Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens)
Leaves (Click To Enlarge)
Berries (Click To Enlarge)
Identification: 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.
Habitat: 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.
Family: Ericaceae (Heath family)
Other Names: Aromatic wintergreen, Boxberry, Canada tea, Checkerberry, Chink, Deerberry, Eastern Teaberry, Ground berry, Grouse berry, Hillberry, Ivory plum, Mountain tea, Partridge berry, Redberry tea, Red pollom, Spiceberry, Spicy wintergreen, Spring wintergreen, Wax cluster.
Flowers: May – September
Parts Used: Leaves
History: Used by Native American Indians to brew a tea. Mohawks, as well as Ojibwes, and others, knew the tea as medicinal as well as a healthful beverage. The leaves were widely used in the treatment of aches and pains and to help breathing while hunting or carrying heavy loads.
Constituents: Glycoside, gaultherin (which is comprised of about 99% methyl salicylate) an enzyme gaultherase, aldehyde 1 alcohol, 1 ester, tannin, wax and mucilage.
Properties: Analgesic, astringent, carminative, diuretic, stimulant, anodyne, anti-rheumatic, antispasmodic, antiseptic, aromatic, emmenagogue.
Main 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.
Preparation & 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.
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.