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Common juniper (Juniperus communis) is part of the cedar family. There are two types of juniper, the common juniper and the cedar-like juniper (Juniperus spp.). Both species have edible berries and similar medicinal qualities.
Common Juniper as a Food Source
Common juniper is a tall shrub. It has bluish-purple to bluish-green berries. The berries appear in the first year as a greenish color. They become ripe and ready to eat in the second year after they have turned a bluish purple color. They are best picked late in the fall or early spring of their fourth year.
The berries taste just like the plant smells. It is a hard flavor to define, but some call it a “pitchy flavor.” Juniper is mostly used as a seasoning for other dishes. It is added to stews and soups. It makes a wonderful seasoning for wild game meat such as moose or venison. The berries can be roasted and ground up to make a coffee substitute. They are also used to make flavored alcoholic beverages.
Common Juniper as a Medicine
Junipers have antiseptic properties. The National Cancer Institute has done studies showing the effectiveness of juniper’s antibiotic compounds against tumors. During the Dark Ages, juniper was used to sterilize the needles and bandages during the Plague. Doctors would hold the berries in their mouths to prevent getting the Plague and other diseases. A salve made from juniper will not only treat wounds, but keep insects away from the injury. It has been shown to help lower blood sugar level in people with hyperglycemia. Junipers can stimulate sweating and mucous secretions. It is used to cleans the bladder and kidneys and will give your urine a violet-like odor. It will cause contractions in the uterus and intestines. Some native groups used juniper as a birth control.
Other Uses for Juniper
The berries on the juniper plant make really nice beads. First they are dried then smoked over a greased fire to turn them black. They are then polished up to a shine. Oftentimes they were used interchangeably with wolf willow beads. A smudge stick made from juniper makes a wonderful insect repellent. Some native groups used juniper in their religious ceremonies and to line the floors of their sweat lodges. It is believed that juniper brings good luck to those that use it around their home and drives away evil in all its forms. During Christmas it will make your house smell like you have a real tree in it. Just keep some in a vase around your home. It is a wonderful addition to potpourris.
Warnings for Using Juniper
Juniper aggravates the kidneys. People with kidney or bladder problems should not use juniper. Pregnant women should not use juniper internally because it is associated with a high risk for miscarriages. Juniper oil can be extremely strong and result in blisters, especially on sensitive skin.
Kershaw, Linda, Edible & Medicinal Plants of the Rockies, Lone Pine Publishing,
Willard, Terry Ph. D., Edible and Medicinal Plants of the Rocky Mountains and Neighbouring Territories, First Edition (Wild Rose College of Natural Healing, Ltd)