The Common Juniper, Juniperus communis, has the largest range of any woody plant, throughout the cool, temperate Northern Hemisphere from the Arctic to in mountains to around 30°N latitude (roughly lying around the norther border of the United States, with mountainous patches in the west) in North America, Europe and Asia. It is an evergreen conifer in the Cupressaceae family with smooth needle-like green leaves in whorls of three. The leaves have a single white stomatal band on the inner surface. It is dioecious, with male and female cones on separate plants, which are wind pollinated. There are many varieties of junipers, often growing as a small tree or large bush, with it’s wood often appearing windswept. Juniper in the wild is often found covered in fractal galls, created by small insects called midges. Juniper berries range from four to twelve mm in diameter. Unlike the separated and woody scales of a typical pine cone, those in a juniper berry remain fleshy and merge into a unified covering surrounding the seeds. The berries are green when immature, and change to a purple-black color over the course of a year.
Common Junipers grow best in slightly damp, well drained soils, and in full sun. Their Southwestern counterpart, the Utah Juniper (Juniperus osteosperma), tolerates much drier soils and hotter temperatures, and is distinguishable by it’s scaly, needle like leaves.
The berries are a diuretic, antiseptic, carminative, and anti-rheumatic. An infusion is useful for urinary tract infects with its diuretic and anti-septic actions, especially when combined with uva-ursi. However, it’s oils are irritating to the kidneys when excreted, and should be avoided in those with kidney disease and kidney infections. Its bitter properties work as carminative for indigestion and flatulence, and chewing a few berries before a meal can aid digestion. The oil from juniper berries can be applied externally for occasional and chronic rheumatic joint pain and sore muscles, and is used to treat acne, eczema, and cellulite. The oil mixed with lard is also used in veterinary practice as an application to exposed wounds on animals and prevents irritation from flies. Large internal doses may cause irritation to the passageways and overexertion of the kidneys. An infusion of 1 oz. to 1 pint of boiling water may be taken in the course of twenty-four hours. It is thought to be a uterine vasodilator, so should be avoided during pregnancy.
Green berries are typically used in gin and liquors where the mature, unshriveled purple berries are used medicinally and in cuisine. They are a common flavoring in both Scandinavia and Native North American wild game dishes. In North America, the Western Native Americans used juniper leaves as incense, and the berries crushed and added to saunas and sweat lodges. In multiple cultures around the world, juniper smoke and incense is thought to clear bad energy.
An infusion of 1 teaspoon of lightly crushed berries per cup of water, steeped for 20 minutes, drunk in the morning and night. For chronic rheumatism, drink daily for 4-6 weeks every spring and autumn.
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