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Wintergreen

  • Gaultheria procumbens L.
  • Ericaceae
  • Heath family



Common Names

herbsAromatic wintergreen
herbsBoxberry
herbsCanada tea
herbsCheckerberry
herbsChink
herbsDeerberry
herbsGround berry
herbsGrouse berry
herbsHillberry
herbsIvory plum
herbsMountain tea
herbsPartridge berry
herbsRedberry tea
herbsRed pollom
herbsSpiceberry
herbsSpicy wintergreen
herbsSpring wintergreen
herbsTeaberry
herbsWax cluster


Parts Usually Used

Leaves


Description of Plant(s) and Culture

Wintergreen is a native North American evergreen shrub; the creeping stems send up erect branches, 2-6 inches high, which bear alternate, oval, leathery leaves with serrate (and sometimes bristly) margins. Both the leaves and the solitary, nodding, white, bell-shaped, flowers grow in the axils of the leaves near the tops of the branches. Flowering time is from May to September. The edible fruit following the flowers is a dry, scarlet, berrylike capsule about 1/3 inch across. The whole plant is pungent in taste the spiciness being due to the volatile oil.

Wintergreen is a name applied to several plants of the family Ericaceae which retain their foliage during winter.

The Chinese use a plant they call wintergreen (Pyrola rotundifolia), Chinese name is Lu-ti-ts'ao. Used to staunch bloody wounds, applied to dog bites, snakebites, and insect bites.


Where Found

Grows in woods and clearings, under large trees and shrubs, on sandy acid soils, from Newfoundland to Manitoba and south to Georgia, Michigan, and Indiana.


Medicinal Properties

Analgesic, astringent, carminative, diuretic, stimulant, anodyne, anti-rheumatic, antispasmodic, antiseptic, aromatic, emmenagogue


Biochemical Information

Glycoside, gaultherin (which is comprised of about 99% methyl salicylate) an enzyme gaultherase, aldehyde 1 alcohol, 1 ester, tannin, wax and mucilage.


Legends, Myths and Stories

This is an old-fashioned remedy. Used in small frequent doses it will stimulate stomach, heart, and respirations.

Once the leaves of this plant are hit by a hard frost and turn purplish, they seem to have a sweeter, stronger flavor. Although it has not been confirmed scientifically, this may indicate a higher essential oil content.


Uses

The medicinal virtues of wintergreen leaves reside essentially in the oil of wintergreen which can be obtained by steam distillation. The oil consists mostly of methyl salicylate, a close relative of aspirin. Not surprisingly, the leaves have long been used for headache and other aches and pains, inflammations, and rheumatism, rheumatic fever, dropsy, gonorrhea, scrofula, sciatica, lumbago. Recommended for urinary ailments and for colic and flatulence. Externally, a leaf tea can be used as a gargle for sore mouth and sore throat, as a douche for leukorrhea, and as a compress or poultice for skin diseases and inflammations. A cloth soaked with oil of wintergreen has been applied to relieve pain in joints, but the pure oil can cause irritation and must be used cautiously. Used as a poultice, good for boils, swellings, ulcers, felons, old sores.

Used as a flavoring for vermouth. Used to flavor toothpaste. It is one of the most commonly used ingredients, worldwide, in analgesic oils and balms. Essential oil (methyl salicylate) in leaves is synthetically produced for "wintergreen" flavor. Experimentally, small amounts have delayed the onset of tumors. Candy and chewing gum flavoring; perfume, liniments.


Formulas or Dosages

Collect leaves in the fall.

Infusion: steep 1 tsp. leaves in 1 cup water. Take 1 cup a day, a mouthful at a time.

Tincture: a dose is from 5-15 drops.


How Sold

Oil of wintergreen


Warning

Pure oil of wintergreen can cause irritation and must be used cautiously. It is poisonous except in very small amounts. Essential oil is highly toxic; absorbed through skin, harms liver and kidneys.

Wintergreen should never be used during pregnancy.

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