Wintergreen essential oil is a natural pain remedy, with anti-rheumatic, anti-inflammatory, astringent, diuretic, antitussive, carminative, emmenagogue, stimulant and galactagogue properties.
Indigenous peoples have spent centuries acquiring the knowledge of how to take care of their bodies using natural remedies found in nature. These traditional healing techniques have been fine tuned through the centuries, and the herbal wisdom acquired is passed from generation to generation. One such piece of wisdom is the usage of wintergreen essential oil for natural pain relief and other natural healing benefits; traditionally achieved through chewing the leaves . The oil is derived from the wintergreen plant, scientifically known as Gaultheria Procumbens of the Ericaceae family. It is sometimes referred to by the name “checkerberry” or “teaberry” .
In less traditional methods of extraction, the oil from the wintergreen leaves is extracted through steam distillation. First, the leaves are macerated (softened) in warm water. The maceration process is what enables the formation of methyl salicylate (responsible for the pain alleviation) – formed from a glycoside compound, which takes formation while the leaves are being warmed . The pure essential oil is then obtained through the steam distillation of the softened leaves .
Methyl salicylate is the beneficial compound found in wintergreen essential oil – the benefit of methyl salicylate is probably what accounts for wintergreen’s precursory use to pharmaceutical aspirin . Once applied topically to the area of inflammation or pain, the salicylates enter the cells through the external tissues and inhibit the formation of prostaglandins  – a group of cyclic fatty acids responsible for swelling and pain reception . This salicylate action then is responsible for the reduction of inflammation and pain that wintergreen oil is so fondly known for .
Winter green oil is used to alleviate the pain of arthritis and other joint conditions, acute pain and sensitivity. Due to having similar pain relief properties as that of aspirin due to its methyl salicylate content, wintergreen oil is also used to help with headaches and pain caused by injury . The synthetic version of methyl salicylate is also found in several over-the-counter pain remedies aside from aspirin, such as rub-A535 . These effects are generally acquired through the external application of the oil in a diluted formula .
Wintergreen essential oil is also used in formulas or blends that open breathing passages or provide sinus relief, such as the Tei-Fu blend which contains safflower oil, menthol, wintergreen oil, camphor and other essential oils . Often essential oils are blended with other oils for added or enhanced benefit. The oils can also be added to facial oils or facial massage formulas, perfumes, skin creams and other body formulas. However, with all oils used in blends it is important to understand the intricacies of each oil – essential oils are highly concentrated and some can be toxic if used inappropriately .
It is incredibly important to understand the proper use of wintergreen essential oil, since it can be toxic if used incorrectly . The oil must be used in modest amounts just like aspirin and other synthesized or organic pain remedy methods that are high in salicylates. Salicylates are a blood-thinning agent that are found in many over-the-counter painkillers and natural foods known for their blood-thinning properties – such as garlic or onions . Wintergreen essential oil can be absorbed transdermally (through the skin) and can enter the blood system in this way . As a result it is very important to ensure that it is not overly used or used in the wrong quantities. For illustrative purposes, in a teaspoon of 98% methyl salicylate (the compound primarily found in the wintergreen plant) there are 7 grams of methyl salicylates  – 4.7 grams of methyl salicylate can be dangerous .
Some authors on the proper usage of wintergreen and other essential oils suggest that it only be used externally on unbroken skin and that it not be used on wounds or open sores or ingested . Although wintergreen essential oil is used in candies and food in very small micro measured quantities as a flavouring agent, these are scientifically calculated and produced so as to be certain of safety and it should never be used for such purposed at home . In any case, a health practitioner’s advice should always be sought before using something like wintergreen essential oil, which could have toxic effects if used incorrectly.
It’s rare to find folks chewing on wintergreen leaves these days, but extracted wintergreen essential oil is an excellent alternative to this more traditional method and probably a whole lot easier to use as well. The oil provides an easily accessible method of preparing the body for the day’s adventures or getting some relief after a hard day’s work!
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