Amazing articles on just about every subject...


Wintergreen

( Originally Published 1933 )



GAULTHERIA PROCUMBENS, L.

Ericaceae Perennial

The checkerberry is a low-growing, shrubby plant with evergreen leaves. It is native from Newfoundland to Manitoba and south to Georgia and Michigan. The shiny yellow-green young leaves, tinted red, attract one's attention in the shade of the woods.

Root. The roots are little, fine, and hair-like coming from the underground stems.

Stem. The stems creep under the ground, and have a brown, scaly bark. From these grow the upright woody stems three to six inches high, smooth below, downy and crowned with leaves above.

Leaf. The leaves are evergreen, oval, and the largest measure one and one-half inches in length and one inch across. The smaller and younger ones are about one-half an inch long and one-quarter of an inch across. All the leaves are smooth and have tiny thorns growing out from the margins. The old ones are dark green above and yellow-green below. The young leaves are shiny, a fresh yellow-green, tinted reddish and are borne on new stems. When crushed they smell like peppermint candy.

Flower. The flowers come in June and July and are waxy white, slightly tinted pink, drooping, produced mostly singly in the axils of the leaves and borne on red stems.

Berry. The berries are crimson-red, subglobular, aromatic, and taste pleasantly. They have a five-celled capsule.

HISTORY AND LEGEND

Barton in his "Vegetable Materia Medica" says it was so abundant in the pine barrens of New Jersey that bunches of it were brought to the Jersey market of Philadelphia in November and December and sold for one cent each, and that deer and partridges fed on this and the Mitchella repens in late autumn. The country people thought that the peculiarly delicate flavor of venison came from the berries of the Gaultheria procumbens—hence one of its names, deerberry. These berries were also eaten by the Indians of Michigan and Wisconsin.

USES

The oil from the bark of sweet birch, Betula lenta, is nearly identical with the oil of wintergreen and is frequently sold as such.

Medicine. It is no longer in the United States Pharmacopoeia, nevertheless the volatile oil distilled from the leaves is much used to rub on joints for rheumatic pains, for lumbago, sciatica, and similar complaints. It is also administered internally in the treatment of rheumatic fevers. In America, oil of wintergreen was widely known because it was an ingredient in the quack medicine called the Panacea of Swain. It was introduced into England in 1762.

Perfume. The oil can be used in the preparation of synthetic cassia oil and in compounding new-mown hay perfumes, also in soaps.

Food. The berries infused in brandy or spirit make a beverage like bitters. Because the leaves were used for tea during the American Revolution, it is included in this book.

CULTURE

The Gaultheria procumbens grows in shady woods and likes a sandy or loose soil. When the plant is cultivated the soil should be mixed with leaf mold to a depth of four inches or so. The divisions of wild plants can be obtained and set out in the spring or fall six inches apart.

Harvest. The plants are usually gathered at the end of the growing season, and then are dried and packed for the market. For extracting the volatile oil the plants are first soaked in water for twenty-four hours, and then distilled in steam. Over 2,200 pounds of wintergreen oil were produced in the United States in 1909, and 6,000 in 1915. The production has gradually declined and the price advanced. In the past, collectors earned five cents a pound for the herb. It is difficult, however, to find quantities of it now, and not practical to grow it for profit.



Home | More Articles | Email: info@oldandsold.com