Wintergreen

Scientific names: Gaultheria procumbens, and other related species

Common names: Wintergreen also is known as teaberry, checkerberry, gaultheria oil, boxberry, deerberry, mountain tea, Canada tea, and partridgeberry.

Efficacy-safety rating:

ÒÒ...Ethno or other evidence of efficacy.

Safety rating:

...Little exposure or very minor concerns.

What is Wintergreen?

Wintergreen is a perennial evergreen shrub that is native to eastern North America, and usually is found in woodland and exposed mountainous areas. Its small, waxy, white or pale pink flowers bloom in late summer, developing a scarlet fruit. The aromatic leaves and fruits are edible.

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What is it used for?

Traditional/Ethnobotanical uses

American Indians reportedly used wintergreen for treating back pain, rheumatism, fever, headaches, and sore throats. The plant and its oil have been used in traditional medicine as an anodyne, analgesic, carminative, astringent, and topical rubefacient (counter-irritant).

Wintergreen berries have been used to make pies. A tea made from the leaves was used as a substitute for tea (Camellia sinensis) during the Revolutionary War. The tea has been used to relieve cold symptoms and muscle aches.

Miscellaneous uses

Small oral doses of wintergreen oil stimulate digestion and gastric secretion. Topically, the oil is a counterirritant and may offer some analgesic effect because of the structural similarity of methyl salicylate to aspirin. However, research reveals no clinical data regarding the use of wintergreen for any condition.

Wintergreen oil is obtained by steam distillation of the warmed, water-macerated leaves. It is used interchangeably with sweet birch oil or methyl salicylate for flavoring foods and candies.

What is the recommended dosage?

Because of toxicity concerns, follow the suggested manufacturer's oral or topical dosage form regimen: 1 teaspoon (5 mL) of wintergreen oil is equivalent to approximately 7,000 mg of salicylate or 21.5 adult aspirin tablets.

How safe is it?

Contraindications

Oral or topical application is best avoided in children. Avoid use in patients with known hypersensitivity to any of the components in wintergreen oil. Avoid use in patients with asthma, known salicylate allergy, or GI irritation or inflammation.

Pregnancy/nursing

Generally recognized as safe when used as food. Avoid dosages above those found in food because safety and efficacy are unproven.

Interactions

Monitor for potentiation of warfarin anticoagulation in patients using methyl salicylate or wintergreen oil.

Side Effects

Wintergreen oil may induce vomiting, and in some cases, death. Counsel patients about the clinical manifestations of methyl salicylate poisoning (eg, tinnitus, acid-base disturbance, endocrine abnormalities, fluid and electrolyte imbalances, CNS toxicity).

Toxicities

When ingested, the highly concentrated liquid methyl salicylate in the form of wintergreen oil, as with other volatile oils, may induce vomiting and is a notorious source for severe, often fatal poisonings.

References

  1. Wintergreen. Review of Natural Products. factsandcomparisons4.0 [online]. 2006. Available from Wolters Kluwer Health, Inc. Accessed April 23, 2007.

Copyright © 2009 Wolters Kluwer Health

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