Wintergreen, one of the popular names for Gaultheria procumbens, a low, aromatic, evergreen shrub of the heath family, found in damp woods, especially under the shade of evergreens, in Canada and the northern states, and along the mountains to North Carolina. The long slender stems creep extensively upon or just below the surface, from which rise the flowering branches, 3 to 5 in. high, bearing a few leaves, each with one or two nodding flowers in its axil; the leaves are oval or obovate, obscurely toothed, of a leathery texture, dark green, shining above and lighter below; the cylindrical or somewhat urn-shaped corolla has five teeth at the orifice, and is pearly white; stamens ten, the anthers with two appendages at the summit; the ovary fivecelled, ripening into a depressed, five-lobed, five-celled, many-seeded, dry capsule. As the fruit ripens the calyx increases greatly, becomes thick and fleshy, finally surrounding and nearly enclosing the proper fruit, and appearing like a bright scarlet berry.
The flowers appear in May and July; the berries, which ripen in autumn, remain until spring; they have a slight aromatic taste; they are often seen in the city markets, where they are called checkerberries; they form an important part of the food of partridges and other birds which hibernate in the northern states. The leaves and stems are strongly aromatic, with a flavor and odor like that of the black birch (betula lento), due to a volatile oil, which is separated by distillation and is known in commerce as oil of wintergreen; it is the heaviest of the essential oils, having the specific gravity 1.173, and boils at 412° F.; it is a salicylate of the oxide of methyle, and has been prepared artificially. The oil is used for flavoring confectionery and to cover the taste of medicines; the plant itself is astringent as well as aromatic, and an infusion is sometimes used in diarrhoea, and also as a substitute for tea. The plant has a number of common names, and as some of these are also applied to other plants, there is much confusion; besides wintergreen, it is in different parts of the country called boxberry, teaberry, mountain tea, partridge berry, checkerberry, deerberry, and ivory plum, the last name having reference to the fruit. (See Partridge Beery.) - Another species, Gaultheria shallon, is abundant in Oregon and other parts of the northwest, especially in dense evergreen woods; it is from 18 in. to 3 ft. high, with glossy, ovate, somewhat heartshaped leaves, with reddish-tinged flowers in racemes, and abundant purple fruit; it is the salal berry of the Indians, who as well as the whites use the fruit for food.
It succeeds in England, where it is planted to furnish shelter and food for game, but it is difficult to cultivate it in the eastern states.
Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens), with Section of Fruit.