Wintergreen Oil


Wintergreen oil or methyl salicylate is produced synthetically or by maceration and steam distillation of the leaves of Gaultheria procumbens (belonging to the family Ericaceae) or the bark of Betula lenta (belonging to the family Betulaceae).

Synthetic methyl salicylate is produced by esterifying salicylic acid with methyl alcohol in the presence of sulfuric acid and distilling. It’s found naturally in gaultheria and betula oils and in many other plants.

Other common names for wintergreen oil are methyl salicylate; Benzoic acid, 2-hydroxy-, methyl ester; Gaultheria Oil; Beluta Oil; Sweet Birch Oil; Teaberry Oil; Artificial Wintergreen Oil; and Synthetic Wintergreen Oil. In some areas of the US, it’s still referred to as “mountain tea.” Methyl salicylate must be labeled to indicate whether it was synthetically made or distilled from either Gaultheria procumbens or Betula lenta.

Clark's teaberry gum

The fruits of G. procumbens are edible and have a minty flavor. The idea for Clark’s Teaberry gum came from this flavor. The gum dates to 1900.

In the USP (United States Pharmacopeia), gaultheria oil, betula oil, and methyl salicylate are combined under the same title because it’s difficult to distinguish between them chemically. There are slight differences in the specific gravity and optical activity.

What is the difference between methyl salicylate, aspirin, and salicylic acid?

First of all, methyl salicylate is not the main ingredient in aspirin. Aspirin is acetylsalicylic acid or known as ASA in the pharmaceutical world. Both methyl salicylate and acetylsalicylic acid are made synthetically from salicylic acid. To make aspirin, salicylic acid is acetylated directly with acetic anhydride and the crude material is purified by recrystallization from benzene or various other nonaqueous solvents. Aspirin is the only available acetylated salicylate. Methyl salicylate is produced by esterifying salicylic acid with methyl alcohol in the presence of sulfuric acid and distilling.

Salicylates are used as antipyretics (fever) and as analgesics (pain). The active part of all salicylates is salicylic acid, but that compound is too irritating to be used systemically (internal use). Therefore, esters of salicylic acid and salicylate esters of organic acids are given orally or rectally. Other salicylates include choline salicylate, magnesium salicylate, and sodium salicylate.

Some over-the-counter external analgesic products that contain methyl salicylate are BenGay, Flexall, Icy Hot, and Mentholatum Deep Heating.

Salicylic acid is derived from the bark of the willow tree. This agent is used in pharmacy as a keratolytic (Pertaining to keratolysis, the softening and shedding of the horny outer layer of the skin. A keratolytic agent is a peeling agent). For acne, salicylic acid is available in products in concentrations of 0.5% to 2%. For corns and calluses the concentrations range from 12.6% to 40%. Pharmacists call this compound by the name of Sal Acid. It’s commonly used for compounding dermatological creams and ointments, though not as much as in the past.

Willow Trees by Forest Stream, New Forest, Hampshire, England, UK, Europe
Willow Trees by Forest Stream, New Forest, Hampshire, England, UK, Europe

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Webster, Dominic
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Botanical Name – Gaultheria procumbens/Betula lenta

Common Method of Extraction – Steam distilled

Parts Used – Leaves (G. procumbens) or bark (B. lenta)

Color – Colorless, yellowish, or reddish

Traditional Use – Wintergreen oil is used as a local analgesic (counterirritant). It’s also used to flavor Aromatic Cascara Sagrada Fluidextract.

Dose - Topically in lotions or solutions of 10 to 25% concentration.

Solubility - Slightly soluble in water; soluble in alcohol and glacial acetic acid.

Mechanism of Action – The exact mechanism by which this oil and other salicylates produce their pain relieving effect isn’t known. It’s generally accepted that they act on the central nervous system and topically as anti-inflammatory agents that inhibit prostaglandins. An agent is a drug or chemical capable of producing a biological response.

Safety Data – Care should be exercised in the use of wintergreen oil since it’s absorbed through the skin. Because it smells like wintergreen candy, methyl salicylate is often ingested by children and has caused many fatalities. Therefore, keep out of the reach of children.

The average lethal oral dose is estimated to be 10 ml (2 teaspoonsful) for children and 30 ml ( 2 tablespoonsful) for adults. However, as little as 4 ml in infants and 5 ml in children have caused death.

Use of topical preparations with Coumadin has been connected to increased prothrombin time.

Caution should be taken if you have a sensitivity to aspirin (because both are salicylates) or if you suffer from severe asthma or nasal polyps. This is due to the fact that it’s absorbed through the skin.

And The Willow Will Weep
And The Willow Will Weep

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Caputo, Eleanor
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The information on is not offered for the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of any disease or disorder nor have any statements herein been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). We strongly encourage you to discuss topics of concern with your health care provider.

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