The next plant I want to cover in this series is Juniper. This is my plant to get to know this year as they surround me. The smell of this plant is rich, and pungent and similar to pine but oh so different. During the rain in the high desert area of my neighborhood this smell intensifies and is pleasant and relaxing to me.
Juniper is found in the Bible, usually translated as fir or cypress. The Hebrew word used in the bible that is thought to be the Juniper tree is:
Modern Hebrew and many bible translations as well as the Septuagint translate berosh as cypress. However the Jewish Virtual Library claims that the biblical use could not have been a cypress because the cypress did not grow in Lebanon or Hermon.
Both the cypress and juniper are of the Cedar family and have many similar characteristics. Juniper, cypress, and cedar are all mentioned in the Bible. They have some similar medicinal uses but several different uses as well. We will cover cypress and cedar another time.
Ephraim shall say, What have I to do any more with idols? I have heard him, and observed him: I am like a green fir tree. From me is thy fruit found.
(Hosea 14:8) KJV
Other places in the Bible such as in Job 30:4 you may find the word רתם Rotem translated as juniper. This tree is said to be the broom tree and not the juniper tree.
Who cut up mallows by the bushes, and juniper roots for their meat.
Cupressaceae or cedar family
Junipers are evergreen shrubs or trees of the Cupressaceae or cedar family.
Juniper varieties can be low and shrub like as the Juniperus sabina (which is not for internal use) or as in the biblical tree Juniperus drupacea and Juniperus excelsa up to 65 feet tall.
The berries are actually not berries at all but tiny cones with a fleshy outsides and 1-2 brown hard seeds inside. The cones, or berries as they are called, usually take 3 years to ripen in most varieties. In the first year they flower, the second year they are green and the third year a ripe berry of blue, purple or brown color. A single tree may have all forms of berries. Green berries are used to make gin and ripe berries are usually used in herbal medicine and for food.
Varieties of Juniper
The biblical Juniper is thought to be Juniperus drupacea and Juniperus excelsa.
The tree commonly used for herbal medicine today is Juniperus communis. Many varieties of juniper have been used as medicine and food throughout history. There are a few that should be avoided and only used for landscape, they are:
Juniperus virginana , Juniperus silicicola= do not use plant material
Juniperus sabina, Juniperus oxycedrus =do not use any part of these plants
Juniper trees all look very similar but have slight variations in size and berry color. The tree that is local to me is Juniperus californicus.
As you can see it is very important to accurately identify any wild plant before using it for food or medicine. The information here is not sufficient for identification of different juniper varieties.
Historically juniper was used for wood in the building of the Temple. Juniper was also used as food, the berries were eaten fresh or crushed and made into bread by Native Americans. Tea was also made from the plant or berries of juniper. Meat was spiced with juniper berries. Gin is made from the berries and was originally a medicine.
And Hiram sent to Solomon, saying, I have considered the things which thou sentest to me for: and I will do all thy desire concerning timber of cedar, and concerning timber of fir.
(1 Kings 5:8)
Medicinally juniper was used to treat coughs, headache, urinary tract infections, digestive difficulties, wounds, snakebite, birth (can cause miscarriage). It was also used as incense.
Today juniper is still used to make gin, flavor meats, as incense, and for its medicinal properties.
Juniper (Juniperus communis)
stimulating diuretic, antimibrobial, digestive tonic, uterine stimulant, antirheumatic, antispasmodic, astringent, emmenagogue, nervine, parasiticide, sedative
plant material, leaf, berry
Externally infused in oil or salve for arthritis and muscle pain, or wounds. Used as a massage oil to stimulate lymphatic drainage and for fibrocystic breasts. Has shown inhibition of herpes simplex 1 virus in cell culture.
Internally, Diabetes, Urinary tract infection, kidney infection, gout, arthritis
Tincture .5 to 1 ml of a 1:5 tincture three times a day. Tea: 1 tsp crushed berries infused in 8 ounces boiling water for 20 minutes three times a day. Small amounts in foods for spice.
Safety and contraindications:
Should be avoided in all trimesters of pregnancy as it stimulates the uterus and the essential oil has been shown to prevent implantation in mice. Should not be taken by those with kidney disease. Long term use may cause inflammation, irritation or damage to kidneys. Should not be used longer them 6 weeks or in large doses. Before taking any herbal medication it is important to make sure you have no medicine they can interact.
Juniper Infused Oil Recipe
My favorite juniper creation so far is juniper oil used topically for pain or massage. I like to weigh my herbs and record the herb to oil ratio. This recipe will make a 1:2 strength infused herbal oil. 1 part herbs to 2 parts oil. Herbal oils can be made this strength or weaker if desired up to 1:10.
2 ounces by weight (approx. 2/3 cup) crushed juniper berries
4 ounces by volume grape seed, or olive oil
Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Weigh your juniper berries on a kitchen scale. Crush your dried juniper berries in a mortar and pestle until just broken up.
Measure 4 ounces by volume of oil.
Put berries in an oven safe dish and pour oil over them. Turn off oven, put dish in oven for 3-6 hours. After allotted time remove and strain berries from oil through a strainer lined with cheese cloth or a clean flour sack. Gather cloth and squeeze all of the oil out of berries. Discard berries. Bottle oil in a clean jar and label with plant name, oil used, date, and 1:2 strength.
This post was shared on Wildcrafting Wednesdays.
Sources:http://www.eattheweeds.com/junipers/ Herbalpedia juniper http://www.herbmentor.com/ Medical Herbalism by David Hoffmann FNIHMH, AHG