While research suggests there are health benefits, the FDA doesn’t monitor or regulate the purity or quality of essential oils. It’s important to talk with your healthcare provider before you begin using essential oils and be sure to research the quality of a brand’s products. Always do a patch test before trying a new essential oil.
Wintergreen oil is traditionally extracted from the leaves of the wintergreen plant.
The production process involves fermentation of the natural material from the plant. This is followed by distillation to obtain a purer product. The final product consists almost entirely of methyl salicylate, the active ingredient of wintergreen oil.
The natural production of wintergreen oil has been on the decline in favor of creating synthetic methyl salicylate. In some products, synthetic methyl salicylate may appear as one of several types of oils, including wintergreen oil, gaultheria oil, or teaberry oil.
Read on to discover more about wintergreen essential oil, what it’s used for, tips to find quality oil, and the potential benefits and risks associated with use.
Natural wintergreen oil
Wintergreen essential oil is traditionally derived from the wintergreen plant.
There are two species that can be used to produce the oil: Gaultheria procumbens (native to North America) and Gaultheria fragrantissima (native to Asia and India).
You may also see the wintergreen plant locally referred to as checkerberry or teaberry.
Pain and inflammation relief
The active ingredient in wintergreen oil, methyl salicylate, is closely related to aspirin and has analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties. As such, products containing wintergreen oil are often used as an anti-inflammatory and topical pain reliever.
Wintergreen oil has also been used in traditional medicine for the following conditions:
Wintergreen oil may also be found in insecticides and repellents. However, research suggests that, when compared to other essential oils, it may be more effective as an insecticide or fumigant than as a repellent.Trusted Source
Flavoring and scents
In industry and manufacturing, wintergreen oil is used as a flavoring agent for products such as candies, toothpastes, and mouthwashes. It can also be used as a scent additive.
Many of the stated benefits or uses of wintergreen oil are derived from anecdotal evidence, meaning they’re heavily based off personal testimony.
There’s limited research on the potential health benefits of wintergreen oil and its active ingredient, methyl salicylate. But what does the research tell us so far?
The benefits for pain are mixed
The research into wintergreen oil or methyl salicylate as a topical pain reliever has shown mixed results, although wintergreen oil has been suggested as a potential alternative treatment for easing lower back pain.Trusted Source
Times it worked
One 2010 study in adults with muscle strain found that application of a skin patch containing methyl salicylate and menthol provided a significant amount of pain relief compared to the placebo patch.Trusted Source
Additionally, a case study from 2012 found that topical application of methyl salicylate provided headache relief to an individual who had severe headaches following electroconvulsive therapy.Trusted Source
Times it didn’t
A review of several clinical trials of topical salicylates, one of which included methyl salicylate, didn’t find support for their use for musculoskeletal pain.Trusted Source The authors indicated that larger, better quality trials need to be performed to assess efficacy.
Wintergreen oil has worked against some bacteria
A 2017 study found that 0.5 percent wintergreen oil had a similar or higher antibacterial activity than a control antibiotic against persistent forms of Borrelia burgdorferi, the causative agent of Lyme disease.Trusted Source
The antibacterial effect was diminished or absent at lower concentrations, however.
Other studies on Neisseria gonorrhoeae and a Streptococcus species observed no antibacterial activity for wintergreen oil.Trusted Source Trusted Source
Wintergreen oil works in dental products
In 2013, a subcommittee of the Food and Drug Administration reviewed methyl salicylate used in over-the-counter dental products that control plaque and gingivitis.Trusted Source Trusted Source Examples of such products include mouth rinses, mouthwashes, and sprays.
The subcommittee concluded that methyl salicylate used at a set concentration either by itself or combined with eucalyptol, menthol, and thymol is both safe and effective in these products.
Wintergreen oil should never be swallowed.
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Methyl salicylate, the active ingredient in wintergreen oil, can be toxic, so care should always be taken when using wintergreen oil.
Particular care should be taken around children, who may be attracted to wintergreen oil by its scent. Wintergreen oil should never be used on children and should always be kept in a childproof bottle, out of reach of children.
Not recommended for
- women who are pregnant or breastfeeding
- people who are taking anticoagulant or blood-thinning drugs
- people who have a bleeding disorder, such as hemophilia
- people who are allergic to aspirin
- aromatherapy use
- Methyl salicylate can be poisonous if large amounts are ingested or absorbed through the skin over time.
- Methyl salicylate and wintergreen oil can both increase the effects of anticoagulant and blood-thinning drugs.
Wintergreen can be very dangerous and even fatal if swallowed. In fact, a single teaspoon of methyl salicylate is roughly equivalent to 90 baby aspirin tablets.Trusted Source
Because methyl salicylate is absorbed through the skin, a negative reaction can also happen when it’s applied topically. Never apply any essential oil to the skin without diluting it in a carrier oil first.
One 2002 case study reported acute toxicity in a man receiving a topical methyl salicylate treatment for psoriasis.Trusted Source
Signs of poisoning
- nausea or vomiting
- rapid breathing (hyperventilation)
- ringing in the ears (tinnitus)
- muscle twitching
If poisoning is suspected, seek immediate medical attention. Call your local poison control center, 911, or local emergency services. Treatments may include administering sodium bicarbonate as an antidote, dialysis, and supportive care.
Interacts with warfarin
Wintergreen oil or methyl salicylate can also exacerbate the effects of anticoagulant drugs, such as warfarin. This can cause bleeding or hemorrhaging.
Individuals who are taking blood-thinning drugs or who have bleeding disorders, such as hemophilia, should not use wintergreen oil.
Due to the fact that it can be absorbed through the skin, women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should never use wintergreen oil.
Since methyl salicylate is so similar to aspirin and other salicylates, people who are sensitive to salicylates shouldn’t use wintergreen oil.
Remember that wintergreen oil should always be used externally. It’s a very strong essential oil and can be absorbed through the skin, so it should never be applied undiluted.
When making a solution with wintergreen oil, it should only make up 2 to 3 percent of the final solution volume, according to the New York Institute of Aromatic Studies.
For a 2.5 percent dilution, try mixing 15 drops of wintergreen essential oil with 6 teaspoons (1 fluid ounce) of carrier oil.
If you choose to make a solution with wintergreen oil and other essential oils, wintergreen oil may blend well with peppermint, lavender, and eucalyptus oils.
Due to the potential for toxicity when ingested and limited evidence of its efficacy in aromatherapy, wintergreen oil isn’t recommended for use in aromatherapy, such as in a room diffuser.
The active ingredient in wintergreen oil, methyl salicylate, is often chemically synthesized. In many cases, the name “wintergreen oil” can be used interchangeably with synthetic methyl salicylate.
So how can you make sure that you select high quality, plant-derived wintergreen oil? Follow these tips:
- Check for the Latin name of the plant. This can help you verify that you’re selecting the specific essential oil you what.
- Look for information about purity. Some essential oils are mixed with other things and may not be 100 percent pure.
- Evaluate the price. If it seems really cheap compared to other products, it may not be the real deal.
- Give it a smell. Does it smell like you expect it to? If not, don’t buy it.
Wintergreen oil is an essential oil that’s traditionally derived from the leaves of the wintergreen plant. Methyl salicylate, the active ingredient of wintergreen oil, can be chemically synthesized and is often referred to as wintergreen oil in many products.
Over the years, wintergreen oil has been used for a variety of health-related purposes, including for aches and pains, inflammation, and tooth decay.
Many of the benefits of wintergreen oil are currently based off anecdotal evidence. More research needs to be performed in order to assess the health benefits of this essential oil.
WHAT OTHER NAMES IS WINTERGREEN KNOWN BY?
Boxberry, Canada Tea, Checkerberry, Deerberry, Essence de Gaulthérie, Gaulteria, Gaultheria Oil, Gaultheria procumbens, Gaulthérie Couchée, Ground Berry, Hilberry, Huile de Thé des Bois, Mountain Tea, Oil of Wintergreen, Partridge Berry, Petit Thé, Petit Thé des Bois, Spiceberry, Teaberry, Thé de Montagne, Thé de Terre-Neuve, Thé du Canada, Thé Rouge, Thé des Bois, Wax Cluster.
Wintergreen is an herb. Wintergreen oil is made by steam processing of warmed, water-soaked wintergreen leaves. The leaves and oil are used to make medicine.
Wintergreen leaf is used for painful conditions including headache, nerve pain (particularly sciatica), arthritis, ovarian pain, and menstrual cramps. It is also used for digestion problems including stomachache and gas (flatulence); lung conditions including asthma and pleurisy; pain and swelling (inflammation); fever; and kidney problems.
Some people use small doses of wintergreen oil to increase stomach juices and improve digestion.
Wintergreen oil is applied to the skin as a “counterirritant” to relieve muscle pain. Counterirritants work by causing irritation that reduces pain and swelling in the underlying tissue. Wintergreen oil is also used to kill germs on the skin.
In manufacturing, wintergreen is used as a flavoring agent in food, candies, teas, and in pharmaceutical products.
- Minor aches and pains.
- Gas (flatulence).
- Kidney problems.
- Nerve pain.
- Menstrual cramps.
- Achy joints (rheumatism).
- Other conditions.
More evidence is needed to rate the effectiveness of wintergreen for these uses.
Wintergreen leaf contains an aspirin-like chemical that might reduce pain, swelling, and fever.
Wintergreen is safe in the amounts found in foods, and seems safe for most adults when used as a medicine.
When applied directly to the skin, wintergreen oil can cause skin irritation.
Special Precautions & Warnings:
Children: Wintergreen leaf and oil can be poisonous for children. Taking 4-10 mL of wintergreen oil by mouth can be deadly. Don’t even use wintergreen oil on the skin of children less than 2 years old.
Pregnancy and breast-feeding: Wintergreen is safe in amounts found in food, but there’s not enough information to know if it’s safe in the larger amounts that are used as medicine. Don’t take it by mouth or put it on your skin, if you are pregnant.
Stomach and intestinal inflammation: Taking wintergreen by mouth might make these conditions worse.
Salicylate or aspirin allergy, asthma, or nasal polyps: Wintergreen might cause an allergic reaction in people who are allergic to aspirin or other salicylate compounds, or have asthma or nasal polyps. Use wintergreen with caution if you have one of these conditions.
Warfarin (Coumadin)Interaction Rating: Major Do not take this combination.Warfarin (Coumadin) is used to slow blood clotting. Wintergreen oil can also slow blood clotting. Taking wintergreen oil along with warfarin (Coumadin) can increase the chances of bruising and bleeding. Be sure to have your blood checked regularly. The dose of your warfarin (Coumadin) might need to be changed.
AspirinInteraction Rating: Moderate Be cautious with this combination.Talk with your health provider.Wintergreen oil contains a chemical similar to aspirin. Using large amounts of wintergreen oil on your skin and taking aspirin at the same time might increase the risk of side effects. Do not use large amounts of wintergreen oil on your skin and take aspirin at the same time.
The appropriate dose of wintergreen depends on several factors such as the user’s age, health, and several other conditions. At this time there is not enough scientific information to determine an appropriate range of doses for wintergreen. Keep in mind that natural products are not always necessarily safe and dosages can be important. Be sure to follow relevant directions on product labels and consult your pharmacist or physician or other healthcare professional before using.