Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Methyl salicylate (chemical formula C6H4(HO)COOCH3; also known as oil of wintergreen, betula oil, methyl ester) is a natural product of many species of plants. Some of the plants producing it are called wintergreens, whence the common name.
Methyl salicylate is toxic if taken internally in large amounts, and plants containing it probably evolved it as an anti-herbivory defence. Numerous plants produce methyl salicylate in very small amounts. Plants producing it in significant amounts (readily detected by scent) include:
- Most species of the family Pyrolaceae, particularly those in the genus Pyrola.
- Some species of the genus Gaultheria in the family Ericaceae.
- Some species of the genus Betula in the family Betulaceae, particularly those in the subgenus Betulenta.
Structurally, it is methylated salicylic acid. Commercial methyl salicylate is now synthesized from salicylic acid, but in the past, it was commonly distilled from the twigs of Sweet Birch (Betula lenta) and Eastern Teaberry (Gaultheria procumbens).
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