Coast Salish Food Traditions

When the Tide Is Out, The Table is Set

Coast Salish food traditions honor ancestors, land, and sea


The shoreline of the Salish Sea is blessed with an abundance of natural riches. A nursery of broad tidal flats and marshes is flushed by nutrientrich salty and fresh waters, bordered by fertile uplands, and draped in a gentle climate.

Land and sea have sustained indigenous peoples here since the retreat of the last glaciers over 10,000 years ago. Coast Salish artifacts found in the area indicate Samish village communities and summer camps occupied these shores, dating back several thousand years.

Intertidal waters teemed with clams, crabs, urchins, and fish. Berries and edible plants flourished along the shore. Deer and other wildlife roamed among towering cedars, which provided the raw materials for shelter, clothing, tools, and canoes.

Traditional Foods

4-3-fish and shellfish

Photo credit: University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections, NA 584

Native peoples gathered and hunted for their food. They harvested only what they needed, respecting and preserving nature’s balance.

Fish & shellfish

Coast Salish tribes ate clams in great quantities. Women gathered them in open-weave baskets tied to their backs. Clams were smoked or strung on cords to dry, preserving them for winter and as prized items for trade. Fish, another important protein source, were speared or caught in nettle-fiber nets.



Photo by Joseph A. Carr

Plants added essential vitamins and minerals to the coastal diet. Arrowhead (Wapato) grew in marshes, its egg-size bulb nutritious and sweet. Nettle leaves were used in soup or tea, dandelion root savored raw or boiled. In spring, bracken fern blanketed March Point, along with the prized onion-like bulb of blue camas.



Photo by Rosie Cayou James

Berries were a staple of the Coast Salish diet—salmonberries, thimbleberries, huckleberries, salal berries, and more. They were enjoyed fresh or dried in the sun or on cedar bark over a fire. Others were mashed and shaped into cakes able to be stored indefinitely in ground pits and reconstituted with water.

Information on this Trail Tales website was prepared under funding from the Washington State Department of Ecology’s Public Participation Grant Program. While the information was reviewed for grant consistency and accuracy of project references, this does not necessarily constitute endorsement by the Department.

Learn more about Ecology’s Anacortes Baywide Cleanup

Photo credits: Anacortes History Museum, Washington state Dept. of Ecology, Samish Indian Nation and others, as noted. Illustrations by Linda Feltner.