Botanical and Common Names
- Family Cupressaceae
- Juniperus communis (Juniper Berry, Common juniper, Drooping Juniper, Mexican Juniper, Horse Savin, Ginepro, Spanish: Enebro, Bellota de Sabina/Sabino, Guata)
- Juniperus virginiana (Eastern Red Cedar, Red Cedar, Cedar Tree, Juniper, Juniper Bush, Savin, Evergreem Cedar Apple, Virginia Red Cedar)
Do not use during pregnancy as it is a uterine stimulant. Repeated use can cause kidney damage.
It is contraindicated in those with kidney disease or kidney infection.
Do not take if prone to heavy menstrual bleeding, as it increases the flow.
Do not take essential oil internally, except under professional guidance.
Longterm use of juniper may irritate the kidneys, so should not be used for more than six weeks at a time without a break.
Juniper is found in Europe, southwestern Asia up to the Himalayas, and North America, where it grows from southern coastal areas to more northerly moorland and mountainous regions. The juniper is a low, prickly bush or shrubby tree that grows to between four and fifty feet high. It is a slow-growing coniferous evergreen with slender twigs and whorls of silvery-green, spiny needles. From late spring to early summer, it bears small yellow male flowers and blue female flowers on separate plants. It is cultivated mainly for its berries which take up to three years to ripen, changing from green to silvery-purple. These berries are borne only on the female bush and can be found in various stages of ripeness on the same plant. Their flavour is stronger the farther south the plant is grown. The berry fruits are gathered when ripe in the autumn.
Juniperus is the old Latin name for evergreen trees or shrubs.
Juniper is also known as genvier, the term from which the word “gin” is derived. The berries are used in gin production, leading to its distinctive taste.
Since ancient times, juniper has been used by every culture for purifying and ritual cleansing, especially in temples. It was often burned to ward off evil spirits and the plague. Its use by indigenous cultures is pervasive, and scores of scientific studies have upheld its historical use.
Several medicinal recipes survive in Egyptian papyri dating to 1550 BCE, including a remedy to treat tapeworm: Juniper berries five parts, white oil five parts is taken for one day.
Juniper has been used since ancient times by the Greeks and Arabs as a sedative.
In Europe 200 years ago, the juniper was used to strengthen the body of those who were sick and to maintain the health of the well.
In central European folk medicine, the oil extracted from the berries was regarded as a cure-all for typhoid, cholera, dysentery, tapeworms, and other poverty-associated disorders.
In North America, the Micmac and Malecite tribes native to the Maritime Provinces of Canada, used juniper for sprains, wounds, tuberculosis, ulcers (internal and external), consumption, and rheumatism. Their general belief was that juniper hardened the body and made it better able to fight off illnesses.
Native Americans in general preferred the Californial juniper (J. californica), the Utah juniper (J. utahensis), and the check-barked or alligator juniper (J. pachyphlaea). They used the berries in a different way by drying and grinding them into a meal that was shaped into patties and fried. The taste may not have screamed out for second helpings, but it did keep body and soul together and were easy to digest, as well as being remarkably good diuretics.
The Zunis made a tea from the toasted branches to relax the muscles before childbirth began and to speed the recovery after delivery. The Tewa tribes burned the branches in the dwelling of a woman who had just given birth. The Spanish Americans, who learned of the native plant from various indigenous tribes, advised that women drink a cup or so of the tea a month before their babies were due to assure a safe delivery. They also used the tea to treat an inflamed stomach and relieve muscle spasms.
The Red Cedar and other Junipers were used by most Native American tribes for incense in purification and ritual.
The Shoshone used a tea from the berries to treat kidney and bladder ailments, while the Canadian Cree used a tea made from the root for the same purpose.
In 1849 and 1850, the Asiatic cholera was epidemic among the Lakotas; and many died, while others scattered in panic. Red Cloud, who later became a famous Lakota chief, tried many treatments for the disease, including a decoction of juniper leaves which was drunk and used in bathing. It was reported to have been the cure.
- antiseptic (especially for the urinary tract)
- digestive tonic
- uterine stimulant
- volatile oil (1-2%)
- more than 60 different compounds including myrcene, sabinene, alpha- and beta-pinene, and cineole
- sugars –
- vitamins and minerals in the berries (including chromium, cobalt, zinc, niacin, riboflavin, and vitamin C)
- Fruit, essential oil, needles, (bark, wood, and root are also active)
- Active against: Staphylococcus aureus, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Shigella dysenteriae, Streptococcus spp., Escherichia coli, Candida albicans, Salmonella spp.
An infusion of the berries has diuretic properties. It also soothes aching muscles, stomach upsets, and chills or menstrual pain. However, it also stimulates menstruation and increases the flow.
Atincture from the berries is used for such urinary infections as cystitis, or to stimulate digestion
Diluted essential oil is used on the skin to help promote the removal of waste products from underlying tissues. Internally, the oil is used to increase the filtering of waste products by the kidneys and is effective against many bacteria. The oil, which is made by steam distillation, is a popular remedy for arthritic and muscle pains.
Oil of Cade from J. oxycedrus is applied to skin rashes, scaling eczema, and psoriasis. It is made by dry distillation of the heartwood of various species of juniper tree. It is also known as juniper tar oil and contains phenol, which has a mild disinfectant action. Applied externally, it is a non-irritant and used mainly for such chronic conditions as scaling eczema and psoriasis.
Cade oil hair rinse is effective on psoriasis of the scalp, and is made by adding a few drops of oil to hot water and leaving on the hair for fifteen minutes before rinsing off.
Essential oil lotion is made with equal parts of juniper essential oil, rosewater, and witch hazel for oily skin and acne.
A chest rub is made with juniper oil, thyme oil, and almond oil to treat stubborn coughs.
A massage oil is made from the essential oil and a neutral oil, and massaged into arthritic joints.
An infusion is an effective wound wash.
The powdered form from any part of the plant can be sprinkled on wounds to prevent or heal infections.
Any part of the plant, usually needles or berries, may be used in sweat lodges or saunas, and the steam inhaled to help respiratory problems.
A powerful antiseptic, juniper is used mainly for the urinary tract helping to relieve fluid retention – but not if kidney disease is present. It is also a valuable remedy for cystitis.
It is a good digestive aid for warming and settling the stomach, easing colic, and supporting digestive functions.
Internally and externally, it is used for chronic arthritis, gout, and rheumatic conditions.
The Japanese species, J. rigida, is used as a diuretic.
A strong decoction has been traditionally used in many cultures to sterilize brewing equipment, cooking utensils, surgical instruments, hands, and counters.
Topically, infusions of juniper berries have been used as antibiotics when treating various sores or wounds, including eczema, psoriasis, and other skin conditions.
In South America, a different type of juniper is used for various conditions and as a general tonic. The Cuna Indians smear themselves with juniper berries to ward off parasitic catfish that attack them when they are swimming or fishing – something that should make the average tourist appreciate their hotel swimming pool.
As an antiseptic, juniper is an effective remedy for traveller’s diarrhea.
An alternative to juniper is the pine tree, which has shown significant antibacterial activity in laboratory studies against antibiotic-resistant bacteria. This is borne out by its traditional use for healing infectious diseases. One recent study has shown that pine bark is higher than any other plant, except grapeseed, in proanthocyanidin, a powerful antioxidant and potentiator of vitamin C, and one of the strongest known. Like juniper needles, pine needles have been an historical remedy for scurvy. The flavour of juniper is similar to that of the pine cone ,so it is necessary to process it slightly to make it easier to swallow. Cooking the fruit in honey improves the taste considerably, as well as its keeping ability.