Wintergreen Essential Oil
Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens) is a perennial, aromatic herb native to the Eastern areas of North America. Commonly found in mountainous terrain, the shrubby plant blooms with white flowers and bright, red berries.1,2
In traditional and holistic medicine systems, wintergreen leaves were used to help treat rheumatic problems, respiratory problems, headache, sore throat, fever, tooth decay and to increase lung capacity.2 Historically, wintergreen essential oil was also used as flavoring for mouthwash, toothpaste, gum, drinks and teas.1,2
Wintergreen is a valuable essential oil, due to its limited cultivation. Leaves can only be harvested twice within a growing season, and are generally collected in the wild.2 The leaves are then steeped in warm water, and the oil extracted through a process of steam distillation.1,2 Wintergreen essential oil can range from a clear to pinkish-yellow color. The aroma has been reported to be strong, sweet and fresh; similar to peppermint essential oil.
Today, wintergreen essential oil is mostly used for pain relief. The primary active ingredient in wintergreen essential oil, methyl salicylate, comprises 90-98% of the oil and has been noted for its analgesic, antifungal and insecticide properties.2
Wintergreen Essential Oil Uses
With a sweet, minty smell, wintergreen essential oil can be used for a variety of everyday activities. From a natural air freshener to a relaxing massage oil, below are some of the most common uses of wintergreen essential oil.
Add 2-4 drops of wintergreen essential oil in to a diffuser or to a steaming bowl of hot water. Let the aroma fill the space for up to 30 minutes. Its stimulating effects have been reported to help increase mental concentration and alertness.
The warming effect of wintergreen essential oil may help relieve muscle tension when used in aromatherapy massage. Dilute 1-2 drops of wintergreen essential oil into 1 Tbsp. of fractionated coconut oil. Gently massage the solution on to the affected areas. Wipe any excess with a warm, damp cloth.
For a soothing, therapeutic bath, add 1 cup of Epsom salt and 1-2 drops of wintergreen essential oil to warm, running bath water. Users should add this oil sparingly, as the aroma has been reported to be quite strong. For a more complex fragrance, add 2 drops of bergamot, geranium, marjoram or lavender essential oil.
Natural Air Freshener
With a sweet, refreshing aroma, wintergreen essential oil can be used to freshen up your home naturally. Add 5 drops of wintergreen essential oil to 1 cup of distilled water in a spray bottle. Gently shake the mixture before spraying. Point upwards and mist throughout the air, being careful to avoid furniture, open food or pets.
To soothe sore muscles or help reduce abdominal discomfort, make a hot compress with wintergreen essential oil. In a large bowl, add 2-3 cups of warm water. Add 1-2 drops of wintergreen essential oil to the water and stir to combine. Take a piece of cloth and dip it into the solution. Gently ring out and place on the affected area until the cloth is room temperature. Repeat as necessary.
Benefits of Wintergreen Essential Oil
Traditionally considered a therapeutic oil, science is beginning to investigate the natural properties of wintergreen essential oil. While scientific research is still preliminary, researchers have reported several noteworthy properties that help support some of its historic uses.
Pain Relieving Properties
Methyl salicylate, a compound similar to acetylsalicylic acid or aspirin, is the main natural ingredient in wintergreen essential oil. A study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine reported that when applied to the skin, wintergreen essential oil demonstrated analgesic properties. It was noted that if 10 ml of 2.5% wintergreen essential oil was applied directly to the skin and fully absorbed, it could represent the same amount of salicylate present in one 325 mg aspirin tablet.3
The use of wintergreen essential oil as a pain killer is also thought to produce fewer side effects than conventional therapies. This may be particularly useful for conditions such as chronic lower back pain, which are often alleviated with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). While evidence is promising, wintergreen essential oil has yet to be directly tested against placebos or NSAIDs in clinical trials.3
In a 2011 clinical study, multiple essential oils were examined for their antifungal activity on Phomopsis azadirachtae, a fungus responsible for the die-back of neem trees. Researchers chose to study eucalyptus, geranium, patchouli, palmarosa, rosemary and wintergreen for their in vitro effects on the potentially harmful plant fungus.4
Data suggests that of these essential oils, wintergreen was noted to significantly inhibit growth of P. azadirachtae, along with palmarosa and geranium essential oil.4 This activity may be useful for the natural protection of the neem tree species, and the environments they belong to.
In a recent scientific study, various essential oils were screened for their potential insecticide, repellant and fumigant properties against the common pest, Paederus fuscipes or rove beetle. As one of the largest groups of beetles, P. fuscipes is being increasingly found in urban and agricultural areas. This poses a risk to humans as contact with the beetle can cause dermatitis linearis (skin irritation).5
The essential oils, including citronella, eucalyptus, cinnamon, peppermint, wintergreen, lemon, sweet wormwood, moxa leaf and linalyl were tested. In both isolated fumigant and contact toxicity tests, wintergreen essential oil was observed to have the highest mortality rate. In both tests, wintergreen demonstrated at least an 80% morality rate after 8 hours. While wintergreen essential oil did not repel the beetles, this data suggests that the essential oil may be a potent alternative to chemical insecticides and fumigants.5
Side Effects of Wintergreen Essential Oil
Wintergreen essential oil is considered generally safe for inhalation and topical use. Always dilute wintergreen essential oil with a carrier oil prior to topical application. Excessive topical application of undiluted wintergreen essential oil has been reported to cause adverse reactions in case studies.7
Wintergreen essential oil can be toxic, and even fatal if consumed. Do not use wintergreen essential oil on children, pregnant or breastfeeding women. Ingestion of as little as 4 ml in a child can be fatal. Make sure to safely store wintergreen essential oil out of reach of children.6
Where to Buy Wintergreen Essential Oil
Previously, high quality essential oils could only be bought at specialty health stores, or through expensive multi-level marketing companies. Now, due to advancements in technology, extremely high grade essential oils can be purchased over the internet at very reasonable prices.
Scientific Research Referenced in this Article
- The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica. (1998, July 20). Wintergreen. Retrieved March 28, 2017 from https://www.britannica.com/plant/wintergreen-plant – View reference
- Simon, J.E., Chadwick, A.F. & Craker, L.E. (1984). Wintergreen. In Herbs: An Indexed Bibliography. 1971-1980 (pp. 770). Retrieved March 06, 2017 from https://hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/med-aro/factsheets/WINTERGREEN.html – View reference
- Hebert, P.R., Barice, E.J., Hennekens, C.H. (2014). Treatment of Low Back Pain: The Potential Clinical and Public Health Benefits of Topical Herbal Remedies. J Altern Complement Med, 20(4), 219-220. doi: 10.1089/acm.2013.0313
- Nagendra Prasad, M. N., Shankara Bhat, S., Nivedita Dharwar, V., Shraddha Mehta, B., & Chauhan, A. (2011). In vitro efficacy of plant essential oils against phomopsis azadirachtae – the causative agent of die-back disease of neem. Archives of Phytopathology and Plant Protection, 44(5), 412. doi:1080/03235400903092941
- Zhang, Q., Wu, X., & Liu, Z. (2016). Primary screening of plant essential oils as insecticides, fumigants, and repellents against the health pest paederus fuscipes (coleoptera: Staphylinidae). Journal of Economic Entomology, 109(6), 2388-2396. doi:1093/jee/tow232
- Botma, M., Colquhoun-Flannery, W., Leighton, S. (2001). Laryngeal oedema caused by accidental ingestion of Oil of Wintergreen. Int J Pediatr Otorhinolaryngol, 58(3), 229-232. http://www.ijporlonline.com/article/S0165-5876(01)00453-0/abstract
- Chin, R.L., Olson, K.R., Dempsey, D. (2007). Salicylate Toxicity from Ingestion and Continued Dermal Absorption. Cal J Emerg Med, 8(1), 23-25. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2859737/