Wintergreen Oil

Checkerberry leaves were widely used by the native North American Indians in the treatment of aches and pains and to help breathing whilst hunting or carrying heavy loads[238]. An essential oil (known as 'oil of wintergreen') obtained from the leaves contains methyl salicylate, which is closely related to aspirin and is an effective anti-inflammatory[213]. This species was at one time a major source of methyl salicylate, though this is now mainly synthesized[238]. The leaves, and the oil, are analgesic, anti-inflammatory, aromatic, astringent, carminative, diuretic, emmenagogue, stimulant and tonic[4, 21, 165]. An infusion of the leaves is used to relieve flatulence and colic[254]. The plant, especially in the form of the essential oil, is most useful when applied externally in the treatment of acute cases of rheumatism, sciatica, myalgia, sprains, neuralgia and catarrh[4, 238]. The oil is sometimes used in the treatment of cellulitis, a bacterial infection that causes the skin to become inflamed[254]. Some caution is advised, especially if the oil is used internally, since essential oil is toxic in excess, causing liver and kidney damage[4, 238]. It should not be prescribed for patients who are hypersensitive to salicylates (aspirin)[238]. The leaves can be gathered at any time from spring to early autumn, they are dried for use in infusions or distilled to produce the oil[238].

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