Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens), also know as checkerberry, produces a two part harvest during the winter months. A small and easily over looked woodland herb identification is easily made positive by crushing a leaf, releasing the undeniable wintergreen odor.

wintergreen fruit

Found mostly in the north-east section of North America and the southern Border of Canada, wintergreen can be found as far west as Michigan and as far south as northern Georgia. Located in woodlands and small clearings, wintergreen tends to prefer an acid soil and my favorite patch is hidden among the pines and conifers of Quebec’s mountain region.

I use wintergreen often as a camp toothpaste. Combining the crushed leaf with baking soda to great a refreshing yet functional toothpaste. At home I would use a mortar and pestle to combine the two but on camping excursions I just do the best I can by mixing them in a cup with a spoon. As well as a good toothpaste ingredient, wintergreen makes a refreshing trail nibble when you find your mouth is dry and pasty. Just chew the leaves releasing the oils and discard when the flavor is fading.

The oil in the leaves of wintergreen take a couple of days to infuse for use in a tea. I generally collect many leaves, pour boiling water over the leaves and allow it to set for two days. By slowly re-heating the infusion I am rewarded for my patience with a wonderful, aromatic tea that is fit for a king. Once your tea is made you can take it one step further and create a wonderful rice dish by simply using the tea in place of water.

Wintergreen Rice
2 parts tea
1 part rice
1 clove Garlic minced
1 small carrot, shredded
Soy Sauce if desired
¼ teaspoon powdered dry ginger
1 teaspoon dried parsley flakes

wintergreen rice

Place rice and other ingredients in tea and slowly bring to a boil in a covered pot. As soon as rice reaches a boil remove from heat and set aside. DO NOT peek under the lid but allow the rice to set for at least 20 minutes. Fluff with a fork and serve alone or with steamed veggies.

Wintergreen fruit is ripe in the fall but best if left and collected through the winter until spring. They make a great trail nibble but if you are lucky enough to have a big patch they also make a good jam or pie fruit.

For jam simply blend together 2 cups fruit, 1 tablespoon lemon juice and 1 cup strong wintergreen tea. After this is completely blended place your mixture in a sauce pan, along with one box commercial pectin and 4 cups sugar. Bring mixture to a hard boil for 1-2 full minutes. Skim off foam, pour into sterilized jars, wipe rims and seal. Process in a hot water bath for 15 minutes to insure a good seal.

Wintergreen contains methyl salicylate, found in aspirin, and work well in reducing fevers and minor aches and pains. Caution should be applied as wintergreen oil can be harmful if taken in large doses. As with anything in life moderation is the key to full enjoyment and though toxicity is unlikely it is possible. Wintergreen oil should be avoided if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.