Juniper (Juniperus spp) is sometimes known as needle yew, cedar, savin, bastard killer, fairy circle, hackmatack, gin berry, horse savin, gorst, aiten, dwarf juniper, genevier, genévrier, ginepro, enebro, gemeiner, gin plant, wachholder, reckholder
They range in size from a moderately tall tree to a prostrate shrub and everything in between. Junipers have flattish, prickly leaves that arrange themselves scale-like on a branch when they are mature- young leaves can be more needle-like(they look a bit like yew leaves). They have a unique cone structure.
Male plants produce tiny cones with a similar structure to other conifers, but female seed-bearing cones have their scales fused together to form what looks like a fleshy berry that is usually dark blue, or occasionally brownish-red. Some junipers are monoecious, having cones of both sexes on the same plant, and some are dioecious; each plant will produce either male or female cones only.
Select Juniper Species
Common juniper Juniperus communis is widespread throughout Eurasia and North America and is also found in Northern Africa.
Savin Juniperus sabina. Although many junipers may be called savin, this is the Savin juniper, a shrubby tree that enjoys mountainous terrain native to Western Europe through Northern Asia.
Eastern Redcedar Juniperus virginiana is a Native American juniper, sacred to many indigenous cultures. Its wood is highly valued for building insect-resistant furniture for clothing storage.
Juniperus horizontalis A low-growing juniper popular for landscaping. Many cultivars have been developed such as “Youngstown” and “Bar Harbor”.
Flakey juniper Juniperus squamata A short, shrubby juniper popular for landscaping. Many cultivars exist such as “Blue Star”.
Chinese juniper Juniperus chinensis A moderately tall, shrubby juniper with a pyramidal shape to it, a popular landscape tree with many cultivars available.
Rocky Mountain Juniper Juniperus scopulorum
Juniper in History and Folklore
The Story entitled Red Riding Hood2 in the book The Hero of Esthonia tells of a mother laying down juniper branches and making the sign of the cross over them to protect her sleeping children from devils. In the story The Compassionate Shoemaker in the same book, the devil is defeated by being struck by a staff of juniper.
Several varieties of Juniper are available in the nursery trade as juvenile plants and it is important when you choose them to find out what species you are getting if you hope to use your plant as food seasoning or medicine. There are many different cultivars for different species. You can grow juniper from seed collected from a positively identified wild specimen as well, though some special care will need to be taken.
Juniper seeds can lay dormant for many years. They are dispersed by passing through the digestive systems of birds and other animals that eat the “berries”. Before they will grow, the seed coat must be damaged and this can be accomplished by nicking them with a sharp knife or rubbing them with sandpaper.
Juniper serves as host for several species of butterfly and moth.
Juniper berries are ripe when they are quite plump, dark green with the appearance of bluish dust on them. They are usually ready in early to mid-Autumn and you may find immature berries on a bush with mature berries as they can retain them for more than one year. The berries are rich in essential oils but they are very sensitive oils and so they should be kept in a cool, dry place, out of sunlight and dried gently or frozen to preserve them.
Healing with Juniper
Juniper is antibacterial, antiviral, diuretic, antiseptic, diuretic, abortifacient, emmenagogue
Juniper berries have been used for intestinal complaints, including parasites, though large amounts may irritate the stomach and intestinal lining. Juniper has a strong diuretic action and may be useful for urinary tract infections. 1-2 teaspoons of the crushed berry steeped in hot water for 10 minutes may be drunk, 2-3 times a day for up to four weeks.
Juniper tea after dinner is said to help improve digestion, reduce blood sugar spikes and help the body rid itself of uric acid to relieve and prevent gout.
Juniper can be used in a vapor rub or in a diffuser for colds, coughs, bronchitis. It may also be added to soothing salves and massage oil for joint and muscle pain. It is also a useful addition to topical preparations to treat eczema, psoriasis, acne, fungal infections and for prevention of infection.
Juniper was used for birth control before safer and more reliable alternatives were developed.
Juniper essential oil
Oil of juniper steam distilled from the wood and leaves is called cade oil. Juniper berry oil is extracted from the berries. The oil is particularly delicate and prone to evaporation and should be kept tightly sealed in a cool place away from light. Juniper oil has anti-microbial and anti-fungal properties.
Culinary Uses for Juniper
Gin is made using juniper berries and they can also be used to make beer, brandy and wine. They are also a good seasoning for meats, particularly wild game and fatty meat. Juniper wood on the hot coals over which meat is cooked will enhance its flavor. The Navajo use juniper ash for preparing cornmeal.
Juniper is mentioned as a suitable incense for ritual offerings and ingredients for sacred fires in a variety of European, Mediterranean, and Native American sources. It burns readily with a pleasant fragrance and charcoal made of juniper seems to be suitable for burning incense.
The leaves may be bundled and burned and used as a purifying and protective fumigant to ward off any unpleasantness, including disease and sanctify an object or space. In Scotland, Juniper was burned for the needfyre when disease threatened5 and for staining as well as in cattle sheds at the winter holidays to ensure their protection.
In Central Europe, Juniper berries and rue were burned in Walpurgis Night to keep away “witches”6. Juniper appears to be the fumigant of choice in Siberia7 where is it used for ritual purification and blessing of sacrifices, ritual objects, and people and animals.
Jupiter wood may also be burned during divination.
Juniper oil, branches or berries may be effectively added to anti-theft spells. Frau Wachholder is the goblin of the Juniper tree who may be evoked help discover a theif by bending the tree’s branches9.
Powwows or Long Lost Friend describes pinning a juniper bush under a rock to compel a thief to return stolen goods (It also references Juniper for a number of healing remedies). Scott Cunningham in The Magical Household describes an anti-theft charm including Juniper berries, elder leaves or mistletoe, caraway, and rosemary.
- Cunningham, Scott (Author)
- English (Publication Language)
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Carry a sprig of juniper with you or keep some berries in your pocket to protect against thieves while you’re out and about and keep some in your car to keep that safe too.
Juniper can also be used as a protective charm against troublesome spirits as well as thieves. The tree itself can be grown near the door or along the path to the house, branches spread out on the ground around the entrance or boughs hung above entrances.
It is said that a juniper shrub or tree is a particularly effective and magical hiding place. Perhaps juniper can be added to hiding and invisibility charms as well.
Juniper berries can be used in love spells, particularly to enhance male interest and potency. Steep in wine and drink a few sips daily to increase male virility. Steep in vinegar and add it to your bath to make yourself more attractive to men or apply it directly to the genitals (diluted with water) to increase male interest in them.
Or add it to a bath you’re sharing. Juniper berries and their essential oils make for a nice “masculine” scent for men’s cosmetics (aftershave, beard oil, etc.). Use with due caution.
Toxicity and Precautions
Juniper was known as “bastard killer” when herbal abortions were relied upon before medical abortions tool their place. Pregnat women should not use juniper in medicinal doses.
Juniper may change the way your body regulates blood sugar. Diabetics and others who need to carefully regulate their blood sugar should approach juniper with caution. Juniper should not be used while taking medication to regulate your blood sugar.
Juniper irritates the kidneys and should not be used by individuals with any sort of kidney disease.
Juniper should not be taken in addition to any other diuretic drug or herb without careful supervision.
Juniper berries are toxic in high doses.
Juniper oils, tars, and resins may irritate the skin. Use due caution, allergy test, and sufficient dilution.
Male juniper plants release highly allergenic pollen, sometimes in large clouds.