Table of Contents
- Edible Uses of Pipsissewa
- Medicinal Uses of Pipsissewa
- Alternative Uses of Bitter Wintergreen
- Growing Chimaphila Umbellata
In Chippewa, ga’gige’bug meaning “everlasting leaf” for its evergreen-ness, “pipsissewa” is a Cree-Montagnais-Naskapi name meaning “It-breaks-into-small-pieces”. It’s one of my favorite edible and medicinal plants to observe blooming in the wild. The delicate umbrella like flowers are unique here.
Pipsissewa (chimaphila umbellata) is uncommon here, and may be found in sparsely wooded, usually rocky areas. I typically find it alongside dirt roads and old bush roads. It’s one of our few little evergreens, and most of its folk names reflect that: bitter wintergreen, noble-pine, live-in-winter, loving winter, etc.
Edible Uses of Pipsissewa
It’s mostly been used to flavour candy and soft drinks, especially as “natural flavouring” for root beer.
The leaves, stems and roots can be used for tea, but disturbing the stem and roots will harm this at risk plant. A few leaves off the top and the berries are edible as trail nibble, but they are tough and astringent. And be warned, the fresh plant can even burn skin and mucous membranes. A less at risk or risky plant with a similar vibe is wintergreen, and perhaps partridgeberry. Pipsissewa is probably better visually enjoyed than plucked at.
Medicinal Uses of Pipsissewa
Pipsissewa is primarily said to support these body systems:
Medicinal tags include Alterative, Antimicrobial, Antiseptic, Astringent, Counterirritant, Diaphoretic and Diuretic. See Medicinal tag key for more information.
Common usage according to Planting The Future is that it’s used almost exclusively for UTIs now, as a mild urinary antiseptic when other treatments have failed. But due to it’s being at risk, they recommend substituting with the herbs uva-ursi, goldenrod, or gravel root. An uva ursi and marshmallow combination is a good substitution as well. And if you must, only carefully harvest the top 3rd of the plant.
Alternative Uses of Bitter Wintergreen
The umbrella like flowers are one of my favourites to photograph for macro flower photography!
Growing Chimaphila Umbellata
It feeds in part off fungi in the soil, bringing to mind plants like ghost pipe. Sadly, this is one reason it is hard to propagate, and stealing a plant from the woods will more than likely kill it, even if you take some of the soil.
It’s extremely at risk due to this difficulty growing it and the added stress of poaching. If you find it in the wild in my area, you are lucky! I only know of a few small patches. Make sure not to share the location online! For a similar look that is easy to grow, wintergreen and partridgeberry are candidates and they are also evergreen.
And the Usual Cautions:
1) Most medicinal herbs, if edible, are meant to be eaten in moderation, even sparingly. Some require extra preparation.
2) People can be allergic or sensitive to nearly any plant; try new herbs one at a time at your own risk.
3) For medicinal use, I must recommend receiving a diagnosis and working with a reputed health care provider. I generally do not post specific treatments and dosages because I think that is best between you and your health care provider, and ideally monitored.
4) Anyone pregnant, nursing, or taking prescription drugs should talk to a health care professional before adding new food items to their diet.
5) Many plants have look-a-likes, and sometimes they are poisonous.
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REFERENCESThe Herbal Medicine-Maker’s Handbook: A Home Manual