We went for a wonderful walk in the snowy woods this past weekend. I was looking for wintergreen because I have found it in these woods before.
The first time I saw wintergreen I recognized it because of a description I had read in "Farmer Boy" by Laura Ingalls Wilder. "Under the snow on the south slopes the bright red berries were ripe among their thick green leaves. Almanzo took off his mittens and pawed away the snow with his bare hands. He found the red clusters and filled his mouth full. The cold berries crunched between his teeth, gushing out their aromatic juice."
Now, I have never eaten a nice wintergreen berry. They have always been mealy and dry. Some people like to chew the leaves for the good taste. The Native People, and later the colonists, used wintergreen medicinally. Some people chop the leaves up to make a hot, refreshing tea.
Almanzo Wilder and his sister Alice brought home lots of leaves for their mother. Alice crammed a bottle full of the leaves, and their mother filled it with whisky and set it away. That was how she made wintergreen flavoring for baking. But I just like to pick a leaf, crush it in my fingers, and breath deeply. It is one of the beautiful smells of the winter woods: fresh, bright, cold, and minty. Mmmmm.