First, apologies for the horrible image. It is Chimpala maculata, a close relative to the one I'm going to write about this morning. I would run out and take another, but all of my wintergreen is buried under a foot or so of snow right now. Other names for this one are Pipsissewa, Waxflower, Princess Pine, King's Cure, Ground Holly, Love-in-Winter, Rheumatism Weed (I distinctly remember another by the same name recently - all the more reason to stick with the Latin), Ratsbane, Dragon's Tongue, and Pyrole.
The Scientific name is from the Greek rather than Latin here, actually ending up more like Latinized Greek. Cheima means winter and Philein, to love. Perfect for an evergreen plant. It is closely related to Pyrola, the true Wintergreen. They are quite different in appearance and usage, though. Chimaphila umbellata (the one in the photo) is also called spotted wintergreen. It is similar, but for the true medicinal type, look for the real Pipsissewa rather than true wintergreen or spotted wintergreen. Confused? Me too. I guess I'll need to dig out my wildflower book on my next walk and see if I can find all three. I just always knew the one in the photo as wintergreen.
Dr. Barton, writing in 1804, says that the name pipsissewa is an Indian name - and a pleasantly tripping one at that. Probably all of the Indians made as much use of the plant as, we are told quite definitely, the Pequot and Narragansett tribes did. (I'm using 'Indian' rather than Native American or First Nations only because I'm quoting an old text).
The place to find this plant is always in deep, coniferous woods throughout the United States. [Note - I have a large patch growing under an oak, though near some pines just at the top and in dappled shade on a south facing, steep hill.] Look for sharply pointed green leaves on a plant only five inches or so in height. Waxy white flowers appear in early summer, and the leaves are sweet-smelling when fresh. The dried leaves may be made into an infusion at the rate of 1 ounce to 1 pint of boiling water, taken in wineglass doses.
The literature on pipsissewa is in agreement on its value as a diuretic, astringent, tonic, and alterative. It is used in cystitis and gonorrhea, and as a mild disinfectant to the urinary tract. The name 'King's Cure' indicated its past use in scrofula. For nearly a hundred years an official drug, it has now been replaced by the inorganic medicines. Several writers point out that its action as a diutrtic is similar to that of Arctostaphylos Uva-ursi but that the side effects are fewer. For commercial purpose, it is gathered and prepared for market by the herb gatherers of North Carolina and other mountain areas.
I'm really anxious to get back out into the woods and 'visit' some of my favorite wildflower spots, but, alas, it is once again snowing...