Juniper Berry - Juniperus communis
Many see the trunks mysteriously twisted and there are so many ancient tales of how this has come to be. From energy vortexes to trade winds, supporters fervently debate this phenomena, and Juniper just thrives and keeps doing what Juniper does. It's able to grow in some inhospitable places too, clinging to craggy moors and mountain sides, arid dry landscapes, and also within open meadows with plenty of Sun. Juniper will bend to the elements and consider the weather, and much more I'm sure, and yet continue to just be.
Our First Nations People of North America honored Juniper for medicine and food and some tribes ground the dried berries and made them into patties to eat for keeping them strong during the later winter months or in times of need. They say it "keeps the body and soul together". Their general belief is that Juniper berries help us get tougher, meaning more able to resist illness and firm up our boundaries with the microbial world as well as resist the conditions of poverty associated-disorders and other such conditions as dysentery, cholera, intestinal parasites and the like. Some tribes teach of toasting the branches and making tea with this to help relax a mother into childbirth. Juniper berries are found in many a remedy for the common cold and flu and it was also decocted as a blood tonic with other plants to treat anemia and re-energize the body. For the Navajo, these mystical berries are called "ghost beads" or "juniper eyes," and were worn as jewelry to prevent nightmares and keep one from "getting lost in the dark". Juniper berry tea was given to pregnant woman as 1-2 cups per month to strengthen the womb for birth and a safe delivery and they continued this several months postpartum, yes while breast feeding.
Medicinal & Edible Parts:
The potent diuretic, antimicrobial, antiseptic, carminative, uterine stimulant, vermifuge, and pain relieving properties of Juniper (Juniperus communis) lend themselves well to treatment of a variety of internal and external conditions. Historically, Juniper berry has served as a treatment against many infectious diseases as well as an aid for childbirth. The hypnotic aroma of the burning, aromatic wood binds groups around a fire as much as one alone, with their universe. Making smudge bundles from the needled branches are an ancient practice as well as grinding the dried or crushed berries into aromatic incense the original way, if one chooses to learn this skill instead of burning the toxic adulterated offerings of incense so commonly found today. I have a few recipes for Kyphi that contain Juniper berry and it's so intoxicating when burned. Place a few dried berries on a hot coal from the fire will release this aromatic smoke.
Here's a common question many herbalists hear:
"The Juniper tree beside my house is loaded with blue berries. When is the best time to harvest them?"
My honest and safe response:
Possibly never unless you know the Latin name of your tree.
Of the near 40 species of Juniper, only a small number are poisonous and a majority have bitter fruits. Only a few yield edible berries, which are technically modified cones, and only one is routinely used for flavoring and medicine. It gives gin it's distinct flavor which people either love or hate. The berries are often worked into our sauerkraut recipes and marinade or brine recipes for wild meats. We learned of this from ancient stories of Juniper in food preparation and it's truly exquisite how just a few in a pot of stew can tap into ancestral memories that calm and nourish the soul.
The Juniper most commonly called upon for medicine and food, at least today in the modern herbal world, is... Common Juniper, Juniperus communis. It occurs naturally in Asia, Europe and North America, and it's the parent of dozens of popular ornamental varieties. When it comes to medicine making though, know your plant well.
Junipers bear both male and female berries (cones). Most Junipers are dioecious, meaning male and female berries (cones) are found on separate trees. Ash, Holly and Nettles are dioecious beings too, to name a few others.
The smaller male cones produce pollen sacs that release pollen grains in spring and summer for Juniper is wind pollinated. The female cones have succulent and fleshy scales called sporophylls, and these scales fuse together after pollination. Enclosing the hard seed coat, the berries (cones) take one to three years to ripen depending upon the species which is why you will see green and ripe blue ones together on the same branches. It's rare to have generations of berries ripening together at different rates on the same plant, and for me is a signature of the magical nature existing within it's medicine. The berries (cones) range from bluish to purplish-black or red and have a smooth, whitish bloom that gives them the appearance of a polished blueberry.
Be warned that birds and small mammals love Juniper berries as much as we do so respectful negotiations with them will need to happen if you want some of the bounty.
*Honor the medicine of a stronger ally means being safe and wise.
- Warnings Do Exists - This medicine plant works well and should be taken wisely. Please remember that just because it's 'natural' doesn't mean we can take it any way we want. This plant is fine for short term daily dosing for 6 weeks or pulsed doses for longer.
- Topical use of Juniper Essential Oil must be diluted in a carrier oil or it will cause skin irritation, burning, redness, or swelling and should not be used to treat large wounds (and this is true for nearly all essential oils).
- I suggest water-based wound washes with strong decoctions for larger wounds.
- Some individuals experience stomach and intestinal irritation after ingesting Juniper and this usually means they've taken too much as a dose. The dose simply needs to be lowered to half.
- Long-term use is irresponsible and can lead to kidney problems. Overuse of Juniper can lead to diarrhea, urine with a purple tint, blood in the urine, intestinal pain, kidney pain, elevated blood pressure, a quickened heartbeat and may interfere with the absorption of iron and other minerals.
- It is not suggested during pregnancy though our Native First People give guidelines above for supporting our mothers and babies through birth.
- Sharing these specifics disarms fear and replaces it with wise honoring of the medicine. Thank you for honoring the medicine.
Taking Juniper Berry as medicine means short-term, or pulsed doses.
Topical Applications of Juniper Berry
Women with stagnant pelvic circulation, PCOS, and endometriosis respond well to making a plaster over the womb by mixing equal parts of bentonite clay with ground dried Juniper Berries and a touch of castor oil or Mugwort infused oil to make a paste and applying this moist over the lower abdomen. Rest with a warm compress for 30 minutes and rinse off in the bath or shower. Repeat weekly or more often if needed.
Medicine Forms of Juniper Berry:
Thank you for honoring the medicine of Juniper. xo- Jen