The distillation of oil of wintergreen5) was probably begun in the first decades of last century along with that of sassafras bark (p. 129) and birch bark (p. 118) in the states of Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York. At first these aromatics were used for chewing, later for the preparation of refreshing beverages and home remedies, and especially for the much used, socalled blood purifiers. After the production of these volatile oils had been made a success they were often used instead of the aqueous extracts of the drugs. This use is of considerable importance to the history of the introduction of wintergreen and
1) Dioscoridis De materia medica libri quinque. Editio Kuhn-Sprengel. 1829. Vol. 1, p. 405.
2) Matth., 23:23. In English translations of the Bible, since the days of Wycklif , the Greek has been translated as anise. Luther translates it more correctly as dill, which is always meant in Greece when &vrj&ov is used. (Langkavel, Botanik der spateren Griechen. Berlin 1866. p. 39.)
3) Herbarium Apuleii. In Leechdoms, Wortcunning and Starcraft of early England, edited by Cockayne. London 1864. Vol. 1, pp. 219, 235, 237, 281, 293. - Popular Names of British plants. London 1870.
4) Hieronymus Brunschwig, Liber de arte destillandi. 1500. Fol. 40.
5) Upon the suggestion of Kalm, after his return to Sweden, Linne named the plant Gauitheria procumbens in honor of Dr. Gaulthier, a French physician and botanist in Quebec, whom Kalm had met in 1749. Kalm, who had obtained herbarium specimens of the plant from John Bartram of Philadelphia, with the latter regarded it as a species of Trientaiis. (Peter Kalms Reise nach dem nordlichen Nordamerika im Jahre 1748 - 1749. Gottingen 1754. Vol. 3, pp. 283, 421, 477, 515 and 533.) sassafras oils, in as much as both of these were used as popular remedies (socalled patent medicines) in the United States since the beginning of last century. The preparation and use of these remedies soon became general, and with it came a greater demand for these oils. Wintergreen oil was especially in demand for the preparation of one of the oldest popular remedies in the United States, namely Swaim's Panacea,1) introduced in 1815, which at that time had an enormous sale and in the efficiency of which great confidence was placed.
Wintergreen oil does not appear to have been used for other purposes at that time. The first mention of it in literature is found in a botanical work published in 1818 by Bigelow,2) a physician of Boston. In it, gaultheria oil is mentioned as a staple article of the drug stores. He further states that this oil occurs also in Spiraea ulmaria, the root of Spiraea lobata, and especially in the bark of Betula lenta. In pharmacopoeias, the oil was first taken up in that of the United States of 1820. The medicinal use of the oil, however, did not become general until 1827, when the New York Medical Society made known its use in the preparation of the popular specific mentioned above.3)
Although the similarity of the volatile oil from Gaultheria procumbens, L, to that from the bark of Betula lenta, L, was known before 1818,-) the identity of their principal constituent was shown scientifically in 1842 by Wm. Procter jr.4) of Philadelphia and in 1844 by A. A. Th. Cahours5) of Paris. From that time on the oil was no longer distilled exclusively from winter-green, but often from this together with birch bark, or only from the latter. The oil came more and more into use as an aromatic for pharmaceutical and cosmetic preparations, for beverages and medicinal remedies,1) and thus became an important article of commerce.
1) This remedy was an imitation of the Rob de Laffecteur, a secret remedy exploited with great success by the Parisian apothecary Boiveau at the beginning of the last century. Swaim, a bookdealer in Philadelphia, had been cured by this remedy. He succeeded in securing the formula, and after substituting gaultheria oil for sassafras oil, he introduced it into commerce. (Pharm. Review 16 , 179.)
2) Jacob Bigelow, American Medical Botany. Boston 1818. Vol. 2, p. 28.
3) Pharm. Review 16 (1898), 179. - Americ. Journ. Pharm. 3 (1831), 199.
4) Americ. Journ. Pharm. 14 (1842), 211. - Liebig's Annalen 48 (1843), 66.
5) Annal. de Chim. et Phys. III. 10 (1844), 327-358 and Liebig's Annalen 48 (1843), 60; 52 (1844), 327.
As artificial oil of wintergreen, methyl salicylate has been produced on a commercial scale by Schimmel &Co. since 1886. It was made officinal in the 1890 edition of the U. S. Pharmacopoeia.