Checkerberry cum Wintergreen

by Green Deane

in Beverage, Edible Raw, Fruits/Berries, Miscellaneous, Plants

The Teaberry Shuffle

I saw Gary Vickerson eat an earthworm I found near a Checkerberry plant. Personally I preferred the Checkerberry.

Checkerberries stay red under the snow.

Before I go any further let it be known the Checkerberry is also called — in English — Johnny Jump Ups, Wintergreen, Teaberry, Boxberry, Mountain Tea, Canadian Mint, Deerberry, Leatherleaf, Groundtea, Groundberry, Hillberry, Mountainberry, Patridgeberry, Grouseberry, Spiceberry, Redberry Tea, Wax Cluster and Ivoryberry.  The Ojibwa called it Winisbugons …  “Dirty Leaf” … and the French la Petit te du bois, “The Little Tea of the Woods.”  Its scientific name is Gaultheria procumbens, ( Gol-THAIR-ee-uh  proh-KUM-benz) named after Jean Francois Gaultier a court physician in Quebec. Procumbens means trailing but not rooting, nearly flat on the ground.

Back to Gary: I was about to start high school and Gary was less than half my age. He ate the worm, dirt and all, and laughed about it. No threats. No bribe. No “dare ya.” He just looked at it then ate it. Oddly, he was the only kid in that family of six who turned out all right.

Checkerberry in blossom

The checkerberries grew on a low hillside between our houses, which were about a half a mile apart through the woods. It was probably just one checkerberry because it is their habit to send roots everywhere and pop up everywhere giving the impression of a patch when it is but a single individual plant. Every year I marveled how they were the first plants to bear fruit after the snow left. It wasn’t until years later that I learned the berries overwintered under the snow and are already there when the snow melted. At any rate I looked forward to them every April or so. In large fields of dead brown grass the verdant wintergreen and its red berries were easy to spot. Perhaps the birds had the same idea. And if I couldn’t find a berry, I’d chew on the leaves, lightly wintergreen with a slightly bitter after taste.

At one time it was very popular as tea, hence the name Teaberry but people have forgotten how to make Teaberry tea. While its leaves and branches can make a mild tea through normal drying and seeping in hot water there is a better way: Ferment the leaves in warm sterile water for a few days until they begin to bubble. Then use those leaves for tea, either wet from the fermentation vessel or dry them. And while it makes an excellent tea, it is a tea containing methyl salicylate… so think of it as a pleasant aspirin. Given the choice of an aspirin a day or a cup of checkerberry tea I’ll take the original.

Man is also not the only forager of checkerberries. They provide food for squirrels, chipmunks, deer mice, grouse, partridges, bobwhites, turkeys, fox deer and bears.

One next to last thing: Why was the plant named after Jean-François Gaultier?  He was the king’s official physician and naturalist assigned to Quebec, or New France as it was known then. He arranged for fort commanders to collect plant specimens for him, a task I am sure they enjoyed. In 1749 Gaultier and a botanical friend, Swede Pehr Kalm, rummaged around the plants of Québec City and Kalm named the checkerberry after Gaultier.

Gaultier, by the way, was more than a mere dilettante doctor cum tree hugger. He shipped plants to France every year. His 1749 manuscript lists 134 species, many of which he was the first to mention including four different species of pine. He also set up the first weather station in Canada and kept a log from 1742 to 1756. Not just interested in plants, he sent minerals and preserved animals back to France for the scientists of the day. His main interest, however, was the medical properties of plants. He even managed to write the history of maple sugar… talk about a sweet job.

Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile


Alternate leaves, simple, evergreen, oval to elliptical, 1 to 2 inches long, tiny teeth, stiff with a wintergreen odor when crushed, leaves cluster at tip of plant; dark shiny green above, paler below often with black dots. Flower small, quarter-inch, white, urn-shaped, hanging from short stems in mid to late summer. Fruit is red, round, 1/4 to 1/2 inch through, hanging beneath leaves, mild wintergreen taste, ripen in late summer, can last through winter. To six inches high.


Berries fall or spring, under the snow if you can find them.  Leaves year round, eastern North American down to northern Georgia.


Sandy soil in northern fields and cool damp woodlands


Berries out of hand, leaves as tea, fresh, dried or fermented.


Comparison of Oral Aspirin Versus Topical Applied Methyl Salicylate for Platelet Inhibition

David A Tanen, MD, Medical Toxicologist, Department of Emergency Medicine, Naval Medical Center San Diego, San Diego, CA

BACKGROUND: Oral acetylsalicylic acid (aspirin) is the primary antiplatelet therapy in the treatment of acute myocardial infarction and acute coronary syndrome. Methyl salicylate (MS; oil of wintergreen) is compounded into many over-the-counter antiinflammatory muscle preparations and has been shown to inhibit platelet aggregation locally and to be absorbed systemically.

OBJECTIVE: To assess the ability of topically applied MS to inhibit systemic platelet aggregation for patients who are unable to tolerate oral drug therapy.

METHODS: A randomized, prospective, blinded, crossover study was conducted in 9 healthy men, aged 30–46 years. All subjects ingested 162 mg of aspirin or applied 5 g of 30% MS preparation to their anterior thighs. There was a minimum 2-week washout period between study arms. Blood and urine were collected at baseline and at 6 hours. An aggregometer measured platelet aggregation over time against 5 standard concentrations of epinephrine, and a mean area under the curve (AUC) was calculated. Urinary metabolites of thromboxane B2 were measured by a standard enzyme immunoassay. Differences in and between groups at baseline and 6 hours were tested by the Wilcoxon signed-rank test.

RESULTS: Baseline platelet aggregation did not differ significantly between the 2 arms of the study (median AUC [% aggregation*min]; binominal confidence intervals): aspirin 183; 139 to 292 versus MS 197; 118 to 445 (p = 0.51). Both aspirin and MS produced statistically significant platelet inhibition; aspirin decreased the AUC from 183; 139 to 292 to 85; 48 to 128 (p = 0.008) and MS decreased the AUC from 197; 118 to 445 to 112; 88 to 306 (p = 0.011). No significant difference was detected between baseline and 6-hour thromboxane levels for either aspirin (p = 0.779) or MS (p = 0.327).

CONCLUSIONS: Topical MS and oral aspirin both significantly decrease platelet aggregation in healthy human volunteers.


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{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Charles de C. March 21, 2017 at 16:50

I’m in the Jersey Pine Barrens and this little plant is EVERYWHERE. It’s impossible to walk through the woods and not find a large patch of it. Berries are sometimes sparse, but the patches of leaves can be 1/4 acre in size sometimes, covering the ground. The very young spring leaves are tasty to nibble on, stronger in flavor and spicy, without the bitterness of the mature leaves.


Seed Drill December 13, 2016 at 15:17

I stumbled across this cite searching for a commercial supply of teaberries. I used to eat them when I was a kid, as they grew in my grandfather’s woods. I’ve got wintergreen growing around my property, but it’s a different variety that produces an inedible brown pod, rather than a berry.

BTW, down here a Johnny Jump Up is a small purple, yellow and white pansy, not a wintergreen!


Nancy Kellermeyer November 20, 2016 at 10:44

I searched “checkerberry” after reading a Stephen King book that referenced it and other natural edibles. I have now found a new hobby and interest. Thank you!


Janet June 15, 2016 at 01:39

My local health food store told me they are not able to get wintergreen because of issues with gathering it now. Do you know anything about this?
Love your site!


Miss Mlli November 28, 2015 at 00:31

Many years ago, my husband planted Japanese Knotweed. I have been fighting it ever since. I was less upset when I discovered it was edible!
After he was gone I ate it every spring and summer. Young plants are tastiest.
Perhaps you can provide more information about it. Milli


Aylene Gard October 24, 2015 at 13:52

Just came across your web site. Amazing! I’m a Master Gardener (15 years) and MD Native Plant Soc. member (10 years) with interests in both invasive and native plants. Recently heard a speaker on foraging and ate cattails among other plants.

We have some property in WV where my husband cut all the native persimmons so the dairy farmer who rented the fields could make hay. Depressing. I was so excited when I has first found the trees.

I’ve also been watching Japanese knotweed march along a nearby road over the past few years. Likewise depressing.

Just passed on your web site to as few like-minded friends. Aylene


jess October 5, 2015 at 03:26

since it was a frenchman who discovered these berries and I am in France for 2 weeks, are they here? am foraging and have wild mint, sloes, rosehips (and lots of itching from noseeums). missed the blackberries but hav plenty of chestnuts (sweet) but chokeberries? will google it of course…..Jess T


Rhonda Meeks December 8, 2013 at 21:09

Thank you for the information and stories on this website. I was very curious about checkerberries after I read the word in an article recently and had no idea what they were or if they were even edible to animals or humans. I appreciate all the data you are sharing and the many uses for them. They are beautiful plants – leaves and berries. Happy Holidays to you, your family, and staff. The Meeks in Florida


Deborah Allen August 30, 2013 at 07:58

Hey Deane! Everything I read about this plant says not in FL. I was familiar with finding it in the mountains, but I am pretty sure I found it last night in Gumroot Swamp park, Alachua county. I was gathering turkey tail mushrooms, and it was all over the ground. Only found a couple of berries, which was what made me notice it, other than some of the stems were growing through the mushrooms, or, rather, the mushrooms had grown around the stems. Or am I crazy? Is there something other than Gaultheria procumbens that this could be?


Green Deane August 30, 2013 at 12:05

What was the aroma like?


Ian Bannon June 18, 2013 at 14:26

I have a similar question to Peg. I love tea berry ice cream and would like to make my own at home. I live in Maine where these are readily available on every hike; my dog and I both enjoy them. Can I simply steep the berries in milk or cream to release the flavor? I’ve come across some website references that caution against consuming too much for fear that it might be poisonous.


Green Deane June 18, 2013 at 18:45

We eat the berries. It is the leaves that are used for tea.


Ian Bannon June 27, 2013 at 19:00

Should I be worried about overdosing on the berries?


Peg Kondos October 6, 2012 at 08:00

My Iroquois grandmother used to find these red berries near streams and moss beds. She called them checker berries. I think there is is a subtle but very distinct difference between the flavor wintergreen and the flavor checker berry so wondering if these berries are actually the same? Have never tried the leaves so is it possible the berries have a different flavor than the leaves? Goldenrod Restaurant in York Beach Maine has Checkerberry ice cream and is the authentic flavor, not at all like wintergreen ( they won’t divulge where they get flavoring!) have you ever heard of anyone else saying there is a difference in the two favors? Could there be a Checkerberry ( not wintergreen) plant ? Best description of Checkerberry flavor is less minty and sweeter than wintergreen, very distinctive, I can easily tell them apart.


jdross September 21, 2015 at 17:29

Same family of plants, maybe even the same plant itself. Teaberry(just the berry) as it is called is sweeter and less intense that what is called wintertgreen. Wintergreen is when naturally taken from the leaves concentrated(<–operative word) and more pugent and stronger than teaberry because it is concentrated. Teaberry, yes you guessed it, comes from the berry and not concentrated. Checkerberry=teaberry. Same with any mint, and that includes oregano and pepeppermint. Fruit/seeds are(example fennell not (sure) necessarily mint but applies to most herbs) sweeter and mild while the leaves are stronger and more harsh/minty in flavour. Want strong flavour and nutrients use the root. Ever hear of rootbeer and horsehound ? Think of it this way, top to bottom of most herbs are mild on top and stronger at the bottom. This also may include a concentration of things you don't want to eat though(example too much sweet flag root=serious case of the runs and maybe an hallucination). Use caution and enjoy what nature has to offer.


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