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Teaberry or Gaultheria procumbens is an aromatic shrub which grows close to the ground, with a spreading growth habit which leads many gardeners to use it as a groundcover. It is native to the Northeastern regions of North America, and can be grown in USDA zones three through eight. In addition to being aromatic and pleasant to look at, teaberry is also a source of oil of wintergreen, an aromatic essential oil produced by several plant families.
The leaves of the teaberry are oval, glossy, and dark green. The plant produces small white bell-shaped flowers which mature into bright red berries in the fall and winter. Teaberries remain evergreen, which can be appealing in cold climates where many plants are deciduous, as the teaberry can provide a nice blanket of green color, as long as it isn't covered in snow.
Oil of wintergreen has a very distinct, sharp odor. It has been used historically in scenting candles, incense, and potpourri, and it is also used to flavor gum. Teaberry gum is especially popular in Tennessee and Kentucky, and it is usually available through candy stores which specialize in old fashioned and nostalgic candies. Some liniments and candies are also scented with wintergreen, as are toothpastes and other personal care products.
As the name would suggest, teaberry leaves can also be steeped to make an herbal tisane. The steeping must generally be prolonged, as otherwise the plant will not release enough of the oil of wintergreen for the scent to be noticeable. Some people find teaberry tisanes useful for colds and coughs, while others simply enjoy the brisk scent. Oil of wintergreen can be toxic in large quantities, but teaberry tisane generally does not contain enough wintergreen to be a matter of concern.
If you want to grow teaberry in your garden, select a spot which is in full or partial shade, and make sure that the soil is loamy. If the soil is heavy or dense, amend it with mulch so that the plant will have loose soil to grow in. Teaberries prefer soil with a neutral pH, and they like well-drained areas. Teaberries do not have heavy water demands, making them suitable for people who are trying to maintain low water gardens, and they can also be shaped with pruning and careful training to create low hedges or neat groundcovers.
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