Wintergreen oil safety

Hello Robert,
I’d like to ask your opinion if I may. Recently I’ve had a western herbologist join my business and I am finding discussions with him to be very enlightening as well as confusing in a way. For instance, we were talking about wintergreen and how it is contraindicated in Aromatherapy because of its content of methyl salicylate. He then told me that they use wintergreen specifically for its methyl salicylate and this is true for some other “hazardous” oils. Although they don’t use essential oils in their practice but herbs, tinctures and herbal extracts – is this perhaps where the difference lies? The herbologist who has joined me also knows specifically how many milligrams constitute a therapeutic dose and a lethal dose. I wish that I was taught those specifics about essential oils. Yes, I have been taught that some oils have a low therapeutic margin, but not exactly how much is sub-clinical, therapeutic and lethal.


Methyl salicylate is good for some people, not for others. A blanket contraindication is not necessary, but it is best avoided in pregnancy – all salicylates are teratogenic in sufficient amount, including methyl salicylate and aspirin (acetyl salicylic acid). Methyl salicylate must be absolutely avoided by anyone taking blood-thinning drugs, as it increases the action of the drug, and this causes blood to leak into tissues and  internal bruising occurs. Knowing a lethal dose tells you very little about what (a) a therapeutic dose would be or (b) a safe dose would be, but it does tell you what dose not to use! Therapeutic dose is good to know of course, and this varies between essential oil and also between purpose. Wintergreen oil has some wonderful properties, but I would not like to see it used at more than 5%.

17 comments to Wintergreen oil safety

  • Another factor… Wintergreen is one of the few essential oils whose sale is closely monitored by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. We were forced to take it offline because our safety warnings were not the verbiage that they demanded, and because we are unable to purchase the “Child proof – Senior Friendly” (oxymoron???) packaging they required. See the entire story here: and here: (I personally consider the safety warnings that we give much stronger than what the government requires…but then again I was never able to find out EXACTLY what they required. Only that continuing to sell “oil of wintergreen” with only tamperproof lids would get us into more trouble than we wanted to deal with.

  • Marge, as you probably know, the caution is because there have been quite a few fatalities in very young children from drinking wintergreen oil, though none for a few decades now. Tamperproof/childproof closures would be a good thing for many essential oils I believe. It’s very odd though that you could not find out what the requirement was. You have not had an easy time with the authorities!

  • I was taught wintergreen wasn’t worth the effort, never bought it and never sold it, even before I received my certification. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe this belief was cemented for me and the authorities when more than one or two professional athletes died from putting Tiger Balm over their entire bodies? Tiger Balm, of course, although still on the market, used to contain 28% “oil of wintergreen”. I think they reformulated it, but not sure about all the different varieties they offer now. People can be really ignorant about the properties of essential oils in general, which is why what you – and Marge – do is so important.

  • Ann – No, no-one died from dermal application, but there have been at least three reported cases of people taking blood-thinning medication who broke out in internal bruising when they applied methyl salicylate-containing products to their skin. It enhances the blood thinning action of the drug, and blood leaks out of the blood vessels. Tiger Balm – I brought some back from Beijing, and it contains no wintergreen oil or methyl salicylate. I do believe as a response to the above problems. It does contain 5% cassia oil, which would be frowned on in the West because of potential skin reactions!

  • Hi Robert. This subject has come up again in a LinkedIn group, so I rechecked because I’m quite sure I read that – probably quite a few years ago and I think more than one athlete was involved. I know they’ve reformulated the product since then, but I did find this: “Accidental Overdose – Although exceedingly rare, this complication stems from the inclusion of methyl salicylate in some formulations of Tiger Balm. This ingredient can be lethal in very high doses. BenGay, a similar over-the-counter cream containing methyl salicylate, is suspected in the death of a young athlete. To avoid an overdose, do not ingest Tiger Balm or use it on children under 13 years of age.

    Read more:

  • I think this is the first story I had read, but believe there were more than one, which is probably why wintergreen has become under more intense scrutiny.

  • Danielle

    Hi Robert, I actually spoke to Marge about this a few months ago, and she was very helpful. I use a very small percentage of wintergreen oil in a soap that I make. It’s an herbal scent, and it gives it more of a sweeter scent. It seems as if it would be ok in that application, but I just want to verify. Also, I do have to say that Marge’s site,, has been an incredible help due to the amount of research that they do. Thanks to you both!

  • It’s a shame no one here has mentioned the fact that Wintergreen is not an essential oil as we would normally accept it to mean. It is a synthetic chemical in the same category as oils from coal tar or crude oil. Not saying it does not have its uses, but I believe the average aromatherapist is not trained in anything like enough depth to be able to safely use the stuff.

  • Charles Black

    Where on earth did Martin Watt get his information – or his synthetic Wintergreen oil?

    Wintergreen – Essential Oil

    Botanical Name: Gaultheria Procumbens
    Plant Part: Leaves
    Extraction Method: Steam

    Description: Wintergreen is a small evergreen herb which grows up to 15cm (6 in) high with slender stems, leathery serrated leaves, drooping white flowers followed by fleshy scarlet berries.

    Colour: Pale Yellow

    Common Uses: Wintergreen has a history of use as a pain reliever. It is also believed to increase the speed of healing for skin disorders, and when added to lotions, acts as a natural moisturizer.

    History: Wintergreen and Sweet Birch oil are both nearly identical in chemical composition and aroma; similarly, both have been used in traditional folk remedies. This tradition has led to the discovery of Methyl Salicylate, its main ingredient, as a pain reliever. Wintergreen is a traditional native North American remedy, used for aches and pains and to help breathing while hunting or carrying heavy loads.


    Let us get real here. Yes Wintergreen herb is a class 1 herb and should be used with caution – together with many other herbs. Having said that – it is also safely used in toothpastes.

    On hazardous substances – I would also point out that a tube of Children’s toothpaste contains enough Fluoride to kill 4 – 6 young children if they digested it – yet there are no safety warnings on toothpaste. Perhaps being made by a pharmaceutical company makes a difference!!!!!

  • Charles Black

    Further research shows that Martin Watts belief that Wintergreen is synthetic evidently comes from the following;
    Wintergreen (synthetically made) is widely used as a flavoring agent in root beer, gum and toothpaste?

    Note – Wintergreen essential oil as talked about in this article is derived from the actual plant.

  • Deb Martindale

    Just today I did a web search of several product brands for pain which contain camphor, menthol, methyl salicylate, and or eucalyptus.

    Tiger Balm is one of those brands. Two of the 8 products listed on their website,, contained either methyl salicylate or wintergreen oil. Tiger Balm Liniment lists wintergreen oil (28%) as one of its active ingredients. Tiger Balm Muscle Rub lists , methyl salicylate (15%) as one of its active ingredient.

    Ben Gay was another brand, which lists 3 products containing methyl salicylate Ultra Strength and Arhtritis Formula Ben Gay Creams each list methyl salicylate (30%) as one of their active ingredients. Greaseless BENGAY Pain relieving Cream also lists methyl salicylate (15%) as one of its active ingredients.

    I found THIS site by doing a search of wintergreen oil vs methyl salicylate.

  • I agree with Deb. Tiger Balm has the formula on their label , the one I have is at 18% wintergreen.
    My question is – is this the natural wintergreen ol or the synthetic version mentioned by Martin Watt ?

  • robert

    From a safety point of view, I don’t think it makes much difference whether a product contains synthetic methyl salicylate (MS) or wintergreen oil, which contains about 98% MS. Genuine wintergreen oil is produced, and for the last 100 years, methyl salicylate has often been referred to as “wintergreen oil”. Not necessarily to be devious, though perhaps sometimes. Anyhow, there’s no significant difference in toxicity in my opinion.

  • Hi Robert,

    Due to past heart problems (angina attack, small heart attack with no damage) and corrective surgery for arterial fibrillation, I have been advised I should take an aspirin a day. Can Wintergreen do the trick?


  • robert

    Maybe, but there’s no evidence that the methyl salicylate content of wintergreen oil has the same long-term benefits of acetylsalicylic acid (aspirin). They are both salicylates, but that doesn’t mean they have exactly the same action. If it was me, I would go for aspirin with its proven, known benefits.

  • T.J.

    I was told by a rep for [insert MLM company here] that natural methyl salicylate in EO is not toxic; only the synthetic kind is. Apparently David Stewart wrote that in one of his books and now it’s being parroted out to the masses.

  • robert

    Hi TJ, well this is an appealing idea, but there’s no evidence that it’s true, since natural wintergreen oil has been the cause of many cases of poisoning, some fatal.

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