Back yard chewing gum

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by Sam Cooley

A familiar, ‘fresh’ tasting piece of vegetation may very well be hiding in your back yard. The Wintergreen berry has been spotted, quite frequently, near residences in Mississippi Mills. Although you may have never heard of this strange berry, it is almost guaranteed that the taste will be familiar.


Photo©John T. Fowler 2011

On a walk through the woods near Wolfgrove road (Almonte), AJ Shewchuk stooped over a small green plant laying on the forest floor. Shewchuk is a resident in the area with a keen interest in biology. He squatted down and pointed at a small green plant.

“This is a wintergreen berry,” he said, grabbing a hold of the small red berry, “Taste it!”

Skeptical at first, I rolled the berry in my hands for a few moments. It was small and round, and had deep ridges on the sides. Right away I noticed how much it tasted like gum.

“A lot of chewing gum is flavored with this,” said Shewchuk.

And he was right. As it turns out, many different brands of gum contain wintergreen as one of their primary ingredients for flavour. Coincidentally Excel gum, the best selling gum in Canada, has a popular flavour called “Winterfresh.”

Wintergreen to winterfresh– this is no coincidence. Other everyday  hygiene products that we associate with ‘freshness’ also contain wintergreen, like mouthwash and toothpaste.

Who would have known that we can get the same taste, and perhaps the same feeling, from something growing in our back yard?

First nations people know of its existence. For years they brewed tea from the leaves. Not necessarily because of the taste, but for the medicinal qualities that it contains. It can alleviate headaches, sore throats and fevers.

With globalization, we begin to forget what interesting kinds of vegetation we have available to us in the immediate area. Of course, unique fruits that are un sustainable in our climate must be obtained through the exchange of money at a grocery store. With that, we are able to enjoy food grown in far away places. But some things are closer than they appear, like your local wintergreen berry.