What is Wintergreen Essential Oil?
Wintergreen essential oil is a yellow or pale pink liquid, with a particular sweet-woody, camphorated and hot aroma, which possesses multiple medicinal properties for our health.
This oil is obtained by steam distillation of wintergreen (Gaultheria Procumbens) leaves, after being macerated in hot water.
The Gaultheria or Wintergreen is a small shrub, only 5-6 inches (15 centimeters) tall, and belongs to the Ericaceae family. It has little pale pink bell-shaped flowers, and its slightly toothed leaves are green and bright. During the autumn, its small red scarlet berries appear covering the ground.
Normally, wintergreen oil blends well with marjoram, bergamot, basil, white fir, cypress, geranium, lavender, black pepper, helichrysum, pine, rosemary, sandalwood, thyme, lemongrass, peppermint and spearmint essential oils.
Origin of Wintergreen Oil
The species of the Gaultheria plant share common characteristics in the production of wintergreen oil.
Gaultheria Fragantissima, is native to Nepal, while the Gaultheria Procumbens comes from North America and Canada. Both varieties have similar medicinal properties.
Its medicinal uses are widely known since ancient times, especially by Native Americans, who used leaves to treat respiratory tract infections. They also chewed the leaves to increase physical resistance and respiratory capacity, thus improving performance to travel long distances.
Amerindian shamans have used their fresh or dried leaves for centuries to heal joint pains, rheumatism and reduce fever.
Chemical composition of Wintergreen Essential Oil
Wintergreen oil is mainly composed of: methyl salicylate (about 98%), a-pinene, myrcene, delta-3-carene, limonene, 3,7-guaiadiene and delta-cadinene.
Properties of Wintergreen Essential Oil
Among the main properties of this oil are: analgesic, anti-rheumatic, anti-arthritic, antispasmodic, antiseptic, digestive, antibacterial, aromatic and astringent.
It is also said to act as an effective carminative, diuretic and emmenagogue, and is used in cases of conditions such as urethral irritation, cystitis or prostatitis.
Benefits of wintergreen essential oil
Benefits for skin
Wintergreen oil owns diverse properties that act directly benefiting the skin. Some of them are:
- Tones and provides firmness.
- Diminishes blemishes and imperfections, and unifies skin tone.
- Helps reduce inflammation of wounds and minor injuries.
- Thanks to its antibacterial properties, it fights acne and controls the formation of blackheads and pimples caused by microbial infections.
- Relieves pain or burning in the skin, product of acne conditions.
Benefits for hair
Due to its antibacterial and antiseptic properties, wintergreen oil helps tone hair roots, preventing fall and providing health at the same time.
On the other hand, it prevents the appearance of dandruff and seborrhea. In case of suffering from any of these conditions, wintergreen oil relieves itching and helps in its treatment.
To take advantage of these benefits, you should add a few drops of wintergreen oil in your usual shampoo. Be careful and avoid contact with the eyes because it can cause irritation.
Effective treatment for cellulitis disease
Wintergreen oil has also been used for the treatment of cellulitis, a bacterial infection accompanied by inflammation of the skin.
Cellulitis may first appear as a red, swollen area that feels hot and tender to the touch. The redness and swelling often spread rapidly and is usually painful.
Generally, the skin on lower legs is affected, although the infection can occur anywhere on body or face. Cellulitis usually affects the surface of the skin, but it may also affect the underlying tissues. It can also spread to the lymph nodes and bloodstream.
If cellulitis is not treated on time, the infection might become life-threatening.
Natural analgesic for muscle and joint pains
The most popular health benefit of wintergreen essential oil is its effectiveness in relieving pain. It can help relieve from a simple headache to complicated joint pains.
Rheumatism is a disease manifested by painful inflammation in muscles and fibrous tissues; and arthritis is the disease that occurs by inflammation in the joints. The oil of wintergreen has stimulating properties, which make it a great help to treat these two conditions.
Topically and previously mixed with a carrier oil, wintergreen essential oil easily penetrates through the skin, reaching the muscles and tissues, thus stimulating blood circulation.
In the first place, with its application we can provide heat to the affected area and, in addition, prevent toxins such as uric acid from obstructing blood flow.
Secondly, when it reaches the bloodstream, it acts as a diuretic, since it stimulates and increases urination; allowing the elimination of toxins (excess of fats, salts and water) through the urine, which affects satisfactorily to rheumatic conditions.
In definitive, wintergreen essential oil is paramount in case of muscular pains, rheumatism, ramps, myositis (inflammatory affection of the muscular tissue), osteoarthritis, tendonitis and arthritis.
Wintergreen oil can be used in small doses and diluted in a carrier oil to activate the proper functioning of gastric juices, and thus promote digestion.
Because it is a mild and natural diuretic, increases the production of urine, which can help cleanse the digestive tract and reduce swelling.
On the other hand, it fights nausea, eliminates gases and provides soothing effects on intestinal walls and the colon, thanks to its ability to reduce muscle spasms.
You just have to rub the mixture on your abdomen with a gentle massage to get relief.
Eliminates colds and flu
The leaves of wintergreen contain a chemical compound similar to aspirin which helps reduce pain, congestion, fever and swelling related to common diseases such as flu and colds. Therefore, by using a couple of drops of its essential oil you can alleviate these ailments shortly and effectively.
Energizes and fights fatigue
History shows that Native Americans used the wintergreen leaves to increase endurance during exercise, since they favor respiratory capacity. In addition, they help to combat pain and inflammation after high physical activity.
Besides, inhaling wintergreen oil infusions favors concentration.
Put a few drops of oil on the neck, chest and wrists, helps fight the symptoms of drowsiness or overcome chronic fatigue syndrome.
Finally, for recovery after a strenuous physical training, the diffusion of wintergreen oil with a vaporizer can be a great idea to clean the respiratory tract and nasal passages to favor a better oxygenation.
Obstructed menstruation or amenorrhea is a problem that affects many women. This condition, in some cases, can cause uterine ulcers and even cancer of the uterus.
By using the oil of wintergreen, blood flow in the pelvic area and uterus will be stimulated, helping menstruation to manifest naturally and regularly.
Additionally, annoying symptoms produced by menstruation such as nausea, fatigue and abdominal pain will be eliminated.
It is recommended to apply topically in the lower abdomen with gentle massage.
Wintergreen oil can be critical for bacteria, protozoa, viruses and fungi. Its antibacterial and antiviral properties give it action against the infections that cause sepsis and also helps to fight the bacteria Staphylococcus Aureus.
However, care must be taken to avoid direct contact with blood, as well as to avoid applying on open wounds.
It should not be taken to treat internal infections. It should only be used topically and combined with a carrier oil (Apricot kernel, coconut, almond or olive, for example). In this way the skin will absorb its properties and penetrate the tissues, flowing through the bloodstream to reach the affected internal area.
Also, for care and disinfection in the home, wintergreen oil can be used to keep the environment free of bacteria.
Helps control spasms
The relaxing and stimulating effect of wintergreen oil helps reduce spasms in the respiratory, muscular, digestive and nervous systems.
In addition, it provides relief over nasal congestion, clogged chest, respiratory conditions, asthma, spasmodic cough, muscle cramps, digestive disorders, spasmodic diarrhea, seizures and various nerve afflictions.
Aromatic and disinfectant air freshener
In addition to medicinal and cosmetic uses, wintergreen oil can be used as a natural deodorant for the home, as it helps fight off unpleasant odors, and the bacteria that cause it.
It favors the environments and surfaces of the bathroom and kitchen, controlling the presence of fungi, bacteria, microbes, viruses, etc.
You can mix several drops of wintergreen oil with water in a spray bottle, and apply it on surfaces, appliances, trash cans and even toilets.
It is also useful to evaporate the oil of wintergreen with an environmental diffuser, in order to maintain your home with a pleasant and energizing aroma. Also, you can add several drops to the laundry to take advantage of its deodorizing properties.
Uses of Wintergreen Essential Oil
As we mentioned before, wintergreen oil is used topically or in aromatherapy as a popular remedy for:
- Muscle and joint pain
- Relieve symptoms of arthritis, rheumatism, gout and tendonitis
- Improve circulation
- Relieve cramps and inflammation
- Eczema, cellulitis and psoriasis conditions
- Skin and hair care
- Colds and flu
- Heal ulcers and eliminate gas
- Debug the organism
- Relieve headaches
Wintergreen is also used in perfumery and as a flavoring for toothpastes, mouth rinses, chewing gum, non-alcoholic beverages, candies, etc.
One of its peculiar uses is for the elimination of rust and degreasing of machinery.
Likewise, wintergreen oil is particularly effective in eliminating corrosion by seawater.
Cancer and Wintergreen Essential Oil
In a study published in 1938, in the American Journal of Cancer Research, it was shown that wintergreen oil inhibits the growth of cancerous tumors.
On the other hand, researchers from Yale University found that winter growth at appropriate doses through diet helped mice overcome tumor growths. Retrogressive changes in necrotic tissue, pyknotic nuclei, and the connective tissue of tumors were observed in animal models, whereby some of the animals were treated to complete regression of their tumors.
However, although the studies are promising, it has not been implemented in humans yet.
Warnings and Precautions when using Wintergreen Essential Oil
Among the wide range of existing essential oils we find their chemical components, which give us the therapeutic properties so beneficial to our health. However, in some cases, these components have the peculiarity that their level of toxicity is greater than that of their peers. This is the case of wintergreen oil, which contains about 98% methyl salicylate, this component is very toxic and should therefore, be used with caution and moderation.
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Having mentioned the above, we will now name the precautions we must have when using wintergreen oil:
- The essential oil of wintergreen has anticoagulant properties, so it can not be used by people allergic to salicylate derivatives, such as aspirin.
- Wintergreen oil can produce irritations if it is not used properly, that is, diluted in other vegetable oils or carrier oils.
- In case of having sensitive skin, and there is direct contact with wintergreen oil, it can cause swelling, redness and burning.
- Avoid contact with eyes and mucous membranes, as it may cause irritation and discomfort.
- Methyl salicylate from oil of wintergreen may cause allergic reactions, such as difficulty breathing, hives, and swelling of the face, lips, tongue or throat.
- If accidentally swallowed, wintergreen oil can cause heartburn, mouth sores, reflux, flushing, skin rashes and headache, among others. If you experience any of these situations, you should go immediately to a medical assistance center.
- Its use is not recommended during pregnancy, because it can be teratogenic. Neither should be used during lactation, as well as in children under six years old.
Toxicity of Wintergreen Essential Oil
We have mentioned that, although it is well known for its therapeutic effects, wintergreen oil should be used with caution and moderation, because its potent methyl salicylate molecule is structurally similar to aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid).
After ingestion, methyl salicylate is easily metabolized by the organism to salicylic acid. This means that the mode of action of wintergreen oil in the body, is identical to that of conventional aspirin. Therefore, if aspirin is toxic to you, probably wintergreen oil too.
In children under 6 years old, its use is not recommended because it can be toxic. So, it is highly recommended to keep the wintergreen oil bottles, out of the reach of children.
When administered orally, it has a greater capacity for absorption and, in turn, a high level of toxicity. Likewise, topical applications are not exempt from risk, due to their chemical nature.
Exceeding the recommended daily dose can lead to a condition called “salicylism,” which is characterized by symptoms of dizziness, tinnitus, nausea, vomiting, hyperventilation, and changes in mental status. This involves the risk of causing coma or even death.
The recommended dose should not exceed 1%.
Sensitivity to salicylate is a frequent adverse reaction to methyl salicylate in wintergreen oil, which can produce symptoms similar to allergies or asthma and in very high doses it can be neurotoxic.
It should not be used in case of pregnancy or breastfeeding, and it is not suitable for use in children.
Liquid salicylate dissolves in tissue and also in capillaries, so excessive use is as risky as excessive use of aspirin.
Where to buy Wintergreen Essential Oil?
Usually, good quality oils, 100% pure and not mixed with other substances, can be found in specialized natural herb stores.
If you can not reach a trusted naturist or herbalist shop near you, here are some recommendation for you:
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Tips for a better performance and duration of your oils:
- Store them in a dark glass bottle, never plastic, not even when blended with a carrier oil.
- Keep them in cool, dark places, away from sources of heat and light.
- Maintain the container that holds it tightly closed, since they are very volatile and also, their properties would be lost or modified.