| Feb 15, 2006
Pipsissewa (Chimaphila maculata) is also called Spotted or Striped Wintergreen. For most of the year, it is identifiable by thick waxy leaves with prominent whitish midribs. In spring, the older dark blue-green foliage is succeeded by a whorl of younger leaves that are much paler. In early summer, the plant sends up a red stalk that bears one to three white or pinkish nodding flowers that are lightly fragrant.
Its genus, Chimaphila, comes from Greek words meaning "winter", referring to the plant's evergreen nature. The Creek Indians called it "pipsisikweu"--which means "breaks into small pieces"-- after the supposed ability to break down gallstones and kidney stones. Dried leaves of Spotted Wintergreen are aromatic and slightly astringent, and the plant has been employed as a tonic. Native Americans used its leaf tea to treat rheumatism and stomach problems, and crushed leaves were applied as a poultice to sores and wounds. Spotted Wintergreen--and another Pipsissewa, Chimaphila umbellata, are sometimes used to flavor candy and root beer.