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Wintergreen

(Gaultheria procumbens)

Other Names:

Eastern Teaberry, Checkerberry, Boxberry, American Wintergreen

Range:

Family:

Ericaceae Heath or Heather family

Identifying characteristics:

Growth Type:

Wintergreen is one of my favorite plants. Perhaps because it was the first edible and medicinal plant I learned about some 35 years ago. Wintergreen is one of the most wide ranging and easiest plant to locate. A low growing plant 2 - 5 inches tall. It usually grows in dense clusters. The leaves are thick, glossy oval, waxy, and they smell of wintergreen. In July to August small egg shaped white flowers appear dangling beneath the leaves. Small red berries begin appearing in August and September. If the local wildlife do not get to them, the berries will stay until the next spring. Wintergreen is an evergreen plant, which means it retains its green leaves right through the winter. All you need to do is brush away the snow, and this little wonder is waiting for you. The berries are actually better during the winter, because they soak up and retain moisture, making much less mealy than the fresh summer berries.

This plant has a long and storied history. During the Revolutionary War, when colonists dressed up like Indians, and dumped the king's tea into Boston Harbor, then needed a substitute. Enter the venerable Wintergreen leaf. The colonists substituted wintergreen for their regular tea, and did so for years. As they drank this tea, they began to notice what the Indians had know for years, the tea relieved headaches, and minor body aches. The plant contains Methyl Salicylate, the father of modern day aspirin. A tea, or a tincture of wintergreen leaves works wonderfully to relieve pain, and reduce  fever. Not to mention that for my money, you cannot make a better tasting tea that wintergreen with a touch of honey. Black Birch (Betula lenta), and Willow (Salix) also contain Methyl Salicylate, but for me there is something special about the unassuming wintergreen.

 

Height:

3 - 5 inches tall

Leaves:

Ovate evergreen leaves which have a distinct oil of wintergreen scent. They are 2-5 cm long and 1-2 cm wide.

Stem/Trunk:

Short reclining woody stems

Root:

N/A

Flower:

Season:

Spring

Appearance:

The white flowers are bell-shaped and 5 mm long, and are borne solitary or in short racemes.

Seed/Fruit:

The berry-like fruit is actually a dry capsule surrounded by fleshy calyx 69 mm in diameter.

Miscellaneous characteristics:

Text

Habitat:

In rich acidic soils of pine and hardwood forests. The plant usually only produces fruit in sunnier locations.

Parts Used:

Leaves, fruit

Uses:

Wild Food Uses:

Tea, fruit, as a trail nibble, and in salads.

The following text is meant for informational purposes only. It is not meant to diagnose or treat any illness or injury. Always consult with a physician or other qualified medical care provider concerning the diagnosis and treatment of any illness or injury.

Medicinal Uses:

Once used as a source of wintergreen oil, it has been replaced by commercially synthesized versions. Wintergreen leaves contain high amounts of Methyl Salicylate, the forerunner of modern aspirin. Leaf tea has been used to soothe colds, headaches, stomachaches, fever, kidney ailments; Externally as a wash for rheumatism, sore muscles, lumbago. The chemical Methyl Salicylate, has anti-inflammatory and pain killing properties. There have been recent studies have shown that small amounts have delayed the onset of tumors.

We use a tincture of wintergreen to treat headaches. My stepson suffers from migraine headaches. On different occasions I have given him 30 drops of wintergreen tincture under his tongue, and within 20 - 30 minutes his migraine was gone.

Medicinal Actions:

Analgesic, Anti-Inflammatory, Antineoplastic, Antirheumatic, Febrifuge, Stomachic

Wintergreen in flower

Wintergreen with berries

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Revised: 05/11/16 Living Afield