- Gaultheria procumbens L.
- Heath family
Parts Usually Used
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
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.
Grows in woods and clearings, under large trees and shrubs, on sandy
acid soils, from Newfoundland to Manitoba and south to Georgia, Michigan,
Analgesic, astringent, carminative, diuretic, stimulant, anodyne,
anti-rheumatic, antispasmodic, antiseptic, aromatic, emmenagogue
Glycoside, gaultherin (which is comprised of about 99% methyl salicylate)
an enzyme gaultherase, aldehyde 1 alcohol, 1 ester, tannin, wax and
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
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,
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,
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.
Oil of wintergreen
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.