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Common Name: Wintergreen | Scientific Name: Gaultheria Procumbens

Family Name: Ericaceae


Fact Sheet
Chapter from My PhD Thesis
Notes from the Eclectic Physicians

Fact Sheet

Part Used: Distilled oil

In a Word: Topical aspirin

Uses: Musculoskeletal inflammation, rheumatoid and osteo-arthritis, neck pain, whiplash injuries, chronic joint and muscle pain

When you happen unto wintergreen for the first time it’s quite an interesting experience. A forest dweller, the little wintergreen plant hugs the ground closely. As you walk over it a distinct smell floats into the air. Some say the plant smells like toothpaste, others say it smells like certain brands of chewing gum. Both are correct. The oil found in this little woodland plant has been extracted for nearly two hundred years to be used both in tooth powders and chewing gum! The smell is familiar but the medicinal uses of this plant have gone by the wayside.

The Native Americans used wintergreen to treat all kinds of musculo-skeletal problems, arthritis among them. They searched the field and forest for plants that could improve a sore neck or twisted up hand. Wintergreen, ground up and poulticed, took the swelling and pain down from a joint or muscle. It could be used internally as a tea to speed the process. To the Native Americans wintergreen was tops when it came to inflammation.

The plant is called wintergreen, by the by, because it is an evergreen plant and holds its leaves year round. The Colonials had their share of aches and pains and quickly learned of this plant from the Native Americans. Soon they too were wrapping arthritic joints in wintergreen poultices to great effect! This colonial domestic medicine impressed the doctors arriving on the scene. Soon it became an official remedy. As technology advanced, pharmacists were able to extract the oil that gave the plant its characteristic smell. Doctors began working with Oil of Wintergreen. They found that whereas just applying wintergreen leaves to a swollen part worked, applying the oil really worked. Pain and inflammation rapidly went away.

Aspirin is a well-known anti-inflammatory and painkiller used in joint and muscle problems. Science has revealed that the key to Winter Green action is linked to the action of Aspirin. Wintergreen oil is comprised of a compound known as methyl salicylate, aspirin is salicylic acid. The two words sound similar because they are allied compounds. In both instances, the compounds inhibit the inflammatory process and the pain transmission process. Research has revealed that methyl salicylate is absorbed through the skin. When applied over sore muscles and joints one experiences the same relief as one would if one took an aspirin. However, as is often the case, wintergreen oil contains other compounds which have a similar activity. When you use wintergreen oil, you are getting a powerful dose of anti-inflammatory medication! The best part is that it is easier on the stomach than many of the drugs used to treat joint and muscle inflammation!

Practitioners’ Advice
Preparations containing 10-60 Oil of Wintergreen are highly effective when it comes to sore muscles and joints. It seems the longer you use them, the more they work.. Wintergreen products can be used in chronic joint and muscle problems as in rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis. They can also be used in acute situations, as in when you over do it in the garden and end up laid up in bed for week with low back pain. In both instances, wintergreen rubs will make a difference. Research has revealed that exercise and heat increase the amount of methyl salicylate which is absorbed into the body. Too much so. For this reason it these preparations should not be applied before, during, or immediately following exercise and should not be applied while a heat pad is being used! Along these lines, because they are absorbed and act like aspirin, people sensitive to aspirin should forego using oil of wintergreen. As an example, people using blood thinners and those with bleeding disorders.

History:Native Americans used it to treat musculo-skeletal problems
Science: Methyl salicylate compound inhibits the inflammatory process and the pain transmission process
Practitioners’ opinion: Highly effective when it comes to sore muscles and joints

Chapter from My PhD Thesis

Part Used: Leaves or whole plant

Chemical Constituents: Significant phytochemicals include arbutin, ericolin, gallic acid, gaultheric acid, gaultherin, methyl salicylate, tannic acid, and tannin. (12)

A Native American plant, Gaultheria procumbens was a used by the Chippewa, Iroquois, Menomini, Ojibwe, Potawatami, Seneca, and Tete de Boule tribes as both a food and a medicine. Medicinally, it was used to increase strength, well being, to remedy rheumatism, and to break fevers. The pleasing aromatic plant was quickly taken up by the colonials and from the earliest day factored into domestic medicine. Raffinesque reported it to be stimulant, restorative, and cordial and that it was used to restore strength, promote menstruation and lactation, and to treat debility, asthma, and the second stage of diarrhoea (dysentery). (10)

The drug was mentioned in the Secondary List of the 1820 USP and remained in that position until 1830 when it became official in the New York and Philadelphia editions. It was an official remedy until 1890. In 1890 the drug defined as Gaultheria procumbens went from crude drug to Oil of Gaultheria. In 1910 the name “Gaultheria” was dropped entirely from the USP and was replaced by Methyl Salicylate.

Significantly, Gaultheria procumbens was included in a number of panacea products aimed at remedying chronic disease and specifically syphilis. The most famous was Swaim’s Panacea. For a time, the secret ingredient, Gaultheria, remained secret. However, in 1843 the recipe was revealed and Gaultheria became more widely used in other panacea products. When chronic disease threatened constitutional collapse, the drug was used. (10)

Eclectic Uses (1–10)
Stimulant, aromatic, astringent, diuretic, tonic, emmenagogue, galactagogue, carminative, anaphrodisiac, alterative, eradicates the diatheses associated with cancerous cachexia.

“Gaultheria acts especially upon the bladder, prostate, and urethra, quieting irritation and allaying inflammation. It has some effect as an anaphrodisiac for both sexes. It is a valuable remedy in dysuria, acute and chronic, muscular and articular rheumatism, the early stage of acute nephritis, and it is asserted to have arrested tubal nephritis even when blood and tube casts were present. It is useful in sciatica, migraine, non-paroxysmal asthma, asthmatic bronchitis, gonorrhoeal rheumatism, and in haemorrhoids due to congestion of the portal and pelvic circulation.” (9)

Debility, scrofula, scrofulous swellings, cancerous affections, cachectic states of the system, cancerous cachexia, chronic mucous discharges, tuberculosis, diphtheria, rheumatism, gonorrhoeal rheumatism.

Chronic diarrhoea, flatulent colic of infants, diphtheria, haemorrhoids from congestion of pelvic circulation, haemorrhoids with very painful external tumours of a dark purple colour, with constipation, hepatic congestion, congestion of the glandular structures of the gastrointestinal tract, portal circulation problems.


Dysuria, affections of the bladder, prostate, urethra, irritation and inflammation of the urinary apparatus, spermatorrhea, prolapsed uteri, renal, vesical, and urethral irritation, early stages of all inflammatory conditions of the kidneys, tubule nephritis, gonorrhoea.

Ovarian conditions inducing too frequent menstruation with congestion of the pelvic circulation, enlargement of the uterus, swollen, engorged cervix, sexual excitement in men or women, spermatorrhea without impotence.

Muscle affections, articular and muscular rheumatism, irregular forms of rheumatism, chronic forms of rheumatism, acute articular rheumatism, gonorrhoeal rheumatism (taken internally and applied externally), sciatica, lumbago, chorea.

Neuralgia of the fifth cerebral nerve, tic doloreux, neuralgia, migraine, chorea.

Asthmatic breathing of a non-paroxysmal character, asthmatic cough, cough characterised by constriction or tightness at the sternal notch, cough of asthmatic bronchitis, dry, harsh, persistent bronchial or phthisical cough.

Old ulcers (internally and externally), wounds.

The drug from Selye’s perspective

State of Resistance
The drug was used to raise resistance to diphtheria, gonorrhoea, leucorrhea, renal, vesical and urethral inflammation/disease, tuberculosis, diabetes, muscular affections, articular and muscular rheumatism, asthma, and cancerous affections.

State of Exhaustion
The drug was used when resistance failed and State of Exhaustion set in. Signs of State of Exhaustion treated by this drug included cachexia, debility, inflamed joints, phthisis, chronic mucous discharge, hepatic congestion, kidney failure, membrane permeability abnormalities, temperature abnormalities, and digestive abnormalities.

Adaptation Energy
From Selye’s perspective, the drug was used to augment the GAS, which suggests it increases adaptation energy. Evidence to this effect includes the following. Gaultheria was used to increase resistance to chronic infection and autoimmune disease. When resistance failed and State of Exhaustion set it, it was used. In example, the drug was used when gonorrhoea progressed to gonorrhoeal rheumatism, when cancer gave way to cancerous cachexia, or when chronic urinary tract inflammation to kidney failure. When catabolism replaced normal metabolism, and the body was wasting away, the drug was used. It was used to remedy geriatric complaints including impotence, spermatorrhea, and old ulcers. Lastly, it was used to stimulate healing in old and new wounds.

Brekhman’s Adaptogen Criterion
An adaptogen should be innocuous and cause minimal disorders in the physiological functions of an organism.

The drug is reported to be innocuous both in Eclectic and contemporary literature. (1–12)

The action of an adaptogen should be non-specific i.e. it should increase resistance to adverse influences of a wide range of factors of physical, chemical, and biological nature.

Clinically, the drug was used to increase resistance to acute and chronic infections, autoimmune disease (rheumatism and Type I diabetes), and cancer. (1–10)

Experimentally, compounds found in the drug have been shown to increase resistance to bacterial infection (Strep, mycoplasma), ascarides, fungus (Candida), free radical damage, cancer, mutagenesis, and fatigue. (12)

An adaptogen may possess normalising action irrespective of the direction of the foregoing pathological changes.

Clinically the drug was used to correct the physiological abnormalities associated with State of Exhaustion including mucous membrane abnormalities, joint abnormalities, digestive abnormalities, and circulatory perversions. It was used to normalise the healing process in wounds and old sores. (1–10)

Experimentally, compounds found in the drug have been shown to correct abnormalities in insulin levels, urine production, inflammation, allergies, fever, joint inflammation, prostaglandin levels, gland secretion, and bile production. (12)

The drug exhibits properties consistent with Brekhman’s definition of an adaptogen. It is innocuous, it raises resistance to an assortment of biological threats, and it normalises function.

It might appear that Gaultheria was used to remedy inflammatory conditions (i.e. rheumatoid arthritis) because it is rich in the anti-inflammatory substance methyl salicylate. However, that would be an inaccurate assessment of the situation. Upon closer inspection, the Eclectics used Gaultheria procumbens when resistance failed and State of Exhaustion set in. One of the symptoms of constitutional collapse is joint inflammation. Though the Eclectics did use Gaultheria to treat joint inflammation, they did so when it was a part of a bigger problem.

If one looks at the Eclectic uses of this drug, with Selye’s work in mind, the following becomes apparent. The drug was used to treat State of Exhaustion . When the usual signs and symptoms of State of Exhaustion displayed themselves (temperature abnormalities, catabolism verging on wasting, membrane permeability abnormalities, mucous membrane and skin abnormalities, joint and urinary tract abnormalities, etc.) the drug was used.

Potential Clinical Applications
The drug may be of use when resistance to autoimmune disease can no longer be maintained and State of Exhaustion sets in. Examples of this would be rheumatoid arthritis developing systemic manifestations, psoriasis becoming psoriatic arthropathy, and urinary tract infections progressing to Reiter’s Syndrome.

Future Research
• Gaultheria procumbens and its effects on the GAS. The drug should be tested out in the animal model to determine its specific effects on the GAS.
• Gaultheria procumbens and endurance. Both the Native Americans and early colonials used the drug to increase stamina and endurance. Compounds in the drug have been shown to have an anti-fatigue effect. The drugs’ ability to raise resistance to fatigue should
be examined.
• Gaultheria procumbens and Reiter’s syndrome. The drug was used to raise resistance to autoimmune disease processes, chronic urinary tract infections, and chronic urinary tract infections progressing to joint abnormalities. Experimentally it has been shown to correct abnormal inflammation and address urinary tract infections. The drug should be reviewed for its ability to raise resistance to Reiter’s syndrome.
• Gaultheria procumbens and autoimmune disease. The drug was used to increase resistance to autoimmune diseases. It has been shown to have an immune modulator effect. Its ability to increase resistance to these diseases (rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, ulcerative colitis, and kidney disease, etc.) should be examined.

The drug is abundant in the wild and is readily grown.

• King, John. The American Eclectic Dispensatory. Moore , Wilstach, and Keys. Cincinnati . 1854. P. 486.
• Scudder, J. M. Specific Medication and Specific Medicines. Revised. Fifth Edition. Wilstach, Baldwin and Company. Cincinnati . 1874. P. 143.
• Scudder, J. M. The American Eclectic Materia Medica and Therapeutics. Published by the Author. Cincinnati . 1883. P. 488.
• Felter, Harvey Wickes and Lloyd, John Uri. Kings’ American Dispensatory. Volume one and Volume two. Ohio Valley Company. Cincinnati . 1898. P. 913.
• Webster, HT. Dynamical Therapeutics—A work devoted to the Theory and Practice of Specific Medication with special references to the newer remedies. Webster Medical Publishing Company. Oakland . Second Edition. 1898. P. 438, 521.
• Felter, Harvey. Syllabus of Eclectic Materia Medica and Therapeutics. Compiled from notes taken from the lectures of F.J.Locke. Edited with pharmacological additions by H.W.Felter. Second edition, with appendix. Scudder Brothers Company. Cincinnati.1901. P. 120.
• Fyfe, John William. Pocket Essentials of Modern Materia Medica and Therapeutics. The Scudder Brothers Company. 1911. P. 129.
• Ellingwood, Finley. American Materia Medica, Therapeutics, and Pharmacognosy. Ellingwood’s Therapeutist. Chicago . 1919.P. 401.
• Lloyd Brothers. Dose Book of Specific medicines. Lloyd Brothers Co. Cincinnati , 1907.
P. 137.
• Lloyd, JU. History of the Vegetable Drugs of the Pharmacopoeia of the United States . Bulletin number 18: pharmacy number 4. 1911 P. 38.
• Erichson-Brown, Charlotte . Medicinal and other uses of North American Plants. Dover Press. New York . 1979. P. 309.
• Dr. Dukes Phytochemical and Ethnobotanical Databases. Agricultural Research Service. USDA.

Notes from the Eclectic Physicians

Properties and Uses – Wintergreen possesses stimulant, aromatic, and astringent properties. It is used in infusion in chronic diarrhea, as a diuretic in dysury, as an emmenagogue, as a stimulant in cases of debility, and is said to increase the secretion of milk, but this is doubtful. Its chief use is to flavor syrups, mixtures, etc. for which purpose the oil, or its tincture is generally employed. The oil allays the pain of carious teeth, and large doses of it admintered internally have caused death by producing gastric inflammation; the essence of wintergreen is a carminative, and is sometimes used in the flatulent colic of infants. An infusion of the leaves or whole plant, may be drank freely.

1874: Scudder
Preparation:Prepare a tincture form the fresh plant, in the proportion of 3/5viij. to alcohol 98% Oj.Dose from gtts.ij to gtts.x.

In this form and in these doses, the gaultheria exerts a special influence upon the bladder, prostrate and urethra, allaying irritation and inflammation. It amy also be employed in dysuria. Probably one of its most important uses is, as an anaphrodisiac, exerting a direct and quite certain influence upon the reproductive organs of both male and female. For this purpose it is employed in some cases of spermatorrhea. It will not do, however, to mistake the case, and use it where the veneral function is already impaired.

1883: Scudder:(alterative)
The Gaultheria Hispidula, or Creeping Wintergreen, is said to be an article of much value as an alterative in scrofula, cancerous affections and cachectic states of the system.

In cancerous cachexia, some have asserted it was capable of entirely eradicating the diathesis when it exists; and even when scirrhous tumors are formed, it is said to disperse them; and it is said to be equally valuable in scrofula and scrofulous swellings. In cases of old ulcers, it has been found valuable both as an internal and external agent, and the same has been said of it in prolapsus uteri; while the infusion is taken freely, it is at the same time employed as an inuction per vagina. It is used in the form of an infusion, which may be taken very freely.

1898: Webster (Urinary System)
Wintergreen possesses marked properties fitting it for affections of the urinary apparatus. It relieves renal as well as vesical and urethral irritation , and is useful in the early stages of all inflammatory conditions of the kidneys. It has arrested tubal nephritis, when casts and blood corpuscles were discernible in the urine.

Form for administration: a decoction of the fresh plant or a solution of the oil in alcohol, the essence.

Dose: of the decoction, a wineglassful; of the essence, from the fraction of a drop to ten drops.

1898; Webster; (Muscles) – Gualtheria Procambens
Wintergreen has become a prominent remedy for muscular affections within late years. The best salicylic acid is prepared from wintergreen, and the oil of wintergreen has been highly extolled as a remedy for articular rheumatism.

From my own experience with this remedy I am inclined to consider it far inferior to some of our indigenous antirheumatics, as cimicifuga, caulophyllum, etc.,but am still willing to ascribe to it some power in this direction. It may do for a trial remedy after more accredited ones have failed. Its recommendation comes from quarters where little is known of the value of our old Eclectic materia medica, viz., old-school sources.

Form for Administration – The essence of wintergreen.

Dose – From one to fifteen drops.

1898: Felter and Lloyd: GAULTHERIA – WINTERGREEN
Action, Medical Uses, and Dosage – Wintergreen possesses stimulant, aromatic, and astringent properties. It is used in infusion as an astringent in chronic mucous discharges, as a diuretic in dysuria, as an emmenagogue, as a stimulant in cases of debility, and is said to augment the flow from the lactiferous vessels of nursing women, but this is doubtful. It is also recommended as a valuable remedy for articular and muscular rheumatism. The infusion and the essence both relieve irritation of the urethra and bladder, and are adapted to the incipient stages of renal inflammation. Tubal nephritis is alleged to have been arrested by it even when examination has revealed in the urine the presence of blood corpuscles and tube casts (Webster). Scudder recommends it in spermatorrhoea with increased sexual excitement, and as a sedative in irritation and inflammation of the urethra, prostate gland and bladder. The volatile oil (see Oleum Gaultheriae), or its tincture, is used to render syrups and other preparations more agreeable. The oil allays the pain of carious teeth, and large doses of it administered internally have caused death by producing inflammation of the stomach; the essence of winter-green is a carminative, and is sometimes used in the flatulent colic of infants. An infusion of the leaves or whole plant (3j to water Oj) may be drunk freely. Dose of essence, 1 to 30 drops; of specific gaultheria, 1 to 20 drops.

Specific Indications and Uses -Cystic and prostatic irritation, undue sexual excitement, renal inflammation (early stage).

1901: Locke
This agent is employed chiefly for its effects upon the genito-urinary tract, in which it relieves irritation and incipient inflammation, and restrains chronic mucous discharges,and in rheumatic affections. The oil is especially valuable in rheumatism of the type benefited by salicylic acid.

1911: Fyfe
Irregular forms of rheumatism. The oil of gaultheria has been extensively used in rheumatism. it is believed to posses all the valuable properties of salicylic acid. It has a more agreeable taste, and the unpleasant effects of overdosing are no greater. It is less depressing, and relapses under its use are less frequent. In chronic and irregular forms of rheumatism it is an efficient palliative.fluid extract, 30-60 drops, specific medicine 5-30 drops, oil 2-6 drops.

Irritation or inflammation of the bladder, prostate and urethra; excitement of the sexual organs from abnormal conditions of the reproductive organs, and not from the mind; irregular forms of rheumatism.

1919: Ellingwood
Synonym – Wintergreen.

Constituents – Volatile oil, tannin, gallic acid, arbutin, urson, ericolin, sugar, gum.

Oil of Gaultheria (Oleum Gaultheriae) – This oil is prepared by distilling wintergreen leaves while fresh with water or steam. It is transparent and colorless when recent, but soon becomes reddish from exposure. It has an aromatic odor and a strong, spicy, agreeable taste. Pure oil of wintergreen contains about 90 per cent of methylsalicylic acid. The dose of the oil is five or ten drops, repeated every two or three hours, till some effect is produced, favourable or otherwise. If ringing in the ears is caused by the medicine, it should be discontinued or repeated in smaller doses when this effect has passed off. The remedy in full doses is apt to cause dangerous depression in debilitated constitutions.

Salicylic acid, made from oil of wintergreen, is the only preparation of the acid suitable for internal use.

A pure salicylate of soda is made from the salicylic acid of oil of wintergreen, which is preferred in the treatment of acute articular rheumatism; while in neuralgia of the fifth cerebral nerve, tic douloureux, and gonorrhoeal rheumatism, the oil of wintergreen, in as large doses as can be borne, is the better treatment. In other cases, a tincture of the fresh plant should be employed.

It may be employed as a spray to the throat in diphtheria; and suitably diluted, as dressing for wounds; while it may be used internally for the general purposes of an antiseptic.

Preparations – Specific Gaultheria. Dose, from five to thirty minims.

Specific Symptomatology – The agent is given successfully in the treatment of hemorrhoids from congestion of the pelvic circulation, hemorrhoids with very painful external tumors, of a dark-purple color, with constipation, with pain across the sacrum, and congestion of the portal circulation.

Therapy -It is of benefit in neuralgia, tic douloureux, gonorrhoeal rheumatism, inflammation of the bladder, irritation of the prostate gland, dysuria, sexual excitement in male or female, spermatorrhoea without impotency, acute articular rheumatism, migraine, sciatica, diabetes, diphtheria, chronic mucous discharges and toothache (locally). A liniment of the oil is useful in allaying the pain of rheumatism.

Asthmatic breathing of a non-paroxysmal character is relieved by this remedy, as is asthmatic cough, and cough characterized by constrictuion or tightness at the spura-sternal notch. In the cough of asthmatic bronchitis, or in dry, harsh, persistent bronchial or phthisical cough, this agent acts nicely.

It is a serviceable remedy in hepatic congestion, and in congestion of the glandular structures of the entire gastro-intestinal tract. Its influence over the portal circulation is most pronounced.

In ovarian conditions inducing too frequent menstruation, with congestion of the pelvic circulation, in addition to the conditions above named, as in enlargement of the uterus, with a swollen, engorged condition of the cervix, it is directly useful.

The oil is now freely used externally in the treatment of articular rheumatism and also in chorea with excellent results. In the latter disorder it is applied, if necessary, over the upper and lower limbs, alternately, and over the spine. It may be given internally at the same time. The application may be confined with oiled silk.

An ointment made of ichthyol and the oil of gaultheria in a proper vehicle, rubbed together thoroughly, makes an excellent application to the joints in acute, and in gonorrheal rheumatism. It acts equally well on the original disease. Six drops of the oil is given three times a day, and this will cure many cases. If given in conjunction with gelsemium and macrotys in the first stages, it will probably shorten or even abort the disease.

Gaultheria (leaves). Mentioned in Secondary List of 1820, same in 1828. Official in 1830, both New York and Philadelphia editions, and in all later editions until 1890, when Gaultheria Leaves were dropped, and Oil of Gaultheria, (official in all editions, from 1820 on), remained alone. In 1910 the name “Gaultheria” was dropped, being replaced by “Methyl Salicylate.”

The first record of the therapeutical use of oil of gaultheria, as is often the case with valuable medicines, is to be found in empirical medicine. A proprietary remedy, very popular about the beginning of this century under the name “Panacea of Swaim,” or “Swaim’s Panacea,” introduced this drug.

Gaultheria gave added impetus to “Compound Syrup of Sarsaparilla,” which became so popular as to force itself on the attention of the profession. The Sarsaparilla Compound of the name of “Sirup Rob Anti-Syphilitica” was closely associated with Swaim’s Panacea, and Ellis, 1843, after giving the formula of “Sirup Rob Antisyphilitica” in his Formulary, p. 67, says: “The above preparation has been asserted, by the New York Medical Society, to be nearly identical with the noted Panacea of Swaim.”

That oil of gaultheria was a constituent of Swaim’s remedy, and that it was brought into conspicuity therein, may also be seen from the analysis of Swaim’s Panacea (by Chilton), recorded in the Am. Jour. Med. Sciences, 1829, p. 542. The following reprint from an anonymous writer in the American Journal of Pharmacy, 1831, establishes the subject more clearly in that it gives a very fair description of oil of gaultheria, as well as making a statement to the effect that it is the same as sweet birch oil, and showing further that many different plants yield the same oil:

“Oil of Gaultheria procumbens: – This is the heaviest oil of which we have any knowledge, for I have found it to be 1.17. This furnishes us with an easy mode of testing its purity. The wonderful success of Swaim’s Panacea has brought this oil into great vogue with all venders of Catholicons, Panaceas, and Syrups of Sarsaparilla.

“It appears to be a vegetable principel secreted in plants very widely separated by their natural affinities. The Betula lenta or Sweet Birch secretes it in its bark; the Polygala paucifolia in its roots; the Spiroea Ulmaria, the Spiroea lobata and the Gaultheria hispidula in their roots and stalks.”

But that oil of wintergreen was used somewhat in domestic medicine about that date, and also by Dr. Wooster Beach, the forerunner of Eclectic medicine, is evidenced, for Dr. Beach (49) in his American Practice of Medicine, Vol. III (1833), concerning Gaultheria (“Gaulthera”) repens, states that “The oil relieves the toothache.”

Antedating this paper, the reviewer has not succeeded in finding any reference whatever to oil of gaultheria being used in medicine, although the plants that contain it were generally recognized in pharmacy, the oil being distilled by primitive methods and known to druggists. Thus, as showing that even if used at all, it could not have been important, reference needs only be made to a few of the many authorities who would not have overlooked it, had it been thus employed. These are:

Amoenitates Academicae III, p. 14, 1787.

“Gaultheria, Kalm. (385) (Gen. 487). – Uses foliorum in infuso, loca Theae. Dixit plantam Cl. Kalmius a D. D. Gaulthier, Medico Canadensi, Botanico eximio.” No reference to the oil.

Benj. Smith Barton. Collections (43.) Phila. 1798. p. 19.

“The Gaultheria procumbens, which we call Mountain Tea, is spread very extensively over the more barren, mountainous part of the United Stats,” etc. Does not mention the oil.

Pharmacopeia of the Mass. Medical Society (503) Boston , 1808

No mentioned of the oil or plant.

W.P.C. Barton, Mat. Med. I, p. 171, 1817. (43a).

Although he describes the medicinal virtues of Gaultheria in detail, he does not mentioned the oil. However, as showing that oil of gaultheria was distilled preceding 1818, I will cite

Bigelow, Amer. Med. Botany (69), II, p. 28. Boston , 1818.

Pyrola umbellata (p. 15) is berein called Wintergreen.

Gaultheria procumbens (Partridge Berry): – “The aromatic flavor of the Partridge berry, which can not easily be mistaken by those who have once tasted it, may be recognized in a variety of other plants whose botanical habits are very dissimilar.

“It exists very exactly in some of the other species of the same genus, particularly in Gaultheria hispidula, also in Spiroea Ulmaria and the root of Spiroea lobata. It is particularly distinct in the bark of sweet birch, Betula lenta, one of our most useful and interesting trees.

“This taste and odor reside in a volatile oil, which is easily separated by distillation. The essential oil of Gaultheria, which is often kept in our druggists’ shops, is of a pale or greenish-white color, and perfectly transparent. It is one of the heaviest of the volatile oils, and sinks rapidly in water, if a sufficient quantity be added to overcome the repulsion of the two heterogeneous fluids. Its taste is aromatic, sweet, and highly pungent.

“The oil appears to contain the chief medicinal virtue of the plant, since I know of no case in which the leaves, deprived of their aroma, have been employed for any purpose. They are nevertheless considerably astringent, etc.

“The leaves, the essence, and the oil of this plant are kept for use in the apothecaries’ shops.

“The oil, though somewhat less pungent than those of peppermint and origanum, is employed for the same purposes,” etc.

In this connection, as indicating that the oil was unimportant, perhaps simply an article of curiosity to pharmacists, it may be pointed out that the American Dispensatory of J. R. Coxe, 1825, mentions oil of gaultheria, but does not say anything with regard to its value or use in medicine.

The edition of 1818 does nto mention the plant or oil at all.

In studying the pharmacopeial record of gaultheria oil, in connection with its materia medica and dispensatory history, the fact becomes apparent that: oil of gaultheria was made ina primitive way by country people (as is still largely the case), about the beginning of this century. Photographs of the crude still used in the distillation of the oil of birch have been presented by Dr. Charles G. Merrell to the Lloyd Library.

Oil of gaultheria was introduced into the list of known essential oil-bearing plants of America in the first (1820) Pharmacopeia, but was not described. Following this, such works as the Dispensatories and American Materia Medicas gave the oil a complimentary position, but it remained of no importance until brought forward by the analysis of Swaim’s Panacea. Not until long after 1820 did any European Dispensatory or Pharmacopeia give it position.

SUMMARY – Oil of gaultheria was distilled for druggists previous to 1820, but no public description of the apparatus or method was printed.

The Pharmacopeia of the United States , 1820, gave the first authoritative process of making it.

It was prominently introduced to the profession by the New York Medical Society, 1827, under whose auspices the oil was established, as a characteristic constituent of Swaim’s Panacea, the report being published in 1829.

We know of no pharmacopeial or authoritative direction for making oil of gaultheria from any source whatever which precedes the first (1820) Pharmacopeia of the United States , and have discovered no reference to its being made from gaultheria or sweet birch preceding Bigelow, 1818.

Thus it is evident that although the plant gaultheria has the advantage concerning conspicuity of name, the same date of introduction and same reference, (Bigelow), must be ascribed to both oil of gaultheria and oil of birch.

SWAIM’S PANACEA. -The important fact elucidated by the foregoing history of oil of gaultheria, to-wit, that it first received recognition in this once popular remedy, leads to a few words concerning this compound. In the beginning of the past century, a French proprietary remedy, “Rob de Laffecteur,” was very popular throughout France and her colonies. It was invented by a French apothecary Boiveau, who affixed to it the name of Laffecteur to make it popular. In 1811 certain New York physicians used this “Rob de Laffecteur” with satisfaction, and Dr. McNevin, who obtained the formula from a French chemist, M. Allion, made its composition public.

Mr Swaim, a bookbinder, was treated by Dr. A. L. Quackinboss and experienced great benefit from the remedy. Procuring the formula from Dr. Quackinboss, his physician, he modified it considerably, an dput the mixture on the market under the name “Swaim’s Panacea.” This became very popular, and at last attracted the attention of the medical profession. By the analysis of Mr. Chilton, 1829, under the auspices of the New York Medical Society, it was positively shown that Swaim had replaced the sassafras of Quackinboss’ formula by wintergreen oil, and had also introduced corrosive sublimate into the mixture.

Persons interested in this formula and subject will find detail reports as follows:

American Journal of Pharmacy, 1827, p. 123, (17b).

American Journal of the Medical Sciences, 1829, 4, p. 530, (17a), and 5, p. 542, (17a).

*1 – This article largely parallels the study of Gaultheria by the author printed in the Pharmaceutical Review, Vol. 16, No. 5.

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