Scientific Name(S): Gaultheria procumbens L. and other related species. Family: Ericaceae
Common Name(S): Wintergreen, teaberry, checkerberry, gaultheria oil, boxberry, deerberry, mountain tea, Canada tea, partridgeberry
The wintergreen is a perennial evergreen shrub with thin creeping stems from which arise leathery leaves with toothed, bristly margins. It is a low-growing plant native to North America. Its white flowers bloom in late summer, developing a scarlet fruit.
In addition to being used as a flavoring, wintergreen and its oil have been used in topical analgesic and rubefacient preparations for the treatment of muscular and rheumatic pains.
Large doses of wintergreen oil can induce vomiting and in some cases death. Children should not take wintergreen or its oil.
Wintergreen oil is obtained by steam distillation of the warmed, water-macerated leaves. Wintergreen oil is used interchangeably with sweet birch oil or methyl salicylate for flavoring foods and candies. The berries have been used to make pies. The plant and its oil have been used in traditional medicine as an anodyne and analgesic, carminative, astringent, and topical rubefacient. Teas of the plant have been used to relieve cold symptoms and muscle aches.
Wintergreen oil contains approximately 98% methyl salicylate. The plant has little odor or flavor until the methyl salicylate is freed. During steam distillation, gaultherin (also described as primeveroside or monotropitoside) present in the leaves is enzymatically hydrolyzed to methyl salicylate, which is subsequently obtained through the distillation process. In addition, D-glucose and D-xylose are obtained. The yield of oil from the leaves is in the range of 0.5% to 0.8%.
Wintergreen and its oil are used commonly in topical analgesic and rubefacient preparations for the treatment of muscular and rheumatic pains. The oil is widely used as a flavor. As with other volatile oils, ingestion of large amounts may be toxic, and smaller amounts may pose a danger to young children.
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