10 Best Benefits & Uses of Wintergreen

by John Staughton (BASc, BFA) last updated -

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While wintergreen is a popular flavor for mints and mouthwashes, this herb has many other potential benefits for your overall health.

What is Wintergreen?

Wintergreen refers to a type of small North American shrub whose leaves remain green during the winter. American Wintergreen, which goes by the scientific name Gaultheria procumbens, is the most commonly used species. Also known as teaberry, boxberry, checkerberry or deerberry, both the leaves and berries of this plant are edible. This plant contains a chemical called methyl salicylate, which has a mint-like flavor and is chemically very similar to aspirin. Native Americans used this hardy plant as a natural pain reliever.

Benefits

Due to its similarity to aspirin, wintergreen and its essential oil have many health benefits for the following:

  • Headaches and body aches
  • Stomach aches
  • Cold and flu symptoms
  • Fever
  • Arthritis and achy joints (rheumatism)
  • Gout
  • Menstrual cramps
  • Digestive issues  such as gas (flatulence)
  • Asthma
  • Inflammation
  • Skin irritation
  • Kidney problems
  • Muscle and joint pain
  • Nerve pain
  • Other aches and pains
Close up of fresh wintergreen leaves with red berries in the forest

The cool and refreshing colors of winter. Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Uses

Let us take a look at its many uses.

  • In order to release methyl salicylate from this plant’s parts, it must be heated in warm water. Therefore, the leaves and berries of this plant are often used in herbal teas.
  • The leaves are also used to make salves and ointments.
  • Furthermore, the essential oil of this plant can be extracted via steam distillation, or by soaking the leaves in alcohol for a month or more.

Wintergreen vs. Spearmint

Although the flavors are similar, wintergreen and spearmint have some significant differences.

  • Genus: Wintergreen is from the scientific genus Gaultheria, while spearmint is a true mint, from the genus Mentha.
  • Origin: Wintergreen is native to North America, whereas spearmint is native to Europe and Asia.
  • Berries: Wintergreen plants produce berries, spearmint does not.
  • Benefits: Spearmint does not contain methyl salicylate and therefore does not have the same health benefits as wintergreen.

Side Effects

Even though this plant has many impressive benefits, it can also lead to various side effects, such as the following:

  • Swelling
  • Irritation
  • Hives
  • Allergic reactions (especially in people who are allergic to aspirin)

Large doses can be toxic to adults, and even small doses can be toxic to children, so don’t use too much, and don’t give it to children. Finally, you should not use this herb if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, as it may have a negative impact.

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About the Author

John Staughton is a traveling writer, editor, publisher and photographer with English and Integrative Biology degrees from the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana (USA). He co-founded the literary journal, Sheriff Nottingham, and now serves as the Content Director for Stain’d Arts, a non-profit based in Denver, Colorado. On a perpetual journey towards the idea of home, he uses words to educate, inspire, uplift and evolve.

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