Wintergreen is one of my favorite wild edibles to share with beginners of plant foraging.
Whenever I see this common little shrub growing in the woods, I can’t help but grab a leaf and tear it open to get that beautiful minty wintergreen scent.
Wintergreen is a great way to get started with learning about plants because it’s super delicious and there are some unmistakable identification features that make it easy to identify with confidence.
Today we’re going learn all about wintergreen from identification to harvest & turning it into delicious tea at home.
What is Wintergreen?
Wintergreen is a low growing woody shrub that lives in eastern north America. It’s an abundant wild edible with a subtle minty flavor that stays preserved in the berries and leaves throughout the entire winter.
Wintergreen Plant Identification
The easiest way to identify wintergreen is by the small, shiny, almost waxy oblong green leaves that come to a point where it connects to the stem (these leaves can also sometimes be purple).
The plant only grows about 5-10 inches tall, and sprawls out to form a woody groundcover.
When you break apart the leaves, the plant gives off an incredible and unmistakeable sweet minty scent. This smell is the best way to confirm that you’re looking at wintergreen.
The plant also develops little edible red berries which share that same minty scent and flavor. Wintergreen does not die back in winter so it’s possible to forage and easily identify at all times of year.
Wintergreen Tea Is Delicious And Easy To Make
Wintergreen tea is made from the leaves and has a delicious sweet and warm minty flavor.
The easiest way to make wintergreen tea is to simmer a small handful of leaves on the stove in approximately 1-2 cups of water for 30 minutes. Chop up the leaves first to help release their flavors (this is an extremely important step if you want your tea to taste good!)
I recommend experimenting a few times with how much you use to figure out what tastes best for you!
There are other more complicated ways of making wintergreen tea that involve fermentation over a period of hours or days. I’ve never personally tried it because it seems so fussy and I really enjoy the results from plain old water extraction.
Wintergreen Berries Are Edible Too!
Wintergreen berries look a bit like tiny upside-down red apples with 5 lobed bumps and a stem sticking up away from the plant.
Plants typically only have one or two berries per plant, but these often grow as a sprawling ground cover with dozens or hundreds of plants growing together.
Some Notes On Wintergreen Plant Uses
Wintergreen makes a great tea, and is said to help with pain like headaches in a similar way to aspirin. It’s also been used for digestive troubles and to help with overall energy levels.
As with all things in plant medicine, it’s always best to consult with an herbalist and doctor before using any plant medicinally. Medicinal doses are much higher than what you would typically use for food.
For casual use as a tea & berry source, wintergreen is very safe for human consumption & delicious!
The berries are not always super abundant so I doubt it could make a significant part of your diet in a survival situation, but definitely worth knowing about.