Herb of the Month – Juniper

Juniper

Latin: Juniperus Communis

Family: Cupressaceae

Energy and Flavors: Spicy, Sweet, Warm

Systems Affected: Kidneys and Stomach

Primary Biochemical Constituents: Volatile oils, Various Sugars, Resin, Vitamin C

Properties: Diuretic, Carminative, Antiseptic, Stimulant

Traditional Use: Spiritual Cleanser

Juniper grows around the Northern Hemisphere in dry, open sites or on limestone hills with sand and stone in the area.  It is an evergreen that grows about 4 to 6 feet high, and produces bluish-purple to bluish-green ‘berries’.  Herbalist Wade Boyle notes:  “juniper berries are not really berries at all but rather fleshy cone scales which easily pass for berries.”  The needles and the berries are used antiseptically and anti-bacterially by both traditional and modern society.  The volatile oils produced by the berries also have highly medicinal properties.  In France, the berries were used as a remedy for chest complaints and to heal leucorrhoea, blenorrhoea, and scrofula.  In Norway, an infusion of juniper was made and was used as a general antiseptic for washing and bathing.  The berries have been used traditionally as the primary flavoring in gin.  Across the globe, the berries and oil have treated renal hyperemia, chronic nephritis, catarrh of the bladder, chronic pyelitis, and scarlet fever.  The oil is specifically used in noninflammatory prostatorrhea and gleet, chronic arthritis, and for chronic irritation of the urinary tract and renal congestion.  Hildegard Von Bingen states that juniper ‘diminishes and mitigates pain in the chest, lungs and liver.’  She advises one either to make a spiced wine with the berries, or to take a sauna bath with the infusion of the leaves.   In the old days doctors used to chew the berries while treating epidemic infections as an antiseptic barrier.  It is noted that the berries can interfere with the absorption of iron and other minerals in the body.  Also, large and/or frequent doses of juniper can result in convulsions, kidney failure and irritated digestive tract.  People with kidney problems and pregnant women (despite traditional uses) should never take any part of the juniper internally.  Juniper oil can cause blistering.

The plant has a long duration of use in the American Indian botanical practice for colds, coughs, sore throats, influenza, respiratory infections, and as a wash and disinfectant for sores and vaginal complaints. Medicine people from the Shoshone tribe used juniper branches to cure rheumatism.  First, they would burn down a fire until it was just coals, then green juniper boughs were placed on top and the patient was asked to lie upon the branches and steam.  All the while, the patient is drinking an infusion of juniper leaves.  Other tribes used juniper to speed labor, ease postpartum pain, treat urinary tract infections, treat colds and chest infections, as a dusting powder for skin diseases, and to cure headaches, stomachaches, nausea, acne, and spider bites.

A very interesting fact is the use of juniper to create environments that are safe and oftentimes sacred.  Throughout the Northern Hemisphere people have used the aromatic properties of juniper to fight against black magic, plague, and other various influences.  Often through the burning of the leaves and branches (otherwise known as smudging) people participated in spiritual purification to ward off bad influences.  Native Americans have used the plant in sweat baths or as a smoke to cleanse and rid themselves of fear.  In Pueblo cultures, the leaves are carried in pouches or on ones clothes and they are often the only protection, or medicine, carried by the Tewa Indians.  Juniper boughs are sometimes hung in tipi’s for protection from thunder and lightning.  Today in the Northern Provinces of China, the burning berries are used to purify the air in sick rooms, and prevent the spread of infections.

Juniper’s ability to heal the body and spirit make it a valuable herb to have on hand.  However, if one does not have the ability to obtain the physical elements of Juniper they can call upon the Jardine Juniper.  This tree, which is located in Logan Canyon, Utah is estimated to be fifteen hundred years old.  When in need, people can call upon the spirit of this tree to bring them power, health, and communion with a higher Spirit.

One just needs to speak its many names….

Ooss moapa P.! Sammabe Sho!  Poosh!  Tsekie sino kosa!

Or one may call on it by its old world names…..

Ginepro!   Enebro!  Genevrier!

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