Medicinal Trees: Juniperus, Juniper
Twenty-two varieties of Juniper have been noted for their medicinal value: Juniperus ashei - Ashe Juniper, Juniperus californica - Californian Juniper, Juniperus communis, Juniperus communis nana, Juniperus conferta - Shore Juniper, Juniperus deppeana - Aligator Juniper, Juniperus drupacea - Syrian Juniper, Juniperus excelsa - Grecian Juniper, Juniperus horizontalis - Creeping Juniper, Juniperus chinensis - Chinese Juniper, Juniperus monosperma - One-Seed Juniper, Juniperus occidentalis - Western Juniper, Juniperus osteosperma - Desert Juniper, Juniperus oxycedrus - Prickly Juniper, Juniperus recurva - Himalayan Juniper, Juniperus rigida - Temple Juniper, Juniperus sabina – Savine, Juniperus scopulorum - Rocky Mountain Juniper, Juniperus silicicola - Southern Redcedar, Juniperus squamata - Flaky Juniper, Juniperus tetragona, Juniperus virginiana - Pencil Cedar
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Only two Junipers grow in my region, and both are virginiana: Juniperus virginiana var. virginiana (Eastern Redcedar), Juniperus virginiana var. silicicola (Southern Redcedar). These are generally referred to simply as cedar, although they are junipers.
Juniper has a long history as a medicinal herb. Galen stated that Juniper berries, “cleanse the liver and kidneys, and they evidently thin and thick and viscous juices, and for this reason they are mixed in health medicines.”
Dioscorides wrote in de Materia Medica:
Some juniper is bigger, some smaller. Either of the junipers [the bigger and the smaller] are sharp, diuretic and warming, and when burned the fumes drive away snakes. One type of the fruit (called the juniperberry) is the size of a hazelnut, the other equal to a bean— both round and fragrant, sweet, and a little bitter to chew. It is mildly warming and astringent, good for the stomach, good taken in drink for infirmities of the chest, coughs, gaseousness, griping, and the poisons of venomous creatures. It is also diuretic; as a result it is good for convulsions and hernia, and those who have congested or blocked wombs. It has sharp leaves, as a result applied as a plaster and taken as a drink (or the juice taken with wine) they are good for those bitten by vipers. The bark (burned and rubbed on with water) removes leprosy, but the scraping dust of the wood (swallowed down) kills. There is a great juniper too, which some call cypressus sylvestris, some mnesitheus, some acatera, and the Romans juniperus, and it is known to most like cypress growing for the most part in rough places and near the sea. It has the same properties as the former. The lesser juniper some call archeuthis, some, mnesitheus, others, acatalis, the Africans zuorinsipet, the Egyptians libium, the Romans juniperus, and the Gauls jupicellusum.
Dioscorides also wrote of a Juniper wine:
Cedar, juniper, cypress, bay, pine or fir wines are made the same way. Separate the newly cut wood when it gives out fruit, lay it in a bath in the sun or near the fire so that it may sweat, and then mix one pound of this to four and a half litres of wine. Mix it and leave it alone for two months. Then put it in another jar, and having placed in the sun for a while, put it in smaller jars.
We must fill up the jars of wines made like this, for if we do not they grow sour. Nevertheless these medicinal wines are unfit for the healthy. They are all warming, urinary, and somewhat astringent. That of bay is the most warming. A wine is also made from the fruit of the bigger cedars. Mix half a pound of bruised cedar berries to four and a half litres of must and keep it in the sun for four days, and after all this strain it and pour it into another jar.
Wine is also made from the berries of juniper trees, as well as from the fruit of the cedar, which has the same effects.
A Juniper beer was very popular in Scandinavian countries before hops came into common use, and is still enjoyed by some craft brewers.
Saint Hildegard von Bingen wrote:
The juniper is more hot than cold, and signifies excess. Take its fruit, cook it in water, strain this water through a cloth. To this add honey and a bit of vinegar and licorice, and less ginger than licorice. Cook it again, and place it in a little bag, and make a spiced wine. Drink it often, whether fasting, or having eaten. It diminishes and mitigates pain in the chest, lungs or liver. Also, take the green twigs and cook them in water. Make a sauna bath with that water. Often bather in it, and it diminishes the bad fevers in you.
Juniper has also been widely used among British herbalists. Gerard state:
Juniper is hot and dry, and that in the third degree, as Galen teacheth; the berries are also hot but not altogether so dry: the gum is hot and dry in the first degree, as the Arabians write.
A. The fruit of the Juniper tree doth cleanse the liver and kidneys, as Galen testifieth: it also maketh thin clammy and gross humours: it is used in counterpoisons and other wholesome medicines: being over-largely taken it causeth gripings and gnawings in the stomach, and maketh the head hot: it neither bindeth nor looseth the belly: it provoketh urine.
B. Dioscorides reporteth, that this being drunk is a remedy against the infirmity of the chest, coughs, windiness, gripings and poisons, and that the same is good for those that be troubled with cramps, burstings, and with the disease called the mother.
C. It is most certain that the decotion of these berries is singular good against an old cough, and against that with which children are now and then extremely troubled, called the chin cough, in which they use to rise up raw, tough and clammy humours, that have many times blood mixed with them.
D. Divers in Bohemia do take instead of other drink, the water wherein those berries have been steeped, who live in wonderful good health.
E. This is also drunk against poisons and pestilent fevers, and it is not unpleasant in the drinking: when the first water is almost spent, the vessel is again filled up with fresh.
F. The smoke of the leaves and wood driveth away serpents, and all infection and corruption of the air, which bring the plague, or such like contagious diseases: the juice of the leaves is laid on with wine, and also drunk against the bitings of the viper.
G. The ashes of the burned bark, being applied with water, take away scurf and filth of the skin.
H. The powder of the wood being inwardly taken, is pernicious and deadly, as Dioscorides' vulgar copies do affirm; but the true copies utterly deny it, neither do any of the old writers affirm it.
I. The fume and smoke of the gum doth stay phlegmatic humours that distil out of the head, and stoppeth the rheum: the gum doth stay raw and phlegmatic humours that stick in the stomach and guts, if it be inwardly taken, and also drunk.
K. It killeth all manner of worms in the belly, it stayeth the menses, and hæmorrhoids: it is commended also against spitting of blood; it dryeth hollow ulcers, and filleth them with flesh, if it be cast thereon: being mixed with oil of roses, it healeth chops in the hands and feet.
L. There is made of this and of oil of Linseed, mixed together, a liquor called varnish, which is used to beautify pictures and painted tables with, and to make iron glister, and to defend it from the rust.
This admirable solar shrub is scarce to be paralleled for its virtues. The berries are hot in the third degree, and dry but in the first, being a most admirable counter-poison, and as great a resister of the pestilence, as any growing: they are excellent good against the biting of venomous beasts, they provoke urine exceedingly, and therefore are very available to dysuries and stranguaries. It is so powerful a remedy against the dropsy, that the very lye made of the ashes of the herb being drank, cures the disease. It provokes the terms, helps the fits of the mother, strengthens the stomach exceedingly, and expels the wind. Indeed there is scarce a better remedy for wind in any part of the body, or the cholic, than the chymical oil drawn from the berries; such country people as know not how to draw the chymical oil, may content themselves by eating ten or a dozen of the ripe berries every morning fasting. They are admirably good for a cough, shortness of breath, and consumption, pains in the belly, ruptures, cramps, and convulsions. They give safe and speedy delivery to women with child, they strengthen the brain exceedingly, help the memory, and fortify the sight by strengthening the optic nerves; are excellently good in all sorts of agues; help the gout and sciatica, and strengthen the limbs of the body. The ashes of the wood is a speedy remedy to such as have the scurvy, to rub their gums with. The berries stay all fluxes, help the hæmorrhoids or piles, and kill worms in children. A lye made of the ashes of the wood, and the body bathed with it, cures the itch, scabs and leprosy. The berries break the stone, procure appetite when it is lost, and are excellently good for all palsies, and falling-sickness.
An Irish Herbal states:
The berries provoke urine and cure old coughs, flatulence and cholic pains. The gum of the tree expels worms from the body and stops excessive menstrual flow.
Juniper is also an excellent herb to stimulate appetite and to help the liver. It is a natural bitter, and just thoroughly chewing and eating a few berries before a meal can be among the best helps in digestion for elderly and chronically ill people. Care should be taken not to overuse them though, as in large amounts they can irritate the kidneys. Juniper is also good for the immune system and cleaning the blood – a good spring tonic.
Fr. Kneipp wrote of Juniper:
Juniper. (Juniperus communis L.)
Who does not know the Juniper-berry?
Juniper, when used for fumigation, spreads an agreeable odour through the rooms and passages, and improves the air. I am no friend of the so-called "fumigation" with sugar, vinegar, etc. for I do not see how one can speak of fresh air there. But if it is a question of disinfecting a room in which a patient with an infectious disease, or a corpse has been lying, or at the time of infections illnesses to purify the air by fumigating, then I al- ways like such juniper vapour. It thoroughly destroys all fungi, and whatever the volatile infection and disease- bringer may be called. Juniper works with similar effects upon the interior of the human organism. The berries fumigate, as it were, the mouth and stomach, and ward off contagion.
Those who are nursing patients with serious illnesses, as scarlet fever, smallpox, typhus, cholera, etc, and are exposed to contagion by raising, carrying, or serving the patient, or by speaking with him, should always chew a few juniper-berries (six to ten in a day). They give a pleasant taste in the mouth, and are of good ser- vice to the digestion. They burn up, as it were , the harmful miasms, exhalations, etc. when these seek to enter through the mouth or nostrils. Those who are suffering from a weak stomach, may try the following little course with juniper-berries.
The first day they should begin with 4 berries, the second day take 5 berries, the third day 6, the fourth 7, and so increase by one berry every day until the twelfth, on which they will take 15 berries ; then they may continue for five days longer taking each day one berry less.
I know many whose stomach, filled with gases and thereby weakened , has been purified and strengthened by this simple berry-cure. Juniper berries have been noted since olden times as a remedy for stone and gravel, and for complaints of the kidneys and liver ; also in all cases where foul gases, foul, watery and slimy matter are to be removed from the body. Not only the berries, but also the young shoots of the juniper bush are made use of for tea, in the first stages of dropsy, and also as purifying medicine.
The oil is best bought from the chemist. The tincture can be made at home with wine, brandy, or spirit.
I would not praise the father or mother of a family, who were certainly very careful and diligent in preserving their meat and vegetables with berries from the juniper bush, and were punctual and careful in fumigating their dwelling with the same, but who allow ed their body, the dwelling of their soul, to lie in dust and dirt. They ought to apply such a fumigator for this much more important dwelling, at least a few times in the year.
Brother Aloysius wrote of Juniper:
The berries and young twigs are used medicinally. The berries principally have diuretic, diaphoretic, warming and wind-breaking properties and promote digestion. They are especially used for ascites, gastric weakness accompanied by wind, accumulation of mucus, etc. They are also recommended as a protection from intermittent fever, rheumatism and gout pain. The young twigs, mixed with woodruff and wild strawberry leaves, make a delicious and healthy drink, which can take the place of Indian tea, and is certainly much healthier; milk and sugar can be added according to taste.
One of the preparations is juniper oil, which has excellent diuretic properties. The dose is 2 – 10 drops. You can use 10-15 berries for one cup of tea. …. Juniper berries strengthen the nerves, cleanse the blood and the stomach; are also used for kidney, lung and liver complaints, gravel, stones, bladder catarrh, diarrhea and migraines. The decoction of twigs and berries is ½ cup per 2 cups water. The decoction of young twigs and wood is 2/3 to 1 cup per 2 cups water, which can be taken for rheumatism, gout, syphilis, chronic cough and congestion in the chest.
Or, use 3 tablespoons of berries, ground to a powder, and cooked with 2 tablespoons of lard as an excellent remedy for scurf in children; the head should be smeared with it twice a day. A remedy fo phlegm in the chest and coughs, 3 tablespoons juniper berries should be boiled in 2 cups barley water and reduced by half, add a little sugar candy and drink this quantity throughout the day.
Fr. Johannes Kunzel wrote in Herbs and Weeds:
The juniper or Reckolder (Juniperus) is a medicinal plant of the first rank; everything about it is medicinal: wood, needles, berries, bark.
It has the power to warm up, relieve internal colds, cleans everything whatever it can reach, stomach, intestines, lungs, blood, and is therefore used in almost all herbal mixtures, except for hot diseases (such as fever etc.).
Even stronger than the common Juniper is the kind found on the high Alps that creeps along the ground.
Juniper baths are usually a good remedy for old rheumatisms; I have seen old people twisted by gout become straight and healthy again through continued use of such baths; and how people who stayed in bed stiff like a piece of wood for six months were healed by washings and later bathing in Juniper decoction.
Of course, the green Juniper twigs have to be boiled for three hours; the patient is washed with this (warm) water ten times a day all over his body until he is able to take a bath.
Because the bath is very sharp and aggressive, it is advisable to mix it with fir tree or green pine tree twigs’ decoction. The baths must be warm and last for half an hour; At the end the whole body has to be poured over with cold water; if you fail to do this, it is better not to take the bath, otherwise the rheumatism will come back even more severely.
Jolanta Wittib writes:
Whenever I see a juniper with berries/cones on my walk in the forest, I collect a few junipers ripe - black or dark blue ones and chew them while walking.
I love them: they have a sweetish and a very aromatic taste and I know that they will strengthen my body and spirit.
Fr. Sebastian Kneipp, who has already been mentioned more than once in this book, suggested juniper cone therapy after a long illness, exhaustion, after cancer treatment, etc, because Juniper cones clean the body, clean the blood, improve metabolism. They are good for rheumatism, arthritis, they have an antibacterial effect. Besides, they are tasty, disinfect one’s mouth and leave a nice flavor.
Resources of the Southern Fields and Forests states:
CEDAR, (Juniperus Virginiana, Linn.) Grows in upper and lower districts; Newbern. Fl. March. Big. Am. Med. Bot. iii, 49; Pe. Mat. Med. ii, 184; Fr. Elems. 195; U. S. Disp. 413; Mer. and de L. Diet, de M. Med. iii, 698;589 Mich. N. Am. Sylva, iii, 221; Am. Journal Pharm. xiv, 23; Thacher's Disp. 247; Lind. Nat. Syst. Bot. 316; Griffith Med. Bot. 607; Supplem. to the Diet, de M.Med. 1846, 406; Bull, de l'Acad. Eoy. de Med. vi, 478; S. Cubieres' Mem. on the Eed Cedar of Virginia, in French, Paris, 1805; Nicolet's Essai on the Physiol, and Chemistry of genus Juniperus; see Journal de Pharm. xxvii, 309, and Bonastie's note on a volatile oil from the Virginia cedar, in Journal de Pharm. xxi, 177, 1834. The bark is employed in Abyssinia, under the name of Bisenna.
The expressed oil is very useful as an application to rheumatic pains and swellings of the joints. One bushel of the driednshavings, heated in an inverted iron vessel, will yield a half pint of oil. A decoction of the berries promotes diaphoresis, and is also beneficial in rheumatic pains, stiff joints, etc. The leaves act very much as shavings, being stimulant and emmenagogue, and are employed in catamenial obstructions. The cedar berry is used in a popular remedy for dropsy, which is claimed by some to be highly efficacious. We can readily understand the reason that it may prove useful when we remember its close alliance with the juniper berry. It is as follows: take one handful of the seed of the cedar, the same of mullein, the same of the root of dogwood; put into two quarts and a pint of water, boil down to one quart, and add one gill of whiskey. Dose, a wineglassful night and morning. A cerate is made for keeping up the irritation and discharge from blisters; this is quite serviceable, and is prepared by boiling the fresh leaves in twice their weight of lard, with the addition of a little wax. The fungoid excrescences on this tree are thought to be anthelmintic. The wood of the tree is well known. It is sometimes dug up in the mud of our swamps in a perfect state of preservation. It is aromatic, light, soft, bearing exposure to water and weather, and suitable for all kinds of cabinet work, in the construction of posts, staves, buckets, the inner work of houses, and particularly in the building of boats. Cedar boxes are not infested by insects, moths, etc., and are used for storing away woollens. The leaves also prevent the attacks of insects when spread over cloth. The roots make a beautiful purple dye.
King's American Dispensatory, 1898 tells us:
Action, Medical Uses, and Dosage.—Both the berries and oil are stimulating, carminative, and diuretic. The oil is said to act like copaiba in arresting mucous discharges, especially from the urethra. It is contained in the spiritous liquor called Hollands, one of its best forms as a diuretic. Five minims of the oil, with 1 fluid drachm of nitrous ether, given 3 times a day in any common vehicle, produces diuresis in dropsy when other means fail. Combined with an equal part of watermelon seeds, and made into an infusion, I have cured several cases of ascites occurring in children, having them to make free use of it (King). The berries are employed principally as an adjunct to other diuretics, and have been found efficient in gonorrhoea, gleet, leucorrhoea, cystirrhoea, affections of the skin, scorbutic diseases, etc. Pyelitis, pyelo-nephritis, and cystitis when chronic, and particularly when in old people, are relieved by juniper. Uncomplicated renal hyperemia a is cured by it. The indications are a persistent weight or dragging in lumbar region. Dose of the berries, from 1 to 2 drachms; of the oil, from 4 to 20 minims. The infusion (berries, ℥i; aqua, Oj), may be given in wineglassful doses, a pint being taken in a day. It is very useful in the dropsy following scarlatina, and other infectious diseases, and may be combined with acetate or bitartrate of potassium if desired. OIL OF CADE has been successfully employed in parasitic skin diseases, moist eczema, and psoriasis.
Preparation of Juniper.—HOWE'S JUNIPER POMADE. This preparation is a compound of lard, oil of juniper and Fowler's solution, the proportions of which have been published in the Eclectic Medical Journal. Much pharmaceutical skill is required to blend the ingredients so as to prevent subsequent separation. Juniper pomade is useful in "all forms of eczema or tetter. It allays the itching and destroys the vesicles and scales. The unguent may be used upon all parts of the body, though sparingly upon mucous surfaces. It is employed in the nasal cavities with a camel's hair brush to mitigate the symptoms of catarrh, to arrest hay-fever, to heal nasal ulcers, to arrest ringing in the ears, and to improve states of deafness depending upon thickening of the linings of the Eustachian tubes. Juniper pomade softens the scaly patches oil the face which are often epitheliomatous. It has proved an excellent dressing for tetter of the edges of the eyelids, which leads to 'wild hairs', and induration of the tarsal borders. The pomade is reliable in the treatment of sore nipples in nursing women. and it will cure chapped hands" (Prof. A. J. Howe, M. D.).
The Rodale Herb Book states:
Juniper is considered one of the most useful medicinal plants. Stimulating for appetite and digestion, helpful in coughs and to eliminate mucus, it has a diuretic effect, stimulating the function of kidneys and bladder. A strong tea of the berries is considered an excellent wash for bites and poisonous insects, snake bites, dog bites and bee stings.
Rodale’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs states:
Rheumatism, arthritis, bruises, ulcers and wounds are said to be relieved by juniper poultices and rubs. Adding a handful of leaves to warm bathwater is said to sooth aching muscles. For poultices, berries can be simmered in olive oil or simply mashed and applied ot the sore area. American Indians simply tied bundles of the boughs to sore limbs. Juniper tincture has been used externally on painful swellings, bruises and sores.
Sacred and Healing Herbal Beers tells us that Juniper was once widely used in beer brewing. After discussing the various folk medicine and spiritual beliefs traditionally associated with Juniper, as well as its documented medicinal uses, Mr. Buhner leaves us with this very reasonable statement:
Generally, juniper is a marvelous herb to use in brewing, and the taste of juniper ale is good and very refreshing. Given the many benefits from the herb, as a preservative and a medicine, especially on nutrition and digestive health and as a potentially useful herb in the treatment of colds and flu, it seems and excellent herb to use in ales and beers.
Peterson Field Guides Eastern and Central Medicinal Plants tells us:
Eastern red cedar: American Indians used fruit tea for colds, worms, rheumatism, coughs, to induce sweating, Chewed fruit for canker sores. Leaf smoke or steam inhaled for colds, bronchitis, purification, rheumatism. Said to contain the anti-tumor compound podophyllotoxin, best known from mayapple
Botany In a Day states:
Cypress: A tea of the leaves is used internally or externally to stop bleeding and for colds.
Juniper, red cedar: juniper berries can be eaten raw or used in tea. The bitter berries are the main ingredient in gin. Most people would consider them unpalatable, but I have acquired a taste for them. Juniper berries contain volatile oils and resins; they are eaten as a carminative to expel gas and the distilled oil is rubbed on painful joints. Additionally, juniper berries are diuretic, but may irritate the kidneys with prolonged use. They are not recommended for pregnant women. A boiled tea of the fruits and leaves as a treatment for coughs. You may be able to decrease the risk of catching a virus by keeping juniper berries in the mouth while around others who are infected. Also, try chewing the berries when drinking unclean water. Juniper needles can be added to bathwater for a stimulating effect on rheumatism.
Cedar, Arbor vitae: cedar contains toxic volatile oils. It is used as a diaphoretic to promote sweating, emmenagogue to promote menstruation, and as an irritant poultice to stimulate healing for rheumatic pains. It should not be used without medical supervision. It is also expectorant.
The Physicians Desk Reference for Herbal Medicine tells us:
Juniper has been primarily noted for its anti-inflammatory, diuretic, and dyspeptic effects. Because of its ability to inhibit cyclooxygenase, it is useful in inflammatory conditions, such as arthritis. Juniper is used to treat chronic urinary tract, bladder and kidney infections as well as herpes and flu infections. The diuretic effect is probably primarily due to the volatile oil terpinene-4-ol. In addition to drug works to lower blood pressure and may regulate hyperglycemia. In animal experiments a hypertensive, an antiexudative effect was proved. In vitro, an antiviral effect was also demonstrated.
This article is an excerpt from The Medicinal Trees of the American South, An Herbalist's Guide: by Judson Carroll
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Author: Judson Carroll. Judson Carroll is an Herbalist from the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina.
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The information on this site is not intended to diagnose or treat any disease or condition. Nothing on this site has been evaluated or approved by the FDA. I am not a doctor. The US government does not recognize the practice of herbal medicine and their is no governing body regulating herbalists. Therefore, I'm just a guy who studies herbs. I am not offering any advice. I won't even claim that anything I write is accurate or true! I can tell you what herbs have "traditionally been used for." I can tell you my own experience and if I believe an herb helped me. I cannot, nor would I tell you to do the same. If you use any herb I, or anyone else, mentions you are treating yourself. You take full responsibility for your health. Humans are individuals and no two are identical. What works for me may not work for you. You may have an allergy, sensitivity or underlying condition that no one else shares and you don't even know about. Be careful with your health. By continuing to read my blog you agree to be responsible for yourself, do your own research, make your own choices and not to blame me for anything, ever.
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