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Known best for its fresh, minty flavor as much as its ability to ease muscle and joint pain, wintergreen has been used as a flavoring for candy, chewing gum, toothpaste and lozenges as well as lending its medicinal properties to various remedies through the ages. Wintergreen is a hardy coniferous shrub (gaultheria procumbens) that thrives in challenging conditions; its oil is produced by steam distillation of the leaves, which follows a brief fermentation. The main chemical component of wintergreen essential oil is methyl salicylate. In fact, it is one of only two trees that grow in the wild that contains this ingredient, the other being the birch tree. Other components include limonene, myrcene, gaultheraline, and formaldehyde. It is a clear, thin, pinkish or yellow liquid, but tends to darken to a reddish-brown color with age, at which stage it should not be used. Wintergreen has a strong, sweet, fruity and medicinal aroma with a hint of camphor and sometimes even vanillin. It is considered a ‘hot’ oil (meaning it causes a heat reaction on your skin), and should be used with caution if you have sensitive skin.
Wintergreen essential oil in history
One of the earliest known flavorings for foodstuffs, and many different beverages, its leaves are commonly chewed by Native American tribes to relieve respiratory discomfort, sore throats, fever, to prevent tooth decay and relieve toothaches, headaches and other minor aches and pains. In folklore, wintergreen has many synonyms, including teaberry, checkerberry, and partridgeberry, likely due to the animals that feed upon its bright red berries in the wild.
Wintergreen’s benefits have been lauded by medical practitioners for centuries, who used it widely, both as a balm, and as a local anesthetic. In the nineteenth century, it was viewed as something of a cure-all, one such preparation known as the Swain Panacea. Many a doctor and pharmacist have made their fortunes selling preparations based on wintergreen, and wintergreen essential oil is still actively listed in the United States Pharmacopeia. That said, there are many ‘fake’ wintergreen essential oils on the market, so care should be taken to ensure you are purchasing from a reputable source. The fake examples have roughly the same concentration of methyl salicylate, but none of the other components that make wintergreen so special. Nearly all true wintergreen essential oil is grown and produced in China, Tibet and Nepal.
Wintergreen oil uses
Aches and pain relief: probably its best-known use, wintergreen is very effective in relieving muscle aches, and pains due to strain, stiffness, arthritis, rheumatism and even gout. Has a distinct warming action when in contact with the skin.
Anti-inflammatory: used in rubs and poultices, it has a warming and anti-inflammatory effect on injured areas.
Helps you sleep better: if you have a hard time sleeping because of chronic pain, wintergreen oil can help ease that pain and promote a sense of calm which may help you sleep better.
Muscle relaxant: eases tense and aching muscles, whether from injury or strenuous exercise.
Antiseptic: the same ingredients that make wintergreen essential oil toxic to humans can help kill harmful bacteria on your household surfaces and in the air.
Skin/hair tonic: wintergreen has astringent qualities, and helps to contract the tissues and blood vessels in your skin as well as your hair roots.
Stimulates the digestion: relieves gas and bloated feelings in your gut.
Diuretic: releases excess fluid from your body by stimulating your eliminative organs (liver, kidneys).
Detoxification: helps to release subcutaneous fluid from your body while regulating its overall fluid balance. Stimulates the organs, blood flow and lymph production, helping to flush toxins from your body
Ease respiratory symptoms: helps to calm your cough and help you breathe easier.
Stimulates and regulates menstrual cycle: wintergreen has proven helpful for restarting and regulating a woman’s cycle. It also provides relief from associated symptoms such as bloating, headaches, fatigue, and body aches.
Methyl salicylate can be toxic, and should never be taken internally, under any circumstances. As little as 5ml (one teaspoon) can be fatal to children if swallowed. Wintergreen is a salicylate, so if you are allergic to aspirin, have sensitivities to NSAIDs or are taking blood thinners, you should avoid it altogether. Wintergreen can stop your blood from clotting and should not be taken within 30 days of any surgical procedure. Wintergreen is a ‘hot’ oil and is highly irritating to your skin: avoid contact with the eyes, mucous membranes, inner ear or any open wound. Always heed recommended dilution ratios in order to avoid an adverse reaction. Avoid if you are pregnant or nursing, and do not use on children, pets or the elderly.
These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. If you are pregnant, nursing, taking medication, or have a medical condition, consult your physician before using this product.