[caption id="attachment_17025" align="alignleft" width="400"]<img src="https:\/\/pocahontastimes.com\/wp-content\/uploads\/sites\/25\/2017\/08\/saw_mill_teaberries.jpg" alt="" width="400" height="419" class="size-full wp-image-17025" \/> Teaberries stay red even after a winter under the snow. Photo courtesy of the USDA[\/caption]\r\n\r\nLaura Dean Bennett\r\nContributing Writer\r\n\r\nA while ago I got to thinking about teaberry gum and went to looking around to see if I could buy some.\u00a0\r\n\r\nWell, you probably knew this already, but it\u2019s not easy to find Clark\u2019s Teaberry Gum anymore. In fact, it\u2019s nigh onto impossible.\u00a0\r\n\r\nEven on the Internet.\u00a0\r\n\r\nTeaberry gum was manufactured by\u00a0the D. L. Clark Company of Pittsburg, Pennsylvania.\u00a0\r\n\r\nThey purchased the patent from Charles Burke, who started the whole teaberry gum thing around 1900 by experimenting with various flavors of chewing gum in the basement of his home in Pittsburgh.\r\n\r\nTeaberry was then marketed all across the U.S. by Clark. They manufactured it in Mexico.\u00a0\r\n\r\nThere was a day when every little store, grocery store and gas station would have carried it, but, these days \u2013 well, things change.\r\n\r\nFrom the turn of the 20th century to the height of its popularity in the 1960s, and into the 21st century, teaberry gum was one of America\u2019s first chewing gums and favorite treats.\u00a0\r\n\r\nIt was my mom\u2019s favorite gum, and mine, too.\r\n\r\nNow, back in the sixties, when I first remember enjoying it, it was considered impolite to chew gum in public (at least it was in my house), so there were rules about where and when one might enjoy a stick of gum.\u00a0\r\n\r\nBut Mom almost always had a pack of teaberry gum in her purse or in the drawer in the kitchen where she kept odds and ends. As long as I was at home, or out in the car with my mom, and I could chew it without anyone knowing, I was allowed to do so.\u00a0\r\n\r\nBut never was I permitted to chew gum in public, that meant school, church or in any group of people.\r\n\r\nYes, it was a much different world then.\r\n\r\nUntil I began researching this story, I had no idea that teaberry plants had such an interesting history.\r\n\u00a0\r\nBeyond making a great chewing gum flavor, teaberry leaves have, for centuries, been used to brew an invigorating and medicinal tea.\u00a0\r\n\r\nAnd it\u2019s fascinating that the little\u00a0teaberry plant seemingly has more names than any other plant.\u00a0\r\n\r\nDepending where you find it and who you ask, teaberry may be called American wintergreen, checkerberry, boxberry, grouseberry, spiceberry, mountainberry, deerberry, leatherleaf, Canadian mint, hillberry, groundberry, Johnny Jump Ups (I know- that\u2019s our name for wild violets, but some people use it for teaberry), red berry tea, wax cluster, ivoryberry and mountain tea.\r\n\r\nThe Ojibwa called it Winisbugons, meaning \u201cDirty Leaf\u201d and the French called it,\u00a0la Petit te du bois, \u201cThe Little Tea of the Woods.\u201d\u00a0\u00a0\r\n\r\nIts official scientific name is\u00a0Gaultheria procumbens (procumbens\u00a0means trailing close to the ground).\r\n\r\nIts first name is from the name of a famous French botanist and physician, Jean Francois Gaultier.\r\n\r\nHe was the first scientist to document teaberry\u2019s common use as a bracing tea with many medicinal uses.\u00a0\r\n\r\nGaultier was the king\u2019s official physician and naturalist. He was sent to study what new medicines could be derived from plants in Quebec, or New France, as it was called in the 18th century.\r\n\r\nHe accumulated thousands of specimens of New World flora to study and send home. He managed to get so many by having fort commanders order their men to range far and wide to collect plant specimens for him.\u00a0\r\n\r\nIn a 1749 botanical manuscript, Gaultier lists 134 plant species, many of which he was the first to mention, including four species of pine.\u00a0\r\n\r\nGaultier wasn\u2019t only interested in plants. He also set up the first weather station in Canada and kept a log of its readings from 1742 to 1756.\u00a0\r\n\r\nHe sent minerals and preserved animals back to France for scientists to study.\u00a0\r\n\r\nBut his central interest was the medical properties of plants, hence his fascination with the humble \u201clittle tea of the woods.\u201d\r\n\r\nTeaberry is a small, unassuming perennial shrub that is native to the upper eastern parts of North America,\u00a0like Quebec, New England and West Virginia.\r\n\r\nFor centuries, before it was used to make chewing gum, it was very popular as tea among our ancestors, hence the name teaberry, or mountain tea, but many of us, me included, have long forgotten its origins.\u00a0\r\n\r\nThe evergreen teaberry leaves, which have an earthy, wintergreen flavor with a slightly bitter aftertaste, can be harvested for tea any time of the year.\r\n\r\nLong before Gaultier \u201cdiscovered\u201d teaberry tea and its effectiveness as a medicine, Native Americans had been\u00a0collecting and drying the leaves for a medicinal tea.\u00a0\r\n\r\nThe active ingredient teaberry oil, called \u201cwintergreen oil,\u201d made from the leaves, is methyl salicylate, which is a compound similar to aspirin.\u00a0\r\n\r\nIn fact the oil of wintergreen was used in some of the first commercially prepared aspirin tablets.\u00a0\r\n\r\nDue to this property, the teaberry, or wintergreen plant was used by Native Americans and the early settlers in much the same way as we do aspirin today.\u00a0\r\n\r\nMost often the chemical would be derived from making a tea, which was made by\u00a0steeping the leaves in boiling water. The tea was drunk as a cure for headaches, to\u00a0soothe sore muscles, and to relieve all sorts of aches and pains.\u00a0\r\n\r\nTo make a stronger medicinal tea from teaberry leaves another method was used.\u00a0\r\n\r\nThe crushed leaves were steeped in warm sterile water for a few days until they began to bubble \u2013 or ferment.\r\n\r\nThen those leaves, either drained and dried, or wet, directly from the fermentation process, could be brewed to make medicine.\r\n\r\nTeaberry plants like to grow in places like Pocahontas County \u2013 in mountainous areas, in partially\u00a0shady and wet woodland areas where ferns, mushrooms and moss thrive.\u00a0\r\n\r\nIt has small, rounded semi-shiny leaves and bears tiny bell-shaped white flowers that mature into red berries that sometimes have a pinkish hue.\u00a0\r\n\r\nThe berries have a mealy texture with a light, yet fragrant scent and an understated berry flavor with a hint of a warm mint and spice undertone.\r\n\r\nTeaberry plants grow like a ground cover by sending roots far and wide.\u00a0\r\n\r\nThe plants have a spreading habit \u2013 one huge patch can actually be a single plant.\r\n\u00a0\r\nIt usually grows less than six inches from the ground and has small, shiny, tiny-toothed evergreen leaves about an inch to two inches long.\u00a0\r\n\r\nWhen they are crushed, the leaves have a wintergreen odor.\u00a0\r\n\r\nIts small flowers come on in mid-to-late summer and develop into bright red berries which ripen in late summer or fall, and hide underneath the leaves.\u00a0\r\n\r\nThe berries are very hearty \u2013 they can last throughout the year and still be found in April, when the snow recedes enough to allow one to find them safely tucked under the leaves.\u00a0\r\n\r\nWhile the Native Americans and the early European settlers ate teaberry leaves and berries as a trail nibble, modern foragers should use caution.\u00a0\u00a0\r\n\r\nThe leaves can irritate the stomach if too many are eaten at one time. And those with specific medical conditions should, of course, consult their doctor before consuming teaberry leaves or berries.\u00a0\r\n\r\nBesides making a tasty, minty tea, an effective pain reliever, and a delicious chewing gum, teaberry plants have also been used as flavoring for candies, cough drops and even wine.\u00a0\r\n\r\nHumans are not the only beneficiaries of the marvelous teaberry plant.\u00a0\r\n\r\nSquirrels, chipmunks, birds, mice, grouse, quail, wild turkeys, foxes, deer and bears also enjoy eating its berries. And the tough, evergreen leaves provide shelter for many small birds and animals.\u00a0\r\n\u00a0\r\nNow, I\u2019d just like to have one more taste of teaberry gum \u2013 one little pack. I fondly recall the exact aroma of the sweet, spicy delicacy.\r\n\r\nEven Cracker Barrel, where I could always depend on finding it on my road trips, doesn\u2019t carry it anymore \u2013 at least, when I looked it up on their website, they said it was \u201cout of stock.\u201d\u00a0\r\n\r\nMaybe you can still get it in some of the Cracker Barrel stores themselves.\u00a0\r\n\r\nI don\u2019t travel like I used to, so you, gentle readers, will have to help me forage for the elusive teaberry gum of our childhoods.\u00a0\r\n\r\nIf you find it, drop me off a pack, will you?