Botanical Name: Gaultheria procumbens
Other Common Names: Teaberry, Checkerberry
Brief Description and Notes: This plant is a very stunning evergreen, native, aromatic, edible groundcover. It does occur in Pennsylvania, but since it prefers cooler summers, it is more common and abundant further north. The green, smooth, shiny oval leaves can turn reddish in colder weather. The red berries often persist into winter. Crushing a leaf will release the tell-tale wintergreen smell.
Where To Look For It: Partly shaded woods; acidic soil; especially Pine-Hemlock forests; bogs
Ornamental Value: Attractive evergreen spreading habit; winter interest; aromatic
Ecological Value & Roles: Winter food for various mammals and birds
Edibility and Other Human Use: History of use as an edible and medicinal food. Berries can be eaten raw but are more commonly used as a garnish or in jams and pies. The leaves are medicinal in small quantities but shouldn’t be eaten whole; tea is common. Be sure to double check other sources for safety of consuming wintergreen tea made from the leaves. The minty flavor is a familiar as a “breath freshener.”
Photos by Victoria Moyer