Wintergreen oil is traditionally extracted from the leaves of the wintergreen plant.
The production process involves fermentation of the natural material from the plant. This is followed by distillation to obtain a purer product. The final product consists almost entirely of methyl salicylate, the active ingredient of wintergreen oil.
The natural production of wintergreen oil has been on the decline in favor of creating synthetic methyl salicylate. In some products, synthetic methyl salicylate may appear as one of several types of oils, including wintergreen oil, gaultheria oil, or teaberry oil.
Read on to discover more about wintergreen essential oil, what it’s used for, tips to find quality oil, and the potential benefits and risks associated with use.
Natural wintergreen oil
Wintergreen essential oil is traditionally derived from the wintergreen plant.
There are two species that can be used to produce the oil: Gaultheria procumbens (native to North America) and Gaultheria fragrantissima (native to Asia and India).
You may also see the wintergreen plant locally referred to as checkerberry or teaberry.
Pain and inflammation relief
The active ingredient in wintergreen oil, methyl salicylate, is closely related to aspirin and has analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties. As such, products containing wintergreen oil are often used as an anti-inflammatory and topical pain reliever.
Wintergreen oil has also been used in traditional medicine for the following conditions:
Wintergreen oil may also be found in insecticides and repellents. However, research suggests that, when compared to other essential oils, it may be more effective as an insecticide or fumigant than as a repellent.
Flavoring and scents
In industry and manufacturing, wintergreen oil is used as a flavoring agent for products such as candies, toothpastes, and mouthwashes. It can also be used as a scent additive.
Many of the stated benefits or uses of wintergreen oil are derived from anecdotal evidence, meaning they’re heavily based off personal testimony.
There’s limited research on the potential health benefits of wintergreen oil and its active ingredient, methyl salicylate. But what does the research tell us so far?
The benefits for pain are mixed
The research into wintergreen oil or methyl salicylate as a topical pain reliever has shown mixed results, although wintergreen oil has been suggested as a potential alternative treatment for easing lower back pain.
Times it worked
One 2010 study in adults with muscle strain found that application of a skin patch containing methyl salicylate and menthol provided a significant amount of pain relief compared to the placebo patch.
Additionally, a case study from 2012 found that topical application of methyl salicylate provided headache relief to an individual who had severe headaches following electroconvulsive therapy.
Times it didn’t
A review of several clinical trials of topical salicylates, one of which included methyl salicylate, didn’t find support for their use for musculoskeletal pain.
Wintergreen oil has worked against some bacteria
A recent study found that 0.5 percent wintergreen oil had a similar or higher antibacterial activity than a control antibiotic against persistent forms of Borrelia burgdorferi, the causative agent of Lyme disease.
The antibacterial effect was diminished or absent at lower concentrations, however.
Other studies on Neisseria gonorrhoeae and a Streptococcus species observed no antibacterial activity for wintergreen oil.
Wintergreen oil works in dental products
In 2013, a subcommittee of the Food and Drug Administration reviewed methyl salicylate used in over-the-counter dental products that control plaque and gingivitis.
The subcommittee concluded that methyl salicylate used at a set concentration either by itself or combined with eucalyptol, menthol, and thymol is both safe and effective in these products.
Wintergreen oil should never be swallowed.
Methyl salicylate, the active ingredient in wintergreen oil, can be toxic, so care should always be taken when using wintergreen oil.
Particular care should be taken around children, who may be attracted to wintergreen oil by its scent. Wintergreen oil should never be used on children and should always be kept in a childproof bottle, out of reach of children.
Not recommended for
- women who are pregnant or breastfeeding
- people who are taking anticoagulant or blood-thinning drugs
- people who have a bleeding disorder, such as hemophilia
- people who are allergic to aspirin
- aromatherapy use
- Methyl salicylate can be poisonous if large amounts are ingested or absorbed through the skin over time.
- Methyl salicylate and wintergreen oil can both increase the effects of anticoagulant and blood-thinning drugs.
Wintergreen can be very dangerous and even fatal if swallowed. In fact, a single teaspoon of methyl salicylate is roughly equivalent to 90 baby aspirin tablets.
Because methyl salicylate is absorbed through the skin, a negative reaction can also happen when it’s applied topically. Never apply any essential oil to the skin without diluting it in a carrier oil first.
One 2002 case study reported acute toxicity in a man receiving a topical methyl salicylate treatment for psoriasis.
Signs of poisoning
- nausea or vomiting
- rapid breathing (hyperventilation)
- ringing in the ears (tinnitus)
- muscle twitching
If poisoning is suspected, seek immediate medical attention. Treatments may include administering sodium bicarbonate as an antidote, dialysis, and supportive care.
Interacts with warfarin
It’s important to note that wintergreen oil or methyl salicylate can also exacerbate the effects of anticoagulant drugs, such as warfarin. This can cause bleeding or hemorrhaging.
Individuals who are taking blood-thinning drugs or who have bleeding disorders, such as hemophilia, should not use wintergreen oil.
Due to the fact that it can be absorbed through the skin, women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should never use wintergreen oil.
Since methyl salicylate is so similar to aspirin and other salicylates, people who are sensitive to salicylates shouldn’t use wintergreen oil.
Remember that wintergreen oil should always be used externally. It’s a very strong essential oil and can be absorbed through the skin, so it should never be applied undiluted.
When making a solution with wintergreen oil, it should only make up 2 to 3 percent of the final solution volume, according to the New York Institute of Aromatic Studies.
For example, to make 16 ounces of a 2 percent wintergreen oil solution, you would add 96 drops of wintergreen oil to the 16 ounces of carrier substance.
If you choose to make a solution with wintergreen oil and other essential oils, wintergreen oil may blend well with peppermint, lavender, and eucalyptus oils.
Due to the potential for toxicity when ingested and limited evidence of its efficacy in aromatherapy, wintergreen oil isn’t recommended for use in aromatherapy.
The active ingredient in wintergreen oil, methyl salicylate, is often chemically synthesized. In many cases, the name “wintergreen oil” can be used interchangeably with synthetic methyl salicylate.
So how can you make sure that you select high-quality, plant-derived wintergreen oil? Follow these tips:
- Check for the Latin name of the plant. This can help you verify that you’re selecting the specific essential oil you what.
- Look for information about purity. Some essential oils are mixed with other things and may not be 100 percent pure.
- Evaluate the price. If it seems really cheap compared to other products, it may not be the real deal.
- Give it a smell. Does it smell like you expect it to? If not, don’t buy it.
Wintergreen oil is an essential oil that’s traditionally derived from the leaves of the wintergreen plant. Methyl salicylate, the active ingredient of wintergreen oil, can be chemically synthesized and is often referred to as wintergreen oil in many products.
Over the years, wintergreen oil has been used for a variety of health-related purposes, including for aches and pains, inflammation, and tooth decay.
Many of the benefits of wintergreen oil are currently based off anecdotal evidence. More research needs to be performed in order to assess the health benefits of this essential oil.