Gaultheria procumbens is an adorable low growing evergreen shrub usually found in pine and hardwood forests, and as a part of the oak-heath forest, favoring acidic soils. It reaches about 10-15 cm high with glossy, leathery and fragrant leaves (when crushed) that will turn purple in the fall, especially in sunny areas. It has white, bell-shaped flowers and berry-like red fruits, which persist throughout the winter and spring.
In the gardens, it will form an excellent groundcover beneath other acidic soil lovers, in part-shade to full shade locations; also suitable for a moist rockery. It has received an AGM from Royal Horticultural Society.
Besides its ornamental qualities it has been used traditionally for making a fine herbal tea and also for the extraction of wintergreen oil (used for flavouring of chewing gum, candies, medicinal). Various tribes of Native Americans used Gaultheria for medicinal purposes too, most commonly for relieving aches and pains and rheumatism. The active ingredient of the wintergreen oil is methyl salicylate, an aspirin-like compound, which like aspirin has proven anti-inflammatory, antirheumatic and analgesic properties.
Germination: seeds require a period of cold-moist stratification (1-2 months). Sow outdoor in the fall or place seeds in a bag with moist medium in the fridge for spring sowing. I found this procedure, that sounds really good for starting small-seeded, acid loving species like Gaultheria – moss sowing: if you have a mossy, moist spot in the garden, shake the seeds into the moss and carefully water them in; keep moist (or establish a moss carpet in a pot by transplanting a few tufts of moss). It worked – see the image in the gallery.