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Gaultheria from Fountain Springs, Pennsylvania

Wintergreen is a group of plants. Wintergreen once commonly referred to plants that continue photosynthesis (remain green) throughout the winter. The term evergreen is now more commonly used for this characteristic.

Most species of the shrub genus Gaultheria in the closely related family Ericaceae also demonstrate this characteristic and are called wintergreens in North America, the most common generally being the Eastern Teaberry (Gaultheria procumbens). Several genera of herbaceous plants in the family Pyrolaceae, notably Pyrola, Orthilia, Moneses and Chimaphila, demonstrate this characteristic and are also called wintergreens.

Some species of the herbaceous genus Trientalis in the unrelated family Primulaceae are known as "Chickweed Wintergreen."



Wintergreen berries are used medicinally. Native Americans brewed a tea from the leaves to alleviate rheumatic symptoms, headache, fever, sore throat and various aches and pains. During the American Revolution, wintergreen leaves were used as a substitute for tea, which was scarce.[1]

Wintergreen is a common flavoring in American products ranging from chewing gum, mints and candies to smokeless tobacco such as dipping tobacco (American "dip" snuff) and snus. It is also a common flavoring for dental hygiene products such as mouthwash and toothpaste.

Oil of wintergreen

The Gaultheria species share the common characteristic of producing oil of wintergreen. Wintergreen oil is a pale yellow or pinkish fluid liquid that is strongly aromatic with a sweet woody odor (components: methyl salicylate (approx. 98%), a-pinene, myrcene, delta-3-carene, limonene, 3,7-guaiadiene, delta-cadinene)[2] that gives such plants a distinctive "medicinal" smell whenever bruised. Salicylate sensitivity is a common adverse reaction to the methyl salicylate in oil of wintergreen; it can produce allergy-like symptoms or asthma.

Wintergreen essential oil is obtained by steam distillation of the leaves of the plant following maceration in warm water. Methyl salicylate, the main chemical constituent of the oil, is not present in the plant until formed by enzymatic action from a glycoside within the leaves as they are macerated in warm water.[3] The oil is used topically (diluted) or aromatheraputically for muscle and joint discomfort, arthritis, cellulite, obesity, edema, poor circulation, headache, heart disease, hypertension, rheumatism, tendentious, cramps, inflammation, eczema, hair care, psoriasis, gout, ulcers, broken or bruised bones. It is also used in some perfumery applications and as a flavoring agent for toothpaste, chewing gum and soft drinks[2], confectionery, in Listerine, and in mint flavorings, but Gaultheria plants are not true mints. Oil of wintergreen is also manufactured from some species of birch, but these deciduous trees are not called wintergreens. Spiraea plants also contain methyl salicylate in large amounts and are used similarly to wintergreen.

Toxicity of Wintergreen

30 mL of oil of wintergreen is the equivalent of 171.4 adult aspirins. This conversion illustrates the potency and potential toxicity of oil of wintergreen even in small quantities. (4)

Illiteracy seems to have played a major role in this fatal ingestion and may be a common factor in accidental overdoses and ingestions in adults. Treatment is identical to the other salicylates. Early use of hemodialysis in conjunction with maximal supportive measures is encouraged in any significant ingestion of methyl salicylate. (1)

Strong warning labels are recommended for household salicylate containing compounds such as oil of wintergreen. Aspirin molecular weight = 108.15; methyl salicylate molecular weight = 152.13


1 .Howrie DL, Moriaty R, Breit R: Candy flavoring as a source of salicylate poisoning. Pediatrics 1985; 75:869-871

2. Beck TR, Beck JB: Elements of Medical Jurisprudence, ed 11. Philadelphia, JB Lippincott, 1963

3. Stevenson CA: Oil of wintergreen poisoning. Med Sci 1937; 193:772-788

4. Johnson PN: Methyl salicylate/aspirin equivalence: Vet Hum Toxicol 1985; 26:317-318

5. McGuigan MA: A two-year review of salicylate deaths in Ontario. Arch Intern Med 1987; 147:510-512

See also

External links


  1. ^ Prescription for Herbal Healing By Phyllis A. Balch, Robert Rister
  2. ^ a b Oil Analysis of Wintergreen
  3. ^ Essential Oil Profile of Wintergreen by Ingrid Krein

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

WINTERGREEN, known botanically as Gaultheria procumbens, a member of the heath family (Ericaceae), is a small creeping, evergreen shrub with numerous short erect branches bearing in the upper part shortly-stalked oval, thick, smooth shining leaves with sharp-toothed edge. The flowers are borne singly in the leaf axels and are pendulous, with a pale pink waxylooking urn-shaped corolla. The bright crimson-red subglobular, berry-like fruit consists of the much-enlarged fleshy calyx which surrounds the small thin-walled many-seeded capsule. The plant is a native of shady woods on sandy soil, especially in mountainous districts, in southern Canada and the northern United States; it is quite hardy in England. The leaves are sharply astringent and have a peculiar aromatic smell and taste due to a volatile oil known as oil of winter green, used in medicine in the treatment of muscular rheumatism (for the therapeutic action see Salicylic Acid). An infusion of the leaves is used, under the name mountain or Salvador tea, in some parts of North America as a substitute for tea; and the fruits are eaten under the name of partridge or deer berries. Other names for the plant are tea-berry, checker-berry, box-berry, jersey tea, spice-berry and ground holly.

See Bentley and Trimen, Medicinal Plants, t. 164.

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