Monday, April 21, 2014
Also known as: juniper bush, juniper bark
Parts Used: berries, needles
Meridians/Organs affected: urinary, glandular, kidneys, stomach
Properties: aromatic, diuretic, antiseptic, anti-rheumatic, blood purifying, carminative, stimulant, antibacterial, antimicrobial, antifungal, anti-catarrhal, tonic, stomachic, depurative, emmenogogue, anti-inflammatory, sudorific, parasiticide
Juniper is a member of the Cupressaceae family. There are 60 different species of juniper but only ONE is used for its medicinal and culinary aspects: that is the Juniperus Communis.
Juniper can either be an evergreen shrub or tree depending on its habitat and location. As a shrub it is prostrate or sprawling but as a tree it can get up to 12 feet in height. The trees are unisexual with the flower 'cones' of the female trees developing into berries that are first green but develop into blue or black berries when ripe (starting its 2nd or 3rd year). Juniper can be found growing throughout the northern hemisphere nears forests and mountains and growing freely in limestone or chalky soil. They also can be found in the forests of Korea, Canada and Sweden and in the mountains of Hungary and Scotland.
The name of juniper was developed from the Celtic 'geri' meaning 'small bush' and 'prus' meaning 'bitter hot'. This is believed to be the start of European names 'genever' (Dutch) and 'genievre' (French) which became the word 'gin'-the liqueur that is flavored by juniper berries.
Juniper berries were mentioned in Egyptian papyri and have been found in prehistoric Swiss dwellings. The Greeks burned the wood to fight off epidemics; the French used it in hospitals in the 1800's for smallpox; the Romans considered it to be a strong antiseptic; and Galen and Pliny used the berries for liver issues and would recommend it instead of pepper for people who tended towards overeating. Cato the Elder formulated a diuretic wine recipe that seemed to work wonders for people. During the Middle Ages juniper was considered somewhat of a cure-all for bladder and kidney problems as well as headaches; Hildegarde of Bingen used it for pulmonary issues and fevers, and the British considered the berries to be magical and hung swags of juniper on their doors to keep witches and demons at bay. An infusion of the berries was believed to bring youth back to the aging; the French considered it to be a universal panacea; and Dr. Lemery made juniper dragees to give people during the plague so they could avoid infection. (Those became quite a popular item). Juniper has been used to stimulate digestion and improve the appetite, help eliminate mucus from the system, and to stimulate kidney and bladder function. A strong tea made with the berries is also used as a wash for poisonous insect and snake bites, bee stings and dog bites. Among the Native Americans juniper has been used as a urinary tract disinfectant, diuretic and as a contraceptive for women. (In fact, that is what juniper is most well-known for at this time).
The berries are primarily used for urinary issues, stones, gout, rheumatic issues and back pain. The oil of juniper was often mixed with fat in salves to protect wounds from flies, and the berries were used to cause sweating, mucus secretion, stimulate contractions in the intestines and uterus, and help the body produce hydrochloric acid. More recent studies have shown that the berries help lower blood sugar caused by hyperglycemia which means it could prove useful for insulin dependent diabetics. The National Cancer Institute has released information that juniper also has some antibiotic components that are effective against tumors. This might be because juniper contains a high amount of terpinen-4-ol, which is the most prominent component in tea tree oil. Juniper has been found to be effective against staph, shigella, E. Coli, candida, salmonella, strep and pseudomonas aeruginosa. There is no doubt it has many powerful uses for man. However, too much of juniper can also cause kidney irritations so small amounts over a small period are better medicinally. Juniper should not be taken by pregnant women as it stimulates the uterus and menses.
As is the custom with my posts I am including some links below for your benefit. May they prove informative and useful.