Gaultheria shallon is 0.2 to 5 m tall, sprawling to erect. Evergreen, its thick, tough, egg-shaped leaves are shiny and dark green on the upper surface, and rough and lighter green on the lower. Each finely and sharply serrate leaf is 5 to 10 cm long. The inflorescence consists of a bracteate raceme, one-sided, with 5 to 15 flowers at the ends of branches. Each flower is composed of a deeply five-parted glandular-haired calyx and an urn-shaped pink to white, glandular to hairy, five-lobed corolla, 7 to 10 mm long. The reddish to blue, rough-surfaced, hairy, nearly spherical fruit is 6 to 10 mm in diameter.
Its dark blue “berries” (actually swollen sepals) and young leaves are both edible and are efficient appetite suppressants, both with a unique flavor. Gaultheria shallon berries were a significant food resource for native people, who both ate them fresh and dried them into cakes. They were also used as a sweetener, and the Haida used them to thicken salmon eggs. The leaves of the plant were also sometimes used to flavor fish soup.
More recently, Gaultheria shallon berries are used locally in jams, preserves and pies. They are often combined with Oregon-grape because the tartness of the latter is partially masked by the mild sweetness of Gaultheria shallon.