Aromatherapy
Wintergreen

Gaultheria procumbens

The leaves of wintergreen (botanical name Gaultheria procumbens) yield wintergreen essential oil. Apart from wintergreen, this herb is also known by many other names such as boxberry, teaberry, spice berry, checkerberry, partridgeberry and wax cluster. Wintergreen oil is mainly used to add essence to foods. In addition, this oil is also used in chewing gum, candy, toothpaste, mouthwash and other products that are mint-flavoured. Often, wintergreen oil is also used in the form of a traditional remedy. It also forms an active ingredient in several non-prescription medications to treat a variety of health conditions.

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When we mention wintergreen, it technically refers to the species called Gaultheria procumbens. However, this term is frequently used as a synonym for the word "evergreen" - denoting plants that stay green all through the year, even during the winter months.

Basically, wintergreen is a low growing shrub that stands only up to a height of anything between 12.7 cm and 15.2 cm. This shrub is indigenous to the eastern and northern regions of North America. It is especially found growing in forest lands. Wintergreen blooms during the latter part of summer. This plant produces white or pink hued blooms, which are soon followed by vividly red hued fruits akin to berries. The leaves as well as the berries of this plant are fit for human consumption.

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It is said that the early Native Indians in America employed the leaves and fruits (berries) of this shrub for therapeutic purposes to treat respiratory complaints and alleviate pain. Wintergreen leaves and berries are also used to prepare teas as well as make poultices or just chewed to treat conditions like fevers, pains, aches and rheumatism. In addition, they are also used to perk up respiration. Early European settlers in North America also employed wintergreen in the form of a folk remedy for curing sore throats, symptoms related to colds, tooth decay, various skin complaints as well as colic. In 1820, the Swaim's Panacea was the first to record wintergreen oil's use in the form of an active element in various medications.

The essential oil of wintergreen is obtained by steam distilling the leaves of the plant. Wintergreen essential oil is has a light yellowish or pink hue with a potent characteristic aroma. Menthyl salicylate, an analgesic akin to aspirin, is the main constituent of this herbal oil. However, used in large doses, wintergreen oil may prove to be toxic. Just one teaspoon (5 ml) of wintergreen oil roughly has the same potency as 20 doses of aspirin and this may prove to be fatal. In fact, the intensity of wintergreen oil that is used to flavour foods usually does not exceed 0.04 percent. Usually, wintergreen oil is employed externally in non-prescription ointments. Alternatively, this oil is also inhaled in the form of vapours to cure congestion of the respiratory tract.

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It is important to considerably dilute the pinkish or pale yellow herbal oil having a potent sweet-woody scent prior to topical application. Wintergreen essential oil may prove to be an excellent addition to any medical preparation that alleviates muscular and joint pains and aches. However, it is advisable that you exercise caution while using the essential oil of wintergreen. This oil should not only be used in very small amounts, but also kept in a place beyond the reach of children. In fact, in this regard, wintergreen oil should essentially be treated as a bottle full of liquid aspirin.

Chemical analysis of the essential oil of wintergreen has found that gaultherilene and menthyl salicylate are the major constituents of this essential oil. In fact, menthyl salicylate is an important component of nearly all analgesic and antiarthritic balms available in the market for treating muscle as well as joint pain.

The essential oil of wintergreen is effective in combating arthritis and rheumatism working in two ways. First, when the oil is applied topically, it sweeps through the skin easily and is subsequently absorbed by the muscles and tissues in the affected area. This, in turn, encourages blood circulation to that particular body area. Besides providing warmth to the affected area, the increased blood circulation aids in clearing any hindrance in blood flow to the region - in fact, this is one of the main aspects responsible for arthritis and rheumatism. In addition, unobstructed blood circulation also prevents the accumulation of toxic substances like uric acid at the affected spot.

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Secondly, while wintergreen oil is taken up by the muscles and tissues through the skin, ultimately this oil reaches the bloodstream and here it works like a diuretic, encouraging augmented urine formation and passage. When the excess water, salts and fats are removed from the body by means of urination, it aids in losing surplus weight. This, in turn, helps to lessen the negative effects of arthritis and rheumatism.

The essential oil of wintergreen possesses relaxing as well as stimulating properties, which helps to lessen spasms in the digestive, muscular, respiratory and nervous systems. At the same time, external application of this oil alleviates asthma, breathing troubles, congestion inside the chest, spasmodic coughs, digestive problems, convulsions, spasmodic diarrhea, muscular cramps as well as an assortment of nervous problems.

As wintergreen essential oil is extremely toxic, it may prove to be fatal for humans, especially when used in large doses. This also means that this oil is also fatal to various microbes including bacteria, viruses, protozoa and fungi. In fact, this property of wintergreen oil makes it an effective medication to combat infections which are responsible for sepsis. This oil cures sepsis and kills the bacteria Staphylococcus Aureus. Nevertheless, it is important that you should use this oil very cautiously with a view to prevent any direct exposure to blood. Therefore, this oil should never be applied to any open wound. Most importantly, wintergreen oil should never be ingested or used internally to combat sepsis occurring in the internal organs. It is sufficient to apply this oil externally to the skin close to the affected area. Wintergreen oils sweeps through the skin easily and is taken up by the local tissues. Subsequently, the oil is taken in by the bloodstream; thereby spreading to the internal organs too.

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Wintergreen oil also possesses carminative (relieving flatulence) properties, but it should never be taken orally, even in highly diluted forms. As an alternative, dilute the essential oil of wintergreen by adding water and rub it on your belly and this will eventually help to expel the stomach gases. As wintergreen possesses stimulating properties, it also works excellently as a diuretic. Applying the oil topically to the stomach and abdominal region results in the stimulation of the urinary system organs as well as filtering of water in the kidneys. This, in turn, leads to more frequent urination and passage of greater quantity of urine.

The stimulating and diuretic properties of wintergreen help to enhance the speed at which excessive water and toxins are eliminated from the body, thereby protecting us from conditions like arthritis, rheumatism and other diseases that are mainly caused by toxic build up inside the body. At the same time, topical use of wintergreen oil also helps to get rid of surplus salts and fats from the body, and, by this means, facilitating the cure of edema, hypertension and accumulation of excessive water. Together, all these help us to lose some extra weight. In addition, removal of toxins also helps to keep the urinary bladder and the kidneys clean, thereby preventing stone formation in these body parts.

Several women, especially residing in metropolitan areas, are often afflicted by obstructed menstruation. This problem should neither be ignored nor be taken lightly, as it has the potential to result in serious conditions such as uterine ulcers and sometimes even develop into uterine cancer. Symptoms of obstructed menstruation include acute pain in the abdominal area, annoyance, irritation, hair loss, dwindling health as well as a variety of feminine sufferings. However, it is possible to resolve this problem using a therapeutic agent that possesses the ability to remove the obstruction and resume the normal menstrual period and ensure that it becomes regular. The good news is that several essential oils, including the essential oil of wintergreen, possess this aptitude. As far as the wintergreen oil is concerned, it induces menstruation and, at the same time, helps in eliminating associated problems such as pain, exhaustion, and nausea. However, it is important to remember that this oil should never be ingested or used internally to sort out difficult periods.

General properties

  • analgesic
  • anesthetic
  • anodyne
  • anticoagulant
  • anti-inflammatory
  • antirheumatic and antiarthritic
  • antiseptic
  • antispasmodic
  • aromatic
  • astringent
  • carminative
  • diuretic
  • emenagogue
  • vasodilator

Blends well with

General uses

  • aches and pains
  • arteriosclerosis
  • arthritis
  • bone pain
  • colic
  • fatty liver
  • fever
  • hepatitis
  • hypertension
  • lumbago
  • muscle pain
  • muscular problems
  • myalgia
  • nerve pain
  • neuralgia
  • rheumatism
  • sciatica
  • sore throat
  • tooth decay
  • various skin conditions

Precaution

As wintergreen essential oil encloses menthyl salicylate, it is extremely toxic. Applying wintergreen oil topically is enough to make it work inside the body, as this oil penetrates through the skin easily and is taken up by the muscles as well as tissues without much difficulty. It is worth mentioning here that ingestion of this oil by accident may severely damage some of the internal organs, especially the liver and the kidneys. In addition, one should also remember that applying the essential oil of wintergreen topically in excessive amounts may also prove to be fatal, as the levels of the toxic menthyl salicylate in the bloodstream increase alarmingly when the tissues absorb too much of this substance. In fact, it has been reported that some sportspersons have died after rubbing excessive amounts of liniment containing menthyl salicylate on their thighs to unwind the muscles.

Since wintergreen is akin to aspirin in several ways, it means that people who have allergic reactions to aspirin should also keep away from the essential oil of wintergreen. In addition, people who are already using medications like warfarin or any other blood-thinning drugs should also stay away from wintergreen oil. Using undiluted essential oil of wintergreen may prove to be dangerous, especially even if very small amounts of this oil is ingested accidentally or is taken up through the skin. When excessive amounts of wintergreen oil are used externally it may result in nausea, vomiting and tinnitus. Some other possible adverse effects of using too much of this oil may include symptoms like liver and kidney damage, bleeding or even result in death. Whenever an individual experiences any side effect following use of any medication, counting wintergreen essential oil, he/ she should stop the medicine immediately and seek medical help.

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