Wintergreen (Gaultheria Procumbens) Overview, Health Benefits, Side effects

Wintergreen (Gaultheria Procumbens) Overview, Health Benefits, Side effects

Wintergreen (Gaultheria Procumbens) Overview

Wintergreen (Gaultheria Procumbens) other names: Boxberry, Canada Tea, Checkerberry, Deerberry, Essence de Gaulthérie, Gaulteria, Gaultheria Oil, Gaultheria procumbens, Gaulthérie Couchée, Ground Berry, Hilberry, Huile de Thé des Bois, Mountain Tea, Oil of Wintergreen, Partridge Berry, Petit Thé, Petit Thé des Bois, Spiceberry, Teaberry, Thé de Montagne, Thé de Terre-Neuve, Thé du Canada, Thé Rouge, Thé des Bois, Wax Cluster.

Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens) Overview, Health Benefits, Side effects
Wintergreen (Gaultheria Procumbens) tree

Wintergreen is an herb. Wintergreen oil is made by steam processing of warmed, water-soaked wintergreen leaves. The leaves and oil are used to make medicine.

Wintergreen is a shrub-like plant that grows up to six inches in height and bears foliage round the year. When the plant is young it bears pale or yellowish green elliptical leaves that are delicately jagged or toothed. However, the mature leaves are rubbery and lustrous. The surface of the mature leaves is dark green in color, while below they are lighter. Wintergreen bears bell-shaped white flowers during the months of July-August and these are followed by red fruits.

Wintergreen grows best in a damp, but not marshy, humus rich soil in shadow or partial shade. The herb prefers moisture and flourishes in peat (an accumulation of partially decayed vegetation matter). The species also requires a lime-free soil and grows well even on arid soils when it has been well set up and can endure drought conditions to a large extent. Wintergreen thrives fine under gentle shades of deciduous (perennial plants that shed leaves once in a year) shrubs or evergreens (plants that retain their leaves throughout the year).

While the herb is collected during the fall, wintergreen fruits or berries are harvested both during the spring as well as fall. The leaves of wintergreen herb are gathered all through the year, but summer is the best time. Leaves of the herb are dried in the shade.

Significantly, all parts of the plant are scented and one may smell the original odor of wintergreen when the leaves of the plants are crushed. All plants classified under this genus are generally dead set against honey fungus.

Wintergreen oil is applied to the skin as a “counterirritant” to relieve muscle pain. Counterirritants work by causing irritation that reduces pain and swelling in the underlying tissue. Wintergreen oil is also used to kill germs on the skin.

Wintergreen was also used to add essence to candies, cough drops as well as toothpastes. Incidentally, the practice still continues as many such products available in the market suggest the usage of wintergreen extracts even today. However, over the years, the herb has mostly been substituted by synthetic substances. Therefore, these days wintergreen is only animals like the deer and the partridge that thrive on the original evergreen herb as it serves as their staple food during the winter months.

Wintergreen (Gaultheria Procumbens) Health Benefits

As a medicinal herb wintergreen has numerous functions. The herb is robustly anti-inflammatory, has anti-septic properties and is comforting to the digestive system. While wintergreen is an efficient medication to heal rheumatic and arthritic problems, the tea prepared with the herb helps in alleviating flatulence and colic. 

Wintergreen leaf is used for painful conditions including headache, nerve pain (particularly sciatica), arthritis, ovarian pain, and menstrual cramps. Wintergreen leaf is also used for digestion problems including stomachache and gas (flatulence); lung conditions including asthma and pleurisy; pain and swelling (inflammation); fever; and kidney problems. Wintergreen leaf is sometimes applied directly to the skin as a wash for achy joints (rheumatism), sore muscles, and lower back pain.

Some people use small doses of wintergreen oil to increase stomach juices and improve digestion.

The oil extracted from wintergreen leaves is used as a cream or ointment and applied externally to get relief from pains and spasms. Wintergreen oil relaxes irritating, engorged or aching muscles, ligaments and body joints. Wintergreen oil has also been found to be useful in curing neurological conditions like sciatica (an excruciating pain owing to pressure on a nerve in the lower part of the vertebrate column) as well as trigeminal neuralgia (pain distressing the facial nerve). Wintergreen leaf oil is also beneficial in healing cellulites, an infection caused by bacteria that leads to the swelling and irritation of the skin. Wintergreen leaf oil may be mentioned here that the Inuit of Labrador and many other native people consume the wintergreen berries uncooked, while they use the leaves of the herb to cure headaches, painful muscles as well as sore throats.

Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens) Overview, Health Benefits, Side effects
Wintergreen (Gaultheria Procumbens) flower

All over the world people use the wintergreen especially for its oil extract which contains large proportions of methyl salicylate. It may be noted here that methyl salicylate forms the base of the aspirin group of medicines and hence it is easy to understand why wintergreen is so effective in alleviating pains and inflammation in different body parts. This also explains why the herb is a useful medication in treating rheumatism.

Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens) Side effects

Wintergreen is safe in the amounts found in foods, and seems safe for most adults when used as a medicine.

The oil is unsafe to take by mouth. Taking wintergreen oil or large amounts of wintergreen leaf can cause ringing in the ears, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, headache, stomach pain, and confusion.

Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens) Overview, Health Benefits, Side effects
Wintergreen (Gaultheria Procumbens) fruits

The oil extracted from the wintergreen leaves is unstable or volatile and hence the oil extracted from the wintergreen leaves is only recommended for external use. When applied directly to the skin, wintergreen oil can cause skin irritation.

Children: Wintergreen leaf and oil can be poisonous for children. Taking 4-10 mL of wintergreen oil by mouth can be deadly. Don’t even use wintergreen oil on the skin of children less than 2 years old.

Pregnancy and breast-feeding: Wintergreen is safe in amounts found in food, but there's not enough information to know if it's safe in the larger amounts that are used as medicine. Don’t take it by mouth or put it on your skin, if you are pregnant. If you are breast-feeding, don’t take wintergreen by mouth or put it on your skin. Wintergreen products might be toxic to nursing infants.

Stomach and intestinal inflammation: Taking wintergreen by mouth might make these conditions worse.

Salicylate or aspirinallergy, asthma, or nasal polyps: Wintergreen might cause an allergic reaction in people who are allergic to aspirin or other salicylate compounds, or have asthma or nasal polyps. Use wintergreen with caution if you have one of these conditions.