Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens), is not a mint in spite of its strong flavor that is often popular in chewing gum toothpaste, and mouthwash. It is actually a member of the Ericaceae, or heather family which has nearly 12,000 species among its members. Wintergreen has origins in both China and North America and is steam distilled from leaves and bark. It is an anticoagulant, antispasmodic, highly anti-inflammatory, lowers blood pressure and has analgesic/anesthetic properties beneficial for all types of pain. Its leaves were chewed by Native Americans to increase respiratory stamina. It was also used as a substitute for Black Tea during the Revolutionary war.
Wintergreen contains over 90% Methyl Salicylate, which is a powerful pain reliever and which led to its artificial manufacture as an ingredient in creams and liniments more than 150 years ago. Gradually, synthetic Methyl Salicylate began to replace pure and natural Wintergreen Oil because it is less expensive to produce. It is still frequently identified as “oil of wintergreen” on labels, even though it is synthetic. However, the pure chemical Methyl Salicylate is very different from pure and natural therapeutic grade Wintergreen essential oil. Even though Methyl Salicylate is the dominant component of Wintergreen essential oil, accounting for over 90% of its makeup – the properly distilled essential oil still contains hundreds of other trace biochemical compounds which affect its balance and therapeutic properties. Moreover, natural Methyl Salicylate as found in pure Wintergreen essential oil is easily absorbed by the body, is not toxic, and does not accumulate in the system. Synthetic Methyl Salicylate does accumulate in the body, and can reach toxic levels. It is important to understand that most over the counter drugs are not reviewed and approved by the FDA, but they can be marketed if they comply with applicable regulations and policies. This results in confusion on both sides of the issue as many people are unaware of the possible risks of synthetic “oil of wintergreen” or Methyl Salicylate in popular over the counter joint and muscle creams – at the same time, much information is circulated that all Wintergreen essential oil is dangerous and toxic, an opinion held by many Aromatherapists.
Methyl salycylate is the same ingredient in aspirin, and wintergreen essential oil would be considered toxic for adults if they consumed 30 ml at once – not surprising since this would be the equivalent of taking 171 aspirin. For children, a proportionately much smaller dose, 10 ml, would be toxic. However, all true pure essential oils are very potent, especially if properly distilled for therapeutic properties and require only one drop to at most a very few drops at a time for any person. In these minute quantities it is considered by the FDA as a Flavoring Agent or Food Additive, and safe for that purpose, but common sense is required. Essential oils should be kept out of reach of children, the same as any medications or personal care products which could be accidentally ingested. One should also be aware that its blood-thinning properties may be enhanced if used in conjunction with aspirin or common blood-thinning drugs such as Coumadin (Warfarin).
For topical use Wintergreen is considered a hot oil and should be diluted, one drop essential oil to four parts vegetable or other carrier oil. As much of the Wintergreen oil sold is either synthetic or extended with synthetic additives, special care should be taken to obtain it from a trusted dealer of pure therapeutic grade essential oils.
For more information on the leading essential oil companies, their history, testing, and quality standards, check out the 45 page Young Living/DoTerra report
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These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA, and this information is for educational purposes only and not intended to diagnose, treat, or cure any disease.