Wintergreen

Gaultheria procumbens L.

Other common names: Gaultheria, spring wintergreen, creeping wintergreen, aromatic wintergreen, spicy wintergreen, checkerberry, teaberry, partridge berry, grouseberry, spiceberry, chickenberry, deerberry, groundberry, hillberry, ivyberry, boxberry, redberrytea, Canadian tea, mountain tea, ivory plum, chinks, drunkards, red pollom, rapper dandies, wax cluster.

Habitat and range: This small native perennial frequents sandy soils in cool damp woods, occurring especially under evergreen trees in Canada and the northeastern United States.

Description: Wintergreen is an aromatic, evergreen plant with an underground or creeping stem producing erect branches not more than 6 inches in height, the lower part of which is smooth and naked, while near the ends are bome the crowded clusters of evergreen leaves. These are alternate, shining dark green above, lighter colored underneath, spicy, thick and leathery, oval and narrowing toward the base, 1 to 1 1/2 inches in length, and of varying width. From about June to September the solitary, somewhat urn-shaped and five-toothed white and waxy flowers appear, borne on recurved stems in the axils of the leaves. These are followed by globular, somewhat flattened berries, which ripen in autumn and remain on the plant, sometimes until spring. They are bright red, five celled, mealy, and spicy. All parts of the plant, which belongs to the heath family (Ericaceae), are aromatic.

Collection, prices, and uses: The leaves of wintergreen, or gaultheria, were at one time official in the United States Pharmacopoeia, but now only the oil of wintergreen, distilled from the leaves, is so regarded. The leaves should be collected in autumn. Sometimes the entire plant is pulled up and, after drying, the leaves readily shake off. The price paid to collectors ranges from about 3 to 4 cents a pound.

Wintergreen has stimulant, antiseptic, and diuretic properties. Its chief use, however, seems to be as a flavoring agent.


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