Gaultheria procumbens. Wintergreen.
Nat. Ord. — Ericaceae Sex. Syst. — Decandria Monogynia.
Description. — This plant is known in various sections of country under different names, as Mountain tea, Deerberry, Partridgeberry, Checkerberry, Teaberry, Boxberry, etc. It is a small, indigenous, shrubby, evergreen plant, with a long, slender, horizontal, creeping root, which sends up at intervals one or two erect, slender, round, reddish stems, a few inches in bight, naked below, and leafy at the top. The leaves are alternate, ovate or obovate, mucronate, remotely denticulate, smooth, coriaceous, shining, acute at each end, evergreen, paler beneath, and revolute at the edges. The flowers are few, white, or flesh-colored, three to five on each stem, on terminal, axillary, downy-curved and drooping peduncles. The calyx is five-cleft, with two concave, heart-shaped bracts at base, and finally changes into a fleshy covering to the fruit. Corolla ovate or urceolate, contracted at its mouth, five-angled, white or flesh-colored, and divided at its border into five short, acute, reflexed segments. Stamens ten, rose-colored, with white, curved, plumose filaments, alternating with the short scales of the receptacle. Anthers oblong, orange-colored, ending in two double horns, opening outwardly for their whole length above the filaments; pollen white, ovary roundish, depressed, five-angled, and resting upon a reddish, ten-toothed, glandular disk ; style erect, filiform ; stigma simple, obtuse. The fruit is a small, five-celled, five-valved, many-seeded capsule, inclosed in the fleshy calyx, which becomes of a bright scarlet color.
History. — This plant is a native of the United States, growing from Canada to Georgia, and westward to Pennsylvania and Kentucky, in mountainous tracts, dry barrens, and sandy plains, beneath the shade of trees and shrubs, and flowering from June to September. It is never found in rich alluvions or limestone plains. The leaves are officinal, yet all parts of the plant may be used ; they have a peculiar aromatic taste and odor, somewhat resembling that of the Sweet Birch bark, (Betula Lenta,) with some astringency, and in the berries some sweetness. The berries are eaten by many persons, and form an article of food with partridges, deer, and other wild animals. The astringency of the leaves is owing to the presence of tannic acid; the aromatic properties depend upon a volatile oil, which is separable by distillation. It is the heaviest of the known volatile oils, is colorless at first, but subsequently becomes more or less red, has a specific gravity of 1.173, a burning and aromatic taste, possesses acid properties, and is soluble in alcohol or ether. Water by infusion, and alcohol, extract the virtues of the plant.
Properties and Uses. — Wintergreen possesses stimulant, aromatic, and astringent properties. It is used in infusion in chronic diarrhea, as a diuretic in dysury, as an emmenagogue, as a stimulant in cases of debility, and is said to increase the secretion of milk, but this is doubtful. Its chief use is to flavor syrups, mixtures, etc., for which purpose the oil, or its tincture is generally employed. The oil allays the pain of carious teeth, and large doses of it administered internally have caused death by producing gastric inflammation ; the essence of wintergreen is a carminative, and is sometimes used in the flatulent colic of infants. An infusion of the leaves or whole plant, may be drank freely.
The Gaultheria Hispidula, or Cancer wintergreen, is supposed to be efficacious in removing the carcinomatous taint from the system ; used also in scrofula, prolapsus uteri.
Off. Prep. — Oleum Gaultheriae.