Arctic Air, Snow White, and Wintergreen

Plant Rant: Wintergreen by Jim Duke (from the archives):

My Handbook of Medicinal Northeastern Indian Plants lists over 700 species of plants for which I found published Amerindian uses as medicine. The waning wintergreen is just one of them.  Although it had several medicinal applications among various Indian tribes, these may be more or less grouped into those uses that required a painkiller like aspirin, a counterirritant like mustard, and an antiseptic germ killer like thymol. Looking at the literature, we find that wintergreen does have the forerunner of aspirin, salicylic acid, which has confirmed analgesic, antipyretic, and antirheumatic properties. Translating that, it has properties, which make it useful for pain, fever, and rheumatism, three ailments for which the Indians reportedly used them. But the salicylic acid is a minor component of the wintergreen, the major component being methyl salicylate, which, in addition to the above properties, also has anti-inflammatory properties. The penetrating nature of this strong counter irritant is what has led to its presence in many of the topical rubs that mother used to rub on our chests for colds or aching muscles to reduce both inflammation and pain. What about the antibiotic? Wintergreen contains the compound arbutin, which is both bactericidal and diuretic. So Father Nature’s wintergreen combines three ingredients, all of which can be useful when the aches and pains of winter colds and flu set in, lowering the fever, killing the germs, reducing the inflammation and pains of swellings and aches and pains. Children who chew the roots for six weeks each spring reportedly suffer less tooth decay. Wintergreen leaves and/or fruits were used by North American Indians to keep their breath when portaging heavy loads. Algonquin guides chewed the leaves to improve their breathing (and I expect their breath as well) during hunting. Amerindians smoked and chewed the dried leaves. Quebec Indians rolled the leaves around aching teeth

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Wintergreen, Gaultheria procumbens, in flower.      Helen Lowe Metzman

The Iroquois even took wintergreen for kidney aches. Once a major drug for cystitis and other infections, arbutin, like wintergreen, has dropped off main stage. For a while arbutin was important, but the pure arbutin was not as important as the plant extract, according to the Merck Index. Not necessarily speaking of wintergreen, Merck probably referred to some other member of the heather family when it said, “Gallotannin prevents enzymes such as beta-glucosidase from splitting arbutin, which explains why crude plant extracts are more effective medicinally than pure arbutin.” (emphasis mine). No longer do we get arbutin, not aspirin, nor methyl salicylate, nor even oil of wintergreen from wintergreen, but should I have a cold or urinary tract infection, I would not hesitate to drink wintergreen tea, and were I suffering a chest cold or a muscle ache, I would not hesitate to rub it down with wintergreen extracted into bear grease or hog-lard or even mentholatum. Many of the famous  feline balms of the orient owe part of their aroma and effectiveness to methyl salicylate, which, like oil of wintergreen, can  be fatally toxic in large doses. But then, all good medicines are toxic in large doses.

I find the aroma of the methyl salicylate, the active main ingredient in wintergreen, very pleasant. I frequently use a boswellin cream with wintergreen when my knee acts up. In Maine, we make wintergreen tea, drinking it and applying it topically for chronic or temporary pain. There are many analgesics in wintergreen. Wintergreen often complements red pepper’s capsaicin, and peppermint’s menthol in several OTC pain relievers, either these herbs alone, or any one of their constituents, or in various combinations. Methyl salicylate, like wintergreen, has long  been employed in baths, liniments, and ointments, for pain relief, e.g. in gout, lumbago, rheumatism, and sciatica.

Strange how wintergreen, like so many powerful aromas, can be a fountain of youth. If the namesake of the song wintergreen were to massage my aching aging back with wintergreen, I’d forget my aches and age. Yes the beautiful wintergreen persists on some few forest floors where many a moccasin trod centuries ago and where today too many off-road-recreational vehicles vehemently violate the environment, endangering the environmental treasures like wintergreen. I am, thankful more ways than one for wintergreen. I hope it outlives the all-terrain-vehicles that endanger it.

 IMG_8363 wintergreen copy

WINTERGREEN’S A BREATH OF SPRING
ON THE WINTRY FOREST FLOOR
AND IT MAKES A BODY SING
WHEN THE SONGS DON’T COME NO MORE.

TRAILING NIMBLY ON THE GROUND
WHERE THE SUNSHINE’S RARELY SEEN;
WHAT A BREATH OF SPRING I FOUND,
TASTE OF APRIL, WINTERGREEN.

WINTERGREEN, WHERE YOU BEEN?
YOU’RE THE PRETTIEST THING I’VE SEEN!
BREATH OF SPRING, THRUOUT THE YEAR,
SUMMER’S SMILE, CHRISTMAS’ CHEER.

THERE ARE OTHERS MAY OUTSHINE YOU;
THEY’RE MORE SHOWY FOR AWHILE.
BUT THE WINTERTIME DON’T SNOW YOU,
YOU STILL HAVE THAT SPRINGTIME SMILE.

BREATH OF SPRING THRUOUT THE YEAR
LIKE THE MOUNTAIN AIR SO CLEAN.
WEAR THE SNOWDROP LIKE A TEAR
CONSTANT LOVER, WINTERGREEN.

WINTERGREEN, WHERE YOU BEEN?
YOU’RE THE PRETTIEST THING I’VE SEEN!
BREATH OF SPRING, THRUOUT THE YEAR,
SUMMER’S SMILE, CHRISTMAS’ CHEER.

IMG_0886 wintergreen snow leaf - Version 2

Wintergreen leaf found under snow 3.4.2014.    Helen Lowe Metzman

From my spice book, here’s my multiple activity menu for wintergreen showing which compounds in it can be helpful in flu. When you give your body an herbal tea, you are giving it a veritable menu of genetically familiar phytochemicals. Your body knows better than your herbalist, pharmacist or physician  which, if any, of these phytochemicals the body needs. Through homeostasis,the body selects some of those needed, selectively mining the menu.  That’s what I mean when I say I prefer the herbal shotgun, with a wide array of medicines, versus the synthetic silver bullet, where the body has no choice. Here’s the multiple activity menu (MAM) for wintergreen and cold/flu. Wham bam, thank you M.A.M, may be the title of my next book. If I can find a publisher as crazy as I. My computer can now make M.A.M’s for any major herb and any major disease.

M.A.M.

WINTERGREEN FOR COLD/FLU:

Analgesic: caffeic-acid ; ferulic-acid ; gallic-acid ; gentisic-acid ; methyl-salicylate ; salicylic-acid ; ursolic-acid
Antiallergic: ferulic-acid
Antibacterial: arbutin ; caffeic-acid ; ferulic-acid ; gallic-acid ; gentisic-acid ; p-coumaric-acid ; p-hydroxy-benzoic-acid ; tannic-acid ; vanillic-acid
Antibronchitic: gallic-acid
Antiflu: caffeic-acid ; gallic-acid ; lupeol
Antihistaminic: caffeic-acid ; ursolic-acid
Antiinflammatory: alpha-amyrin ; caffeic-acid ; ferulic-acid ; gallic-acid ; gaultherin ; gentisic-acid ; lupeol ; methyl-salicylate ; ursolic-acid ; vanillic-acid
Antioxidant: caffeic-acid ; ferulic-acid ; gallic-acid ; lupeol ; p-coumaric-acid ; p-hydroxy-benzoic-acid ; tannic-acid ; ursolic-acid ; vanillic-acid
Antipharyngitic: tannic-acid
Antipyretic: methyl-salicylate
Antiseptic: arbutin ; caffeic-acid ; ericolin ; gallic-acid ; methyl-salicylate ; tannic-acid
Antitussive: arbutin
Antiviral: caffeic-acid ; ferulic-acid ; gallic-acid ; gentisic-acid ; lupeol ; tannic-acid ; ursolic-acid
COX-2-Inhibitor: ursolic-acid
Cyclooxygenase-Inhibitor: gallic-acid ; ursolic-acid
Immunostimulant: caffeic-acid ; ferulic-acid ; gallic-acid ; tannic-acid
Phagocytotic: ferulic-acid

M.A.M WINTERGREEN FOR RHEUMATISM:

Analgesic: caffeic-acid ; ferulic-acid ; gallic-acid ; gentisic-acid ; methyl-salicylate ; ursolic-acid
Antiarthritic: ursolic-acid
Antiedemic: alpha-amyrin ; beta-amyrin ; caffeic-acid ; lupeol ; ursolic-acid
Antiinflammatory: alpha-amyrin ; caffeic-acid ; ferulic-acid ; gallic-acid ; gaultherin ; gentisic-acid ; lupeol ; methyl-salicylate ; ursolic-acid ; vanillic-acid
Antiprostaglandin: caffeic-acid
Antirheumatic: gentisic-acid ; lupeol ; methyl-salicylate
Antispasmodic: caffeic-acid ; ferulic-acid ; p-coumaric-acid
COX-2-Inhibitor: ursolic-acid
Counterirritant: methyl-salicylate
Cyclooxygenase-Inhibitor: gallic-acid ; ursolic-acid
Elastase-Inhibitor: ursolic-acid
Lipoxygenase-Inhibitor: caffeic-acid ; p-coumaric-acid ; ursolic-acid
Myorelaxant: gallic-acid 

Garden notes: March 3, 2014 by Helen Lowe Metzman

Time to get back to the garden and typically at this time of year, the garden crew is sharpening tools in attempt to cut down and prune out last year’s herbaceous plant skeletons.  Although once picturesque, these skeletons are now passé – bent, broken, and blowing. Time to rid of old winter in anticipation of fresh spring.  This year is not typical – so tidying up the garden is way behind schedule and will just have to wait for snow to melt and temperatures to rise.

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garden gazebo and winter skeletons.     Helen Lowe Metzman

After many years of balmy winters and virtually no snow, the garden, along with the whole mid-Atlantic, finally got hit hard. The garden received not only repeated snowfalls but also a walloping dose of below normal temperatures off and on since the first of January.  It is not the insulating blanket of snow that has wreaked havoc with my sleep but rather nights like tonight that are scheduled to dip down to 1˚F.  Since I’ve been working at the garden, it’s never been this cold for such an extended time.

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GFG old barn.      Helen Lowe Metzman

Personally, I don’t mind the cold like everyone around here and welcome the excuse to cuddle up by the woodstove with a book or sketchpad. However, the garden is home to Mediterranean and tropical plants desperately struggling to survive outside of their optimum climates.

IMG_0019 panoramic greenhouse - Version 2

Panoramic view of greenhouse

The enormous rosemary, which has been growing in the Alzheimer’s plot of the garden since its inception and bloomed the entire winter last year, looks barely alive. Sigh. I am cautiously optimistic it will make it this year. If rosemary does indeed succumb and surrender to the cold, I can replace it but would need to wait many years for a new specimen to achieve the height, girth and beauty of its predecessor.

IMG_0913

Rosemary – a Mediterranean plant – we hope will survive the winter of 2014’s Arctic air.

The tiny and squished greenhouse is literally running on front and back burners with fingers crossed for heat. We lost all three coffee plants while I was out of town in early January, and ever since, I’ve been struggling to keep the greenhouse warm enough on cold nights and not too hot on the few days of average temperatures. Goldilocks meet the greenhouse. I bought several of the rarer tropical plants into the Duke’s basement, and tonight I have to remain at peace (and get some sleep) with whatever happens to the plants in the greenhouse.

IMG_0373

Peggy Duke and I applied bubble wrapped to the glass on greenhouse and kept the space heaters on high for the majority of the nights from January and February and now into the first week of March.

March 4, 2014 Relief to learn after record-breaking lows in Baltimore today there were no casualties in the greenhouse. Seeds were sowed with hope. The snowdrops pushed up through the snowfall, the marcescent beech leaves shimmered in the valley, and the distant konk-a-ree of blackbirds sang a song of late winter. Soon enough the garden will be teeming with new growth, visitors, and warmth.

Check back soon for a calendar of events and activities or email greenfarmacygarden@gmail.com to volunteer or to schedule a tour.

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snow drops pushing up through the snow fall 3.4.2014                         Helen Lowe Metzman

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Grandpa Creek in the yin/yang valley with marcescent beech leaves hanging on 3.4.2014.      Helen Lowe Metzman

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Winter silhouettes with late winter sun in the GFG yin/yang valley.

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3 Responses to Arctic Air, Snow White, and Wintergreen

  1. GreenComfortHerbs . says:

    Hi Jim, Helen, Sarah and Peggy, We are all grateful to the heralding of Spring. It is coming I am sure. What a delightful article and wonderful pictures. Thanks for sharing this and the images.

    I personally love the M.A.M. idea and bet Vickie would publish it in a minute.

    Are you looking to book some speakers for this year? Any space for us? I was musing how I enjoy hanging out with Vickie Schufer and would love to do a local plant id and food forage with her. Any desire to have us both on the same day?

    I hope all are well there in your neck of the woods. Blessings, Teresa

    • greenfarmacy says:

      Hi Teresa,
      All is well in the garden,and yes, we would certainly enjoy having you and Vickie return to teach again this year. Why don’t you drop us an email to greenfarmacygarden@gmail.com with several open dates, and we’ll make it happen!
      Looking forward to watching the fiddleheads unfurl, the ramps emerge, and to be graced by your Green Comfort!
      I’ll be sure to let Jim and Peggy know you checked in,
      Helen

  2. Kayleen Clute says:

    Jim and company, It’s wonderful to feel the warmth with a potential glimpse of spring. Live in the Annapolis, Maryland area and hope to come to the farm this year. I met everyone at Medicine from the Earth a few years ago. Still need to up your way and see the farm. Blessings to you and yours for continued health and working so diligently getting your plants through this season. Kayleen Clute

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