Wintergreen is a group of aromatic plants. The term “wintergreen” once commonly referred to plants that remain green (continue photosynthesis) throughout the winter. The term “evergreen” is now more commonly used for this characteristic.
Wintergreen essential oil is usually obtained by steam distillation of the leaves of the plant following maceration in warm water. Methyl salicylate is not present in the plant until formed by enzymatic action from a glycoside within the leaves as they are macerated in warm water. Wintergreen has a strong “minty” odor and flavor; however, the Gaultheria-genus plants are not true mints, which belong to the genus Mentha.
Wintergreen oil is used topically (diluted) or aromatherapeutically as a folk remedy for muscle and joint discomfort, arthritis, cellulite, obesity, edema, poor circulation, headache, heart disease, hypertension, rheumatism, tendinitis, cramps, inflammation, eczema, hair care, psoriasis, gout, ulcers, and broken or bruised bones. The liquid salicylate dissolves into tissue and also into capillaries, so overuse is as risky as overuse of aspirin. Wintergreen also is used in some perfumery applications and as a flavoring agent for toothpaste, chewing gum, soft drinks, confectionery, Listerine, and mint flavorings. One application is rust removal and degreasing of machinery. Wintergreen is particularly effective for breaking through sea water corrosion.