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Juniper

An Introduction
Junipers are coniferous shrubs or small trees with long dark needles that produce brownish-black berries. There are around 50-67 species of juniper which are widely distributed throughout the northern temperate zones. The scientific name of the plant is Juniperus communis, a member of the Cupressaceae family and is also known by the names of juniperus canadensis, juniperus depressa or common juniper. Oil obtained from the wood and berries of the juniper herb contains innumerous medicinal properties and is widely used in aromatherapy. It was one of the earliest essential oils found that was used during prehistoric times.
 

Plant Description
Junipers differ in sizes and shapes from other tall trees. These evergreen herbs may grow as tall as a bush, standing upright with their needle-like leaves. They grow up to 20-40 mtrs. in height, to columnar or low spreading shrubs with long trailing branches, and the plant can be either monoecious or dioecious. Their female seed cones are unique, with fleshy, fruit-like coalescing scales which fuse together to form a berry-like structure, 4-27 mm long, with 1-12 hard-shelled seeds.

Leaves of juniper may be needle-like. The matured leaves are awl-shaped, spread and arranged in pairs. They are hard and sharp, making the juvenile foliage very prickly to handle. Oils obtained from the leaves and wood of some species of juniper herbs are also used in some perfumery and pharmaceutical formulations.

The colours of the berries differ in various species; in some, they are red-brown or orange but in most they are blue. Each juniper berry contains a resin (10 per cent), an essential oil (juniper berry oil, 0.5-2 per cent) with pinene and borneol, inositol, a flavonoid glycoside and a bitter compound (juniperin) which make it a rich source of aroma. Usually, the male and female flowers grow on different trees and only trees with female flowers bear fruit. The seed maturation time varies between species from 6-18 months after pollination.

The juniper berry takes two or three years to ripen, so that blue and green berries occur on the same plant. Only the blue ripe berries are picked and collected for further processing.
 
Various Varieties of Juniper
Below is the description of a few species of the juniper herb:

  • Alligator Juniper (Deppeana)
  • Ashe's Juniper (Ashei)
  • Cade Juniper (Oxycedrus)
  • Juniperus Macrocarpa
  • California Juniper (Californica)
  • Canary Islands Juniper (Cedrus)
  • Chinese Juniper (Chinensis)
  • Sargent Juniper (Sargentii)
  • Common Juniper (Communis)
  • Common Juniper (Saxatilis)
  • Common Juniper (Communis)
  • Creeping Juniper (Horizontalis)
  • Drooping Juniper (Flaccida)
  • Eastern Juniper (Polycarpos)
  • Eastern Redcedar (Virginiana)
  • Eastern Redcedar (Virginiana)
  • Southern Redcedar (Silicicola)
  • Flaky Juniper (Squamata)
  • Juniperus Foetidissima
  • Grecian Juniper (Excelsa)
  • Oneseed Juniper (Monosperma)
  • Juniperus Gracilis
  • Phoenician Juniper (Phoenicea)
  • Pinchot's Juniper (Pinchotii)
  • Juniperus Pseudosabina
  • Redberry Juniper (Coahuilensis)
  • Juniperus Arizonica
  • Redberry Juniper (Coahuilensis)
  • Juniperus Rigida
  • Rocky Mountain Juniper (Scopulorum)
  • Savin (Sabina)
  • Shore Juniper (Conferta)
  • Syrian Juniper (Drupacea)
  • Utah Juniper (Osteosperma)
  • Juniperus Wallichiana
  • Western Juniper (Occidentalis)
  • Western Juniper (Australis), etc.

 

 

Brief History of Juniper
The name ‘juniper’ is derived from the French word 'genievre,' which means 'gin', a flavoured spirit. Scientists today have reported finding juniper's traces on clay pots that dated over four thousand years. It has been widely used for medicinal purposes as far back as 1550 BC. Archaeologists discovered a papyrus from ancient Egypt which showed juniper berries as an ingredient for a medicine to treat tape worms.

During the Roman Empire, the dried juniper berries were the common substitute to the expensive and scare pepper.

Egyptians used this oil during burial ceremonies and in their cosmetics and perfumes. In Europe, it was widely used to fight deadly infections like typhoid and cholera.


The most common usage of juniper was in 'junivere', a liqueur prepared from juniper berries. People discovered that when the berries were collected and floated in alcohol, their health agent was transferred to the liquid, which is more readily consumed than the berries.

The best junivere was said to be made by the Dutch. In the 17th century, Franciscus Sylvius, a physician by profession, believed to have invented 'Gin', one of the most popular tonics in Europe at the time Europeans began colonizing the world.

Juniper berries were used by the Zuni Indians to assist in childbirth; by British herbalists to treat congestive heart failure and stimulate menstruation; and Americans used them to treat congestive heart failure, gonorrhea, and urinary tract infections.
 
Main Constituents of the Juniper Oil
Juniper oil is the rich source of pinene, terpinen, and terpineol. These help to make the oils useful for stimulating circulation, fighting skin irritations, and for muscle pains.

The main chemical components of juniper oil are a-pinene, camphene, b-pinene, sabinene, myrcene, a-phellandrene, a-terpinene, y-terpinene, 1,4-cineole, b-phellandrene, p-cymene, terpinen-4-ol, bornyl acetate, cayophyllene and trace amounts of limonene, camphor, linalool, linalyl acetate, borneol and nerol.
 
*Medicinal Properties
Juniper oil is one of the oldest forms of aromatic oils that have been used since prehistoric times. They are used in aromatherapy to stimulate and strengthen the nerves and act as a strong urinary tract disinfectant, when consumed.

The chief use of juniper is as an adjuvant to diuretics in dropsy depending on heart, liver or kidney disease. As the powerhouse of nutrients, they are helpful in treating rheumatism, arthritis, gout, cellulite, acne, dermatitis, blocked pores, psoriasis and weeping eczemas.

The therapeutic properties of juniper oil are antiseptic, anti-rheumatic, antispasmodic, astringent, carminative, depurative, diuretic, rubefacient, stimulating, stomachic, sudorific, vulnerary and tonic.
 

Benefits of Juniper Oil in Brief

  • Oil of juniper is given as a diuretic, stomachic, and carminative in indigestion, flatulence, and diseases of the kidney and bladder
  • Juniper oil mixed with lard is also used in veterinary practice as an application to exposed wounds and prevents irritation from flies
  • Spirit of juniper is employed as a stimulating diuretic in cardiac and hepatic dropsy
  • In France, these berries have been used as a remedy to chest complaints including leucorrhoea, blenorrhoea, scrofula, etc.
  • Juniper berry sauce is often a popular flavoring choice for quail, pheasant, veal, rabbit, venison and other meat dishes
  • Many species such as J. chinensis or Chinese juniper are extensively used in landscaping and horticulture
  • Western tribes combined the berries of juniperus communis with berberis root bark in herbal tea to treat diabetes
  • Native Americans also used juniper berries as a female contraceptive
  • Contemporary herbalists primarily use juniper as a component of herbal formulas designed to treat bladder infections.
 

Precaution
Although juniper is an excellent essential oil for many ailments, it is suggested not to use during pregnancy as it is known to induce labor. Long-term use of juniper oil may damage your kidneys and it's very harmful for the children under 12 years, the elderly people or people suffering from kidney infection.

Juniper Berries in Cooking
Besides being used for medicinal properties, juniper berries are also used as spices. A bitter-sweet taste and aroma of these berries goes particularly well with stronger meats. They are widely used as a recipe ingredient while preparing chicken, pork and certain fish such as salmon.

This aromatic berry is quite popular in some some European cuisines like marinades, stuffings and pates and are also particularly good with cabbage. Juniper is widely used as spice in many popular dishes such as:

  • Venison Medallions With Juniper & Orange
  • Gingerbread Trees with Juniper Berry Glaze
  • Potato Gratin with Juniper
  • Roast Duck with Prunes & Juniper Berries
  • Cornish Game Hens with Pancetta, Juniper Berries & Beets
  • Roasted Quail with Juniper Berries & Balsamic Vinegar, and many more.


Other Factors Related with Juniper

  • When burnt, its wood produces highly aromatic smoke which was used for the ritual purification of temples in ancient times
  • Juniper was a symbol of the Canaanite fertility goddess Ashera, or Astarte in Syria
  • In the Bible's Old Testament, a juniper with an angelic presence sheltered the prophet Elijah from Queen Jezebel's pursuit.
 
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