Gaultheria shallon is a great, if little known, wee species for the forest garden. It’s one of those ornamental plants that many people grow never suspecting that it is a good edible fruit, giving the opportunity for some urban foraging once you get to recognise it.
It is a relative of blueberry and has similar uses. Soft, sweet and slightly seedy, it is great on porridge or cereal along with the raspberries, strawberries and plums that are still coming out of the forest garden. Its flavour is quite mild, making it perhaps a bit boring to eat in bulk on its own, but it seems to work very well for mixing with and bulking out other fruit.
At this gluttish time of year, my thoughts turn to preserving, and a great advantage of shallon berries is that they air-dry on the windowsill, becoming sweeter and tastier in the process. Who needs raisins? Shallon also spreads its fruiting period out over an unusually long period, meaning that gluts are less of an issue. The dryness of shallon berries compared to most fruits gives them some special uses. It is a very handy fruit for making fruit leathers with: added to juicy fruits such as plums it dries out the mix and reduces the drying time considerably. They also go very well in bread. I add a handful to almost every loaf I make when I have them.
What makes shallon so perfect for the forest garden is that it is a natural woodland species, adapted to growing in deep shade. Like many shade-bearers though, it fruits better when grown in only light shade. Like most of the blueberry family, it prefers growing in an acid soil.