By Britt Brown LMT
If you’re like me you might be surprised to find that, despite its delicious minty smell, wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens) isn’t a member of the mint family and looks nothing like a mint plant at all! In fact, wintergreen is a low lying perennial evergreen shrub, consisting of small erect branches that sport leathery oval shaped leaves, and beautiful white flowers that bloom in the Spring and give way to bright red berries in the Fall. The plant itself, leaves and berries, all carry that fresh and familiar wintergreen scent – and that scent is everywhere! It’s in our toothpastes, chewing gums, lotions, and more – but why are we so obsessed with it?
As it turns out wintergreen isn’t only a quick cure for stank breath, it’s also great at helping to reduce muscle spasms and pain as well. This is because the biochemical responsible for the minty smell of wintergreen, methyl salicylate, has been shown to have similar medicinal benefits to aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid). Methyl salicylate – the primary active ingredient in the wintergreen plant is an analgesic, anodyne, antiseptic, antispasmodic, aromatic, astringent, carminative, diuretic, and emmenagogue. What all of that means is that wintergreen is pretty darn good at helping to reduce aches, pains and minor digestive issues. So if you’re into brewing up your own teas and topicals, you might consider adding wintergreen essential oil or dried leaves to your next blend for a fresh boost to your recipe!
The use of wintergreen as a supplement can come with some side effects however, and it can interfere with the efficacy of some medications, so it’s important to speak with your healthcare professional before adding it to your self-care routine. Before using any topical products your body is unfamiliar with, be sure to perform a “spot test” by applying a small amount of product to a 1in x 1in square on the inside of your non-dominant forearm. Wait 24hrs to see if a reaction occurs, if no reaction is present the product is likely safe to use. If a severe allergic reaction occurs, be sure to contact your healthcare provider right away, or otherwise seek medical attention. For most minor reactions washing with a gentle soap and cold water helps to relieve symptoms.
- American Botanical Council, “Wintergreen”, Healthy Ingredients. (2021).
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- Patricia R. Hebert, PhD,1 E. Joan Barice, MD,1,,2 and Charles H. Hennekens, MD, DrPH,
“Treatment of Low Back Pain: The Potential Clinical and Public Health Benefits of
Topical Herbal Remedies”, Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine.
(2014). WEB. 2 November, 2021.
- PFAF.org, “Gaultheria procumbens – L.”, Plants for a Future. Copyright 2010-2021
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- Purdue University, “Wintergreen”, Aromatic and Medicinal Plants Index. (1997). WEB.
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