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Methyl salicylate is a natural product which can be derivedfrom many different types of plant species. Most of those plants are referredto as wintergreens so that is why methyl salicylate is also sometimes calledoil of wintergreen.

Botanical Background

Methyl salicylate is actually an organic type of ester,which means that it is a combination of alcohol with an organic acid. It isproduced by many plants mostly as a defense against numerous different speciesof herbivores. Once the plant gets infected with various harmful sorts ofinsects, it releases the methyl salicylate in order to kill them and get rid ofthem. Methyl salicylate is easily characterized by a high degree of toxicity. Wintergreenplants which are botanically referred to as gaultheria procumbens are the oneswhich produce methyl salicylate in significant amounts and they can always berecognized by a rather characteristic scent. These plants involve all thespecies of the genus spiraea in the family of rosaceae, which are commonlyreferred to as the meadowsweets. Some species of the genus betula which belongsto the family of betulaceae are also known for producing methyl salicylate,especially those in the subgenus betulenta such as the black birch. Somespecies of the genus gaultheria which belongs to the family of ericaceae alsoproduce methyl salicylate in significant amounts, especially the easternteaberry (botanically known as gaultheria procumbens). The same can be said formost species of the family known as pyrolaceae, especially those which belongto the genus of pyrola. There are certain methods of commercial production of methylsalicylate and the most commonly used one is the esterification of thesalicylic acid with methanol. Modern processes involve synthesized methylsalicylate, but some time ago it was distilled from the twigs of theaforementioned eastern teaberry and sweet birch.

Safety and Toxicity

A teaspoon of methyl salicylate contains 7 grams ofsalicylate, so that means that this substance is highly toxic. This same amountof the substance contains the equal amount of salicylate as twenty four Aspirintablets. This is why it needs to be avoided as much as possible. By no meansshould it be ever taken internally, as that can be very dangerous. A dose ofsalicylate which is as small as 4 milliliters can be lethal for a small child. Excessiveuse of various topical muscle pain relief products can also be very dangerousas these types of medications usually contain significant amounts ofsalicylate. Methyl salicylate and salicylic acid are permitted by the Food andDrug Administration, but they can only be used as indirect types of foodadditives. Salicylic acid is also approved for use in numerous different typesof over the counter drugs and medications. Among them are medications commonlyused for the treatment and removal of acne. Other similar types of over thecounter drugs and medicaments include those used for the removal of warts andcallus, as well as medicaments intended for use against dandruff. The Food andDrug Administration has also permitted the use of ethylhexyl salicylate and TEAsalicylate as active ingredients in various different types of sunscreen drugproducts. Sometimes they are also usedas one of the most important types of ingredients in different sorts ofexfoliating agents which are frequently used in cosmetic formulations.Salicylic acid is one of the most commonly featured ingredients in numerousdifferent types of preservatives in personal care products and cosmetics. Thesame goes for various types of rinse off hair products and shampooformulations.

Different Uses

Methyl salicylate can be used for various different types ofpurposes. It is a very potent rubefacient which is often featured in differentsorts of deep heating liniments. It is a very frequently used flavoring agentin various different kinds of food items as well. Another application of methylsalicylate is the use as fragrance in all sorts of products. It is also oftenused as a very strong odor masking agent is some types of organophosphatepesticides. When ingested in higher quantities it may lead to the developmentof all sorts of kidney and stomach related problems. Since this substance isthe one that attracts male orchid bees, it is often used as a bait in theattraction and collection of such bees to be used in various sorts ofscientific studies. It is very efficient in clearing different types of animalor plant tissues of color so it comes in very handy for immunohistochemistryand microscopy, especially in the situations where excessive amounts ofpigments obscure certain desired structures of the examined tissue. There are alarge number of candies and chewing gums which owe their characteristic mintflavor to the addition of methyl salicylate. Sometimes it is also used as aflavoring agent in the production of root beer as well.

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