hiked in a coastal forest in Alaska, British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, or California, you have likely encountered salal’s bright-green oval leaves and small bell-shaped flowers. Salal berries look like deep-purple blueberries when they are ripe, in July and August, and taste a bit like concord grapes. We make our fruit spread with less sugar than many other preserves to allow the natural flavors of salal berries, spruce tips, and blueberries to shine.
Research led by the University of Victoria plant biologist Peter Constabel has shown that salal is an “antioxidant superstar”, packed with higher levels of health-promoting plant chemicals than most other berries. Studies have suggested that antioxidants are associated with a reduced risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease, and neurodegenerative disease. Click here to read more about the study.
Our motivation in creating our Wild Salal Berry Spreads is to call attention to all of the vital parts of a forest; soil, flowers, shrubs, hardwoods, and the conifers of the overstory. We believe forest management should consider all the essential components of functioning forests, not just the trees that produce good lumber. Our forests do so much more. Forests store carbon, capture rain, make soil, purify air and water, and provide us with places to hunt, fish, forage, and to simply be restored. By buying this product, and by getting out into the woods to forage, respectful of the role salal plays both ecologically and culturally, you become part of the web that connects all life in the forest.
Our Forager Team
Our harvesters are rural residents in the Olympic Peninsula who work in the forestry industry planting trees, thinning forests, and also harvest mushrooms, berries, salal boughs for the floral industry, and conifer boughs to make wreaths during the holiday season. Each of these activities is seasonal. The summer is generally a time of low employment in the woods, so the opportunity to harvest salal berries during July and August is very welcome. Unlike tree planting and thinning, which are very physically demanding, salal harvesting attracts a broad range of foragers of all genders, ages, and abilities.
Salal flourishes in the coastal forests that stretch from the vast stands of spruce and hemlock in Alaska to the redwoods of northern California. These forests are defined by a high amount of rainfall and moderate temperatures, conditions that have created a forest of unparalleled productivity – its sheer mass of living and decaying material – trees, mosses, shrubs (like salal) and soil – can reach up to four times the biomass of any tropical rainforest. Conifer forests once dominated the world’s landscapes before flowering plants emerged. The coastal temperate rainforests of the Pacific coast are now the only region on earth of significance where conifers flourish as they did before.
These coastal rainforests are characterized by an unparalleled interaction between land and sea, best illustrated by the life cycle of salmon which move from forest stream to river to estuary to sea and back again, bringing with them marine nutrients that fuel the productivity of these magnificent forests. These marine nutrients, along with a vast array of sugars, nutrients, and information are passed among trees, shrubs (including salal) and fungi, sustaining a vast underground network dubbed the “wood wide web”. Salal thus exists in a complex and intertwined relationship involving underground fungi, understory shrubs and plants, and towering conifers. The importance of this underground network and the contribution of each of its constituents to an intact, functioning forest ecosystem is just now being researched and revealed.
These forests, through their abundance, sustained one of the highest densities of nonagricultural human settlements on the continent. Native people used, and use, salal in a myriad of ways, from pounding berries into fruit leather to making teas and ointments from the leaves to cure ailments. The forests sustained native people, and native people sustained the forests.