Wintergreen typically has 3-4 leaves with a light waxy appearance and defined veins. The plant often has small red berries dangling from under the leaves in spring to early summer. This plant can be found in shady forest areas and quite common in New England. The roots of wintergreen are vine-like and spread underground to produce new plants, for this reason wintergreen is usually found in patches. Often found near mountain laurel, be sure to identify wintergreen correctly because mountain laurel is poisonous. Although mature mountain laurel look nothing alike, the young seedlings have similar appearance. A major determining factor is that mountain laurel has leaves which are more elongated vs the oval shaped leaves on wintergreen. To be sure you have wintergreen, rip a leave and you will recognize the wintergreen smell.
Although wintergreen is considered a “wild edible”, you would not want to make a meal of it, the plant has more medicinal value than nutritional. Wintergreen oil does have a toxicity level, it is said that 1 fl oz of wintergreen oil is equivalent to 171 aspirin pills, so use sparingly. Wintergreen is best used in small quantities to make a tea which has claims to being useful for muscle and joint discomfort, arthritis, poor circulation, head aches, cramps, inflammation, gout, and ulcers. Wintergreen leaves can also be chewed and sucked on for freshening your breath.
Wintergreen berries are also edible and are high in Vitamic C. Depending on snow cover, wintergreen and its berries may be found in during winter months.
A Wintergreen identification video can be found in our other post
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