General: evergreen perennial herb from slender, spreading rhizomes. Flowering stems single, erect, 10-40 cm tall, naked except for a few, small bracts.
Leaves: several in a basal rosette, their blades round to elliptic or obovate, rounded to slightly pointed at the tip, leather-textured, entire to noticeably small-toothed with veins going beyond the edges, 3-8 cm long and nearly as wide, dark green and glossy on the upper surfaces, usually somewhat purplish beneath, not mottled. Leaf stalks usually at least as long as the blades.
Flowers: pinkish to rose or purplish-red, nodding, 10-15 mm broad, usually 10 to 25 in an elongated cluster. Flower stalks 3-8 mm long, the bracts at bases linear-lanceolate, almost as long. Calyx lobes pointed, 2.5-4 mm long. Petals 5-7 mm long, ovate. Anthers slender-tipped at the lower end, the tubes short and the pores nearly terminal. Style strongly curved forward, 5-8 mm long, with a collar below the stigma.
Fruits: capsules, round, 5-chambered, 7-10 mm broad, with a persistent, curved style, erect at maturity.
Moist, usually wooded sites, foothills to subalpine, in w. and c. parts of MT. Also almost throughout w. U.S. to AK, across Canada to n.e. N. America.
Wintergreen leaves are high in methyl salicylate, a natural painkiller, and they can be chewed and applied to wounds as a poultice in an emergency. Pink wintergreen was considered to be an effective remedy in the treatment of rheumatism. A decoction of the leaves, or the leaves and roots, has been used as an eyewash for sore eyes by the Bella Coola and Woods Cree Tribes. A decoction of the plant was used by the Woods Cree and Penobscot Indians to treat the coughing up of blood. The Shoshoni Indians used a decoction of the root to treat liver complaints. The Micmac and Penobscot Indians also used parts of the plant for gonorrhea and kidney trouble.
ssp. asarifolia Michx.: Leaves nearly entire, often cordate, sepals less than 3.5 mm long. The more widespread phase of the species.
ssp. bracteata (Hook.) Haber( = var. purpurea): Leaf blades usually pointed at one or both ends and noticeably small-toothed owing to the veins going beyond the leaf edges. Sepals usually at least 3.5 mm long. In our region more common w. of the Cascades.
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