This week's wild edible is American Wintergreen!
-This plant is also known as Tea Berry or Chokeberry. It grows almost exclusively along the eastern coast of the US and up onto Canada. It loves very acidic damp soils and can be found in forests that are heavily populated with Oak or Pine.
-The berries of are edible raw or cooked, but best after a frost. Many people use the berries to make ice creams, pies, and jams. The leaves are also edible raw or cooked and make for a great tasting tea. Oil of Wintergreen can also be distilled from this plant and used for flavoring beers, candy, gum, etc…
- Wintergreen is a creeping shrub that only reaches about 6” tall. It spreads through rhizomes, so you can usually find more than one “plant” in a given area. Leaves are oval in shape and roughly 2” in length. The berries are only about a ¼” in diameter. The small bright red berries can stay on the plant well into winter (If not eaten by woodland critters first!). The spring flowers are usually hiding under the plants leaves and are small white and are hanging facedown pointing at the ground. This plant is closely related to the blueberry, so it’s no surprise that the flowers for this plant and the blueberry’s flowers look almost exactly alike. The hands down easiest way to identify this plant is the smell. Every part of this plant when broken or crushed gives off a distinct wintergreen or mint smell.
-This plant has many medicinal uses as well including (but not limited to): pain reliever (due to it containing methyl salicylate which is a compound very close in structure to aspirin); anti-inflammatory; analgesic; astringent; stimulant; tonic; emmenagogue; gas reducer; treating colic, rheumatism, sciatica, myalgia, sprains, neuralgia, and catarrh.
**WARNING** In large quantities this plant and it’s extracts can be toxic if used internally or ingested, especially to people are sensitive to salicylates. People allergic or sensitive to aspirin (salicylates) should avoid this plant altogether.
**When identifying plants you are unfamiliar with, please use as multiple references, as well as help from experts when available. Unless you are 110% sure what a plant is, it is best to avoid it completely.
**If you plan on using any plants for medicinal uses, consult a healthcare professional, as well as botanist familiar in the field of wild plants. And as always, use as many references and expert opinions as possible when identifying a plant.
**Be sure to avoid any plants growing near roads, around chemicals, other poisonous plants, or polluted/contaminated water.
**As always, be sure to use the Universal Edibility Test to ensure the plant is the correct plant and to help identify any unknown allergies you may have.