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A Cautionary Look at Wintergreen Essential Oil


While all essential oils can be hazardous if used improperly, certain ones should be used with more caution and care than others.  Wintergreen Gaultheria procumbens – which is distilled from the leaves - is one of them.

Most aromatherapy books don’t even mention wintergreen essential oil and if the oil is mentioned, it is usually under toxic or hazardous oils. However, when used with proper dilution wintergreen essential oil can be of great benefit for certain individuals due to its ability to relieve muscle/joint pain and soreness.

Before I get into proper dilution I’d like to talk about cautions one needs to take with the oil.  When using wintergreen essential oil on others, it is crucial to ask if they take aspirin daily or any other kind of anticoagulant drugs such as Warfarin.

Anticogulants are drugs that prevent blood clots by thinning the blood.  With too much thinning of the blood comes internal bleeding.  Wintergreen is made up of 95-98% methyl salicylate which makes the essential oil nothing to mess with.  If topically applied improperly, methyl salicylate can increase the anticoagulant effect.  Google  methyl salicylate anticoagulants and you get the picture.

Although methyl salicylate is an active ingredient in many healing liniments such as BenGay, Icy Hot and so on, a synthetic version is usually used and none of the products contain such a concentrated amount as wintergreen essential oil does. Even then, overdose on sports creams is possible.  Even death.

Menthyl salicylate is also a teratogenic which means it has been known to cause malformations of an embryo or fetus. Avoid using wintergreen oil during pregnancy or on a pregnant client.

Because wintergreen essential oil is basically pure methyl salicylate, proper dilution is paramont.  I dilute it like I would any other extremely powerful oil and keep it at only a 1% dilution.  This means an absolute maximum 4-5 drops of wintergreen for every 1 ounce of carrier oil like jojoba oil, almond oil, olive oil, etc.  I would never even think of using it in a bath or steam because of undiluted skin contact and mucus membrane irritation.  1 drop in a room diffuser or nebulizer blend is safe.  Never apply to the skin undiluted.

Need another example of how potent wintergreen essential oil is?  As it turns out, methyl salicylate is also a natural lacquer thinner.  Just one drop was enough to take the finish off of a wooden tray of mine within minutes:

I try not to get preachy about a certain essential oil company but I feel like this is appropriate time to call them out. With everything we know about the heavy concentration of methyl salicylate in wintergreen essential oil and why it can be dangerous for certain individuals, why in the world Young Living advises applying 4-5 drops of undiluted wintergreen essential oil along the spine and then 2-3 undiluted drops on the inside the lower leg for their Raindrop Technique is beyond my comprehension. Note there is no mention of potential danger in pregnancy or with anticoagulant drugs.  It is also recommended that “it may be necessary to have the application done every week until the body begins to respond.”  I personally steer clear of this technique and company.

It should also be noted that Sweet Birch Betula lenta essential oil is comparable to wintergreen.  It too is 95%- 98% of methyl salicylate and should be used with the same caution and care.

While it is true that wintergreen essential oil is to be used with a bit more care and consideration I don’t think it should be dismissed altogether.  Amazing results can occur when used properly and I consider it to be a crucial part of my essential oil toolbox.


1 comment

  1. Andrea Butje says:

    Excellent post with very valuable information. Thanks for writing it.

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