Wintergreen oil is a steam-distilled essence, produced from beautiful evergreen shrubs. It’s a very popular medicinal oil, not just for its health benefits, but also for its dangers. Read all you need to know about Wintergreen essential oil here. It’s especially useful to know this before even considering opening a bottle.
You’ll also read about:
- The chemical profile (composition) of Wintergreen oil.
- The difference between Gaultheria fragrantissima essential oil and Gaultheria procumbens. They’re both wintergreens, with a few different characteristics (and similarities).
- The uses and benefits of Wintergreen aromatic oil. Read about its applications in beauty and health care.
- The safest ways to use this oil.
- The dangers, side effects, and interactions of Wintergreen oil.
- A list of fun and interesting facts about the wintergreen plant and its extracts.
- Last but not least, some blend recipes with Wintergreen essential oil.
Wintergreen Essential Oil Pros & Cons, Uses & Benefits and How to Use It Safely
Botanical name: Gaultheria fragrantissima (or procumbens).
Consistency: thin (watery) oil.
Color: pale yellow to pale pink.
Aroma: strong, minty and sweet, with woody undertones. It is also fresh, medicinal, and crisp.
Other names: Gaultheria oil, eastern teaberry or checkerberry oil.
Flashpoint (FP): 205F (96C)*
*Why should the FP matter? It would only matter if you wish to use Wintergreen oil in homemade candles or soaps. A pure Wintergreen essential oil can catch fire at the indicated temperature. That temperature was measured in a closed cup.
What is Oil of Wintergreen Made Of and How Can It Help?
Wintergreen essential oil is a very potent plant extract. It is extracted by steam distillation from the leaves of the Gaultheria evergreen shrub (or small tree).
A curious thing about these leaves is that they don’t contain nor smell of methyl salicylate. Methyl salicylate is the main compound of the oil.
The leaves are first steeped into warm water, which activates the metabolism of the salicylate. This reminds me of garlic. Its main constituent is allicin, which activates only when the bulb is crushed. Allicin gives garlic its scent, as well as its properties.
The leaves are then added to a steam distiller and the steam distillation begins. The steam vapors extract the aromatic molecules from the plant matter.
A high-quality Wintergreen oil is at least 95% methyl salicylate. Other sources say the amount of salicylate should be at least 96%.
It’s safe to conclude that over 95% methyl salicylate indicates a high-quality product. It’s this compound that gives the oil its special characteristics, benefits, and dangers.
Methyl Salicylate in Essential Oils
This compound is an ester that’s naturally produced by many plants. The highest sources of natural methyl salicylate are wintergreen and sweet birch.
Foods that contain various amounts of salicylates are plums, cherries, papaya, and even apples. Very small amounts of it are found in Ylang-Ylang essential oil too.
Some of the most important properties of methyl salicylate are:
- Analgesic, meaning it can relieve pain.
- Antipyretic, meaning it can reduce or prevent fever.
- Anti-inflammatory. This means the oil can reduce the inflammation inside the body, which leads to less pain also.
- Antiplatelet, meaning it can prevent blood clotting.
The more methyl salicylate in an essence, the powerful these effects will be.
The action mechanism of methyl salicylate:
- When it’s applied topically, the effect is similar to that of menthol. It causes the skin to first feel cool, then warm. A substance that has this effect is called a counterirritant.
- The salicylate dissolves into the tissue relatively fast. It dissolves into the capillaries as well. This is why Wintergreen essential oil has a fast effect. Overusing Wintergreen oil or Sweet Birch oil is very risky. It’s as risky as overusing aspirin.
- However, not all the amount of wintergreen will get into the bloodstream. About 20% of it will be oxidized in the skin first. The rest of it (70%) will reach the blood and kidneys, where it will be eliminated. That’s why people with renal failure may overdose on wintergreen very fast.
Wintergreen essential oil also has cortisone-like effects. This means that it can mimic the action of cortisone and help relieve pain and inflammation. Luckily, this effect doesn’t come with the side effects of cortisone.
Organic methyl salicylate helps to numb the area where it’s applied. This may be a good thing or a bad thing.
It’s a bad thing if the cause of your illness depends on your cortisone levels. In that case, it can make matters worse. Thus, Wintergreen oil should not be used by people with hormone-dependent conditions.
Wintergreen essential oil contains other compounds too. What other compounds the oil contains usually depends on a few things. For example, the geographic area and plant species make all the difference.
The amount of methyl salicylate may vary, and so does the amount of other compounds. In any case, these other constituents don’t usually make more than 15% of the oil.
Alpha-pinene, myrcene, and limonene are a few of the other constituents found in Wintergreen essential oil.
Gaultheria fragrantissima vs. Gaultheria procumbens
There are many plant species in the Gaultheria genus. Many are hybrids, but some of the natural ones (with a better oil yield) are more common in oil extraction.
1843 is the year when methyl salicylate was first extracted and isolated. The plant species used was Gaultheria procumbens. This species is also known as the American wintergreen. It grows mostly in North America, but also in Canada.
This species is the traditional source for extracting the wintergreen scent and taste. It is commonly used as flavoring agent in many candies, chewing gum, and even mouthwashes.
In America, the most common Wintergreen oil comes from Gaultheria procumbens.
Gaultheria fragrantissima essential oil comes from the Himalayas. It’s extracted from the leaves of the small wintergreen tree in the mountains. Also called the “Indian wintergreen”, the most common source for this plant is Nepal.
Both wintergreens are rich sources of methyl salicylate. They’re both almost entirely made of methyl salicylate. This means they both have similar properties.
They’re both great antioxidants that boost our health and beauty. At the same time, both Wintergreen oils pose the same health risks. That is only because of the high content of methyl salicylate.
There are obvious differences between G. procumbens and G. fragrantissima. They grow in different geographical areas (soil, altitude, coldness, etc.). They’re two separate plant species belonging to the same plant genus and family.
Under the microscope, they will also have slightly different chemical compositions. The only common compound is also the one that matters most, the methyl salicylate.
The French call the fragrantissima variety “sweet-scented wintergreen”. That’s how they differentiate between the two types of Wintergreen essential oils.
Gaultheria fragrantissima essential oil smells minty and sweet. Gaultheria procumbens essential oil also smells minty, with caramelized undertones.
As a conclusion, you can use either type of Wintergreen oil. You can go for the ones that are lower or higher in methyl salicylate, regardless of plant species. What matters is their quality!
Where can I buy Wintergreen essential oil, you say? Luckily, there are enough reputable sources on the internet that sell this oil. You can pick whatever brand you like and trust.
For more certainty, you can also ask them for the GC/MS report of the oil. This documentation should be free to access. Some companies sell both Wintergreen oils, while others (like doTERRA) sell only the fragrantissima type.
Wintergreen Essential Oil Uses and Benefits
Before talking about the dangers and side effects of this oil, you must first know about its benefits. What is the oil of Wintergreen used for? You can use Wintergreen oil in many situations because its benefits are diverse.
The Wintergreen oil benefits and uses can help your skin look better or your body feels better. Another one of the best uses of Wintergreen is to uplift the mood. Thus, you can choose to use it as:
- Pain reliever, to decrease the pain, especially in joints and muscles.
- Anti-inflammatory substance, to reduce inflammation and tissue damage.
- Antispasmodic, to soothe spasms and muscle contractions.
- Rubefacient, to improve the blood flow to the injured site. This means your skin will start looking irritated.
- Efficient and cost-effective natural alternative to antibiotics.
- Vasodilator, to dilate the blood vessels and improve the blood circulation.
- Disinfectant, to protect against bacterial and viral infections.
- Digestive, to boost the production of gastric juices and improve digestion.
- Antipyretic, to reduce or prevent fever.
- Antiplatelet, to prevent blood clotting.
- Relaxant, to soothe the nervous system, relieve tension, and improve the mood.
- A natural preservative, to lengthen the shelf life of foods.
- Anti-cavity, to prevent dental caries.
What is Wintergreen oil used for? As you can see, it can be used for many things. Luckily, many of those health benefits apply to beauty treatments as well.
You can use Wintergreen essential oil for hair, to strengthen it. It also gives it luster and can reduce itching and scalp inflammation. Wintergreen can also help with dandruff.
Being a strong antioxidant, Wintergreen oil can improve the aspect of wrinkles. As a strong anti-inflammatory, it can also be used against acne and its scars.
As for emotions, Wintergreen essential oil is said to help people to open up. It can also help people warm up toward others.
How Do You Use Wintergreen Essential Oil
The single most important thing about this oil is the way you use it. An improper use (large amounts, long-term periods, early ages, being sick, etc.) can lead to serious health problems.
Using small amounts, from time to time, when you don’t have a serious health condition, can be really effective. Otherwise, caution must be employed at all costs.
First, before any topical application, you must always dilute the oil. As for the “how to dilute Wintergreen essential oil” question, professionals advise on using up to 2,4%.
Thus, for a drop of Wintergreen oil, you need about 40 ml of carrier oil. 40 ml would be about 8.11 teaspoons of vegetable oil.
Topical treatment is recommended for intense pain and mild infections. Because of its strength, the diffusion of Wintergreen oil alone is not recommended.
You should avoid using other methods that don’t involve dilution. The oil is too strong to be used alone in compresses, baths, etc.
Wintergreen Essential Oil Side Effects
I was telling you that Wintergreen oil is also known for its dangers and side effects. Over time, Wintergreen made many victims, especially children.
In the past, before antibiotics, it was a common treatment for scabies and impetigo. People used it topically but in large amounts, which led to dermal toxicity. The most severe side effects usually happen when there are also other illnesses present.
In children, Wintergreen oil can cause poisoning. In both children and adults, the oil can cause GI irritation. It can also cause respiratory problems and skin irritation.
It can also cause allergic reactions and affect the development of the fetus or embryo. This effect is known as teratogenic.
People with renal failure and other similar problems are very much at risk. Topical use of Wintergreen oil has led to the intoxication and later on, to the death of a patient.
The man was 80 years old and was suffering from an end-stage renal disease. You can read more about it here.
The skin can get oversaturated with methyl salicylate. Thus, it can increase the salicylate levels in the blood. If the kidneys don’t work properly, the oil can’t be excreted.
The methyl salicylate acts like aspirin. This means that it has the potential to cause bleeding. It thins the blood and may cause it to leak outside the veins and capillaries.
Long-term applications of Wintergreen essential oil can lead to:
Long-term exposure to high enough amounts of Wintergreen oil can cause:
- Stomach discomfort,
- Allergic reactions,
- Increased oxygen consumption,
- Lactic acid production,
- Rapid heart rate,
- Altered mental status.
Some medical studies say that a 10 ml formula with 2.5% Wintergreen essential oil, equals one tablet of 325 mg aspirin.
The effect is applicable only if you apply all the amount (10ml), and if it is all absorbed into the skin. Under normal circumstances, this is not usually possible.
Other medical reviews state that a teaspoon (about 5 ml) of Wintergreen oil is the same as 5 aspirin tablets. That would be 1.625 milligrams of acetylsalicylic acid (aspirin).
In conclusion, you’d better seek the advice of a doctor before using Wintergreen oil. Tell him exactly how much methyl salicylate there is in the oil. Should you be allowed to use it, he’ll know what to tell you and how much to use.
Avoid diffusing or using Wintergreen around children, elderly people and pets.
Wintergreen essential oil and pregnancy don’t go well together. As you’ve seen, if you use too much, the oil can become teratogenic. This affects the development of your baby. The same warnings go for breastfeeding too.
So, is Wintergreen oil safe? Yes, it can be safe if you:
- Use very small amounts.
- Use it diluted at all times.
- Talk to a doctor first.
- Don’t take it internally.
- Use only 100% pure Wintergreen oil.
- And if there are no underlying illnesses.
The dangers of Wintergreen essential oil are real, but they can be avoided. Take all necessary precautions in advance. It’s a must if you want to enjoy the lovely scent and benefits of this oil.
Gaultheria Essential Oil Facts and Recipes
Gaultheria is a plant genus. It belongs to the Ericaceae plant family, which holds about 135 species. This plant family is known to grow in acid and infertile conditions.
Their growing conditions is why they’ve developed this unique chemical composition. The purpose is to face those harsh conditions better.
Here are some quick-to-read interesting (and fun) facts about wintergreens:
- Gaultheria species are evergreen small trees or shrubs.
- They’re native to North, South America, and Asia. But they also grow in Australia, New Zealand, and neighboring countries.
- Most species make fleshy berries. Still, others make dry capsules too, which are filled with seeds.
- The most common wintergreen is the North American one (G. procumbens). It’s one of the most common mint-like flavorings. It’s used in candies, chewing gum, toothpaste, mouthwashes, liniments, etc. The American wintergreen is also one of the ingredients found in root beer.
- People in the business of photocopy use a lot of Wintergreen oil. It’s used in all sorts of fine art printing applications.
- The oil of Wintergreen is also used in the industry of firearm maintenance. Vegetable Wintergreen oil blends can help to preserve, clean, and lubricate guns.
- Even though the smell of wintergreens is minty, they are not true mints. True mints belong to the Mentha plant genus.
- There are about 141 recognized Gaultheria species. Many of them are hybrids. Some of the most popular are G. procumbens and G. fragrantissima. In New Zealand, there are the Gaultheria oppositifolia species. Gaultheria shallon, also known as salal or shallon berries, are found in the PNW of North America. Salal berries have been found to be better antioxidants that cranberries and blueberries. In China, we have Gaultheria leucocarpa or yunnanensis. This species is also rich in methyl salicylate.
Wintergreen Essential Oil Recipes
You’ve read about the dangers and side effects of Wintergreen oil. You’ve also read about its benefits and many uses. Now you know some interesting facts about the plant too. I say it’s time to get practical.
The efficacy of a Wintergreen blend depends on the amount you use. This is what makes the oil dangerous. If you don’t know the exact dose to use for your ailment and condition, you should talk to your doctor.
Since the oil acts just like aspirin, it could make matters worse. Try to add just a small drop of Wintergreen essential oil in your blends.
You can add more of other oils and this way, give the blend the kick it needs. Next, you can choose from a few health and beauty recipes to try when you need them.
But first, what does Wintergreen essential oil blend well with? For joint comfort and pain relief, Wintergreen blends well with:
- Helichrysum, Thyme, and Lemon Eucalyptus.
For muscle cramps and tension, Wintergreen oil blends well with:
- Ylang-Ylang, Rosemary (ct. camphor), Lavender, etc.
For headaches and migraines, Wintergreen oil blends well with:
- Bergamot, Peppermint, Lavender, etc.
Wintergreen oil also blends well with:
- Sweet Marjoram,
- Ylang Ylang
- Bay Laurel,
Muscle Warm-Up Wintergreen Oil Recipe
- Gaultheria fragrantissima essential oil: 1 drop
- Lavandin essential oil: 10 drops
- Coconut oil: 8 tsp. (40ml)
Give the blend a good shake before you apply it on the muscles. You should apply a moderate amount and massage it in before and after working out. The oils can prevent your muscles from cramping and getting inflamed.
Anti-Acne Wintergreen Oil Recipe
- Wintergreen essential oil: 1 drop
- Tea Tree essential oil: 4 drops
- Lavender essential oil: 5 drops
- Macadamia oil: 1 Oz (30ml)
Shake the blend well and apply on a clean, damp face. You can apply every night or a few times a week. All these ingredients should act on bacteria, inflammation, pain, and scars.
Joint Pain Relief Wintergreen Recipe
- Wintergreen essential oil: 1 drop
- Black Pepper essential oil: 5 drops
- Frankincense essential oil: 5 drops
- Olive oil: 8 tsp. (40ml)
This recipe could use a higher concentration from each oil, but it must be done with a doctor’s approval. If the pain is very intense, you should go see one at once. Joint pain is no joke.
The bottom line of this post is that Wintergreen essential oil can be both good and bad for your health. It all depends on how and when you use it. There are lots of serious cases of patients suffering severe damage from it. Some of them even died, so you should not take the oil lightly.
You shouldn’t get scared either. The best thing to do, to put your mind at ease, is to talk to a doctor first. He’ll be able to tell you if you can use it or not, how much, and so on.
Have you ever used Wintergreen oil on yourself? How did you feel afterward? I’d like to know more about your experience with this natural remedy; as do the others, I’m sure.