Aromatic low-lying shrub growing to 6 in (15 cm). Has leathery, oval leaves, small white or pale pink bell-shaped flowers, and brilliant red fruit.
Habitat & Cultivation
Native to North America, wintergreen is found in woodland and exposed mountainous areas. The leaves and fruit are gathered in summer.
Leaves, fruit, essential oil.
Wintergreen contains phenols (including gaultherin and salicylic acid), 0.8% volatile oil (up to 98% methyl salicylate), mucilage, resin, and tannins.
History & Folklore
Wintergreen was popular with Native Americans, who used it for treating back pain, rheumatism, fever, headaches, sore throats, and many other conditions. Samuel Thomson, founder of the 19th-century Physiomedicalist movement, combined it with hemlock (Conium maculatum) to treat severe fluid retention. The leaves have been used as a substitute for tea (Camellia sinensis), for example during the American Revolutionary War (1776–1784).
Medicinal Actions & Uses
Wintergreen is strongly anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, and soothing to the digestive system. It is an effective remedy for rheumatic and arthritic problems, and, taken as a tea, it relieves flatulence and colic.
The essential oil, in the form of a liniment or ointment, brings relief to inflamed, swollen, or sore muscles, ligaments, and joints, and can also prove valuable in treating neurological conditions such as sciatica (pain resulting from pressure on a nerve in the lower spine) and trigeminal neuralgia (pain affecting a facial nerve). The oil is sometimes used to treat cellulitis, a bacterial infection causing the skin to become inflamed.
People who are sensitive to aspirin should not take wintergreen internally. Oil of wintergreen should never be taken internally, nor applied (even well diluted) to the skin of children under the age of 12 unless with professional supervision.