Common Name: Juniper (common)
Botanical or Scientific Name: Cupressaceae Juniperus communis
Other Names: Western Juniper, Rocky Mountain Red Cedar, Dwarf Juniper, Mountain Common Juniper, Old Field Common Juniper (there are many names, for many species of Juniper)
Genus and Species: Junipers are coniferous plants in the genus Juniperus of the cypress family Cupressaceae.
Type: An evergreen coniferous shrubby tree of the cypress family. There are many, many different junipers in the world.
Physical Description: A wide and low tree with an irregularly rounded crown. A knotty, twisted trunk. Often has a “bonsai” look to it. Can be a small tree or a low shrub.
Needle (leaf): Small (1/8 inch), scale-like and tight against the branches. Backsides of needles bear inconspicuous glands. Pale, yellowish green when young, greyish-green, green or blue-ish when mature. Appear in pairs, overlapping but covering the twig in four rows.
Form: Small tree or large shrub; shape is variable but often short with a round crown.
Size: Rocky Mountain Juniper can reach 13 metres in height
Flower: Dioecious; both male and female flowers are small (1/8 inch) and occur at branch tips; males oblong and females nearly round. Males are nearly yellow, females greener.
Fruit: Round, bluish berry-like cones (1/3 inch in diameter), covered in glaucous bloom, mature in two seasons. Green when young, bright to dark blue with a whitish bloom when mature, located at the ends of the branches
Twig: Covered in green scale-like needles, later turning light brown.
Bark: Thin and quite scaly with long narrow ridges, reddish brown but turns gray when aged and weathered.
Wood: Reddish colour, hard, durable, fine-grained, often knotty, distinctive “cedar-ish” odour.
Climate and Habitat: Rocky canyon bottoms, dry rocky southern facing ridges, and along lakeshores and streambeds. Rocky Mountain juniper often occurs in pure open groups of trees, but it can occur mixed with ponderosa pine on south and west facing slopes, or with Douglas fir on north and east facing slopes.
Soil Preference: Dry rocky or sandy soils
Places Commonly Found: Juniper grows wild throughout the northern hemisphere.
Places I have Found in Wild: Okanagan Valley, BC. Near Jasper, Alberta. Traveling through Kansas, Colorado, Utah, Washington and Oregon.
Parts Used: All but roots
Poisonous Parts: n/a
Safety and Warnings: Juniper is an irritant, and best used with other, more soothing herbs, and should not be used during pregnancy or when suffering from a kidney disease or infection. People with asthma and breathing conditions may not want use it in incense. Handling the needles can cause a slight irritation of the skin, allergic reactions are common, as such they are not recommended as Yule Trees.
Bouquet: Peppery, woody, almost fruity, some people claims its smells like cat piss, and others say it smell of violets. Fragrant and flowery, combining the aromas of gin and turpentine.
Flavour: Bittersweet and peppery with some pine flavour
Magickal Gender: Masculine
Celestial Bodies/Zodiac: Sun
Sabbats: Samhain, Yule
Medicinal Uses: Juniper is primarily used in the treatment of urinary tract infections such as cystitis and urethritis. It is a useful remedy for gastric conditions and gastrointestinal infections, inflammations and cramps. The bitter action aids digestion and relieves flatulent colic. Juniper is often used in the treatment of rheumatism, arthritis and gout. Applied externally, the diluted essential oil penetrates the skin to help relieve joint and muscle pain and neuralgia. It warms the tissues by encouraging blood flow.
Medicinal Actions: Antiseptic and diuretic properties, improving digestion, stimulating the uterus and reducing inflammation. Diuretic, increasing the elimination of acid metabolites; urinary antiseptic, carminative, stomachic, antirheumatic, uterine stimulant, anti-inflammatory.
Magickal/Ritual Properties: Protection, love, purification, underworld, manifestation, and prevention of theft.
Aromatherapy and Essential Oil: Clears the mind and is a good detoxifier, especially of uric acid, making it an excellent choice for treating arthritis, rheumatism and gout. The scent and heavy smoke is excellent for creating a ritual mindset.
Culinary Uses: The berries are used to flavour pickling brine, sauerkraut, stuffing’s, game, ham and pork. Juniper extracts are used to flavour gin, beer and liqueurs. Traditionally used by Native Americans, and by Ancient Europeans as a famine food.
Cultivation: The berries are harvested in the autumn of their second year when they are bluish-black in colour.
Preparation: Juniper berries are at their best when they are still moist and soft to the touch, squashing fairly easily between one’s fingers. They should be dried carefully to preserve the volatile oil. The fresh berries can be made into a syrup. It is possible to make a purée from juniper berries or to extract the flavour and aroma by macerating them in hot water, but as all parts are edible and the texture is agreeable, it is usually just as well to use the entire fruit, split or crushed.
Storage: I have found air drying on a screen and storing in a glass jar is most effective for both berry and needle. Whole branches are stored in a paper bag or wrapping to catch the dried needles as they fall off. The plain wood stores just fine on a shelf in a dry room.
Mythology and Folklore: It is said that ‘he who cuts down a juniper will die within the year’. Planting a juniper by the front door discourages thieves. There are some theories and myths connecting juniper to the world tree. Juniper was burned in the Middle Ages to ward off Plague.
Constituents: Contains phenolics, flavonoids, catechol tannins and polysaccharides, as well as an essential oil which contains a- and b-pinenes, sabinene, limonene, terpinen-4-ol, borneol, geraniol and sesquiterpenes.
Other Uses: Carving, cooking, disinfectant, air freshener, in sweat houses, smoking hides, tea, cooking. Juniper branches were a popular strewing herb.
Other Notes: Juniper often develops massed outgrowths of branches called Witches’ Brooms. Makes great bonsai. A personal favorite of mine, Rocky Moountain Juniper grows all over my area. I like to use it in smudge bundles with cedar, lavendar and sage.