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juniper - juniperus communis - needle and berry

Juniper, Juniperus communis L.

Juniper, Juniperus communis, is such a versatile shrub! To name some uses, you can eat it, distil it into liquor (gin), dye your wool and varnish your furniture with it. In this monograph we will, of course, mainly discuss the medicinal and magical effects and edibility of this plant, but I wanted to mention it anyway.
From a botanical point of view, juniper is rather extraordinary as well. The full cycle of this plant spans three years and you can observe all phases of that cycle on one and the same plant.

Healing properties of juniper, Juniperus communis

Medicinally, juniper is best known for its effect on the kidneys and urinary tract. As a result, it is known as an excellent plant for blood purification, thus helping with disorders that benefit from this trait, such as acne and other types of skin inflammations, and urine production, thus helping with disorders such as arthritis and gout.
Like many coniferous trees, juniper has an antiseptic and expectorant effect, which means that it can also be used for respiratory infections.

Magical effects of this shrub

Magically, juniper is mainly related to death, the underworld and the ability to communicate with those who are no longer for this world. This association is not surprising since this plant was already used in ancient times to burn in rites related to the underworld. However, juniper can also be used to attract new love and a good sex life.

Botanical description Juniper, Juniperus communis

Juniper is a slow-growing shrub that can develop into a tree of about twelve metres. The shape of the bush depends on the soil in which it is rooted. In good conditions it becomes conical and large, on poor soil it becomes squat and wide, growing to about five metres high.
The bark is rough and knotty. The tree is heavily branched with brown bark on the older wood and reddish bark on the younger wood. The needles are 4 to 20 mm long, pungent and grey-green when young and softer, scaly when maturing. They are arranged on the branches in bunches of three, verticillate and decussate. Each needle has a white stripe on the topside.
The flowers are light yellow if they are male, light green if they are female and sit as strobili in the leaf axils. The fertilised female flowers will eventually develop into berries 6 to 8 mm in diameter, but this takes a long time. Only in the second year do the green berries appear, which will develop into the dark purple berry during the third year. The latter are the berries that we use culinary. These ripe berries contain three triangular and hard seeds.
This process is not linear. It is possible that on one and the same bush you will find flowers, green berries and dark berries at the same time. Juniper has an aromatic, pine-like scent.

Interesting facts

Juniper is protected. If you encounter one in the wild, leave it be. If you want to use this shrub regularly, plant it in your garden. Make sure you buy the right kind. Only the communis is usable.
Juniper was traditionally considered a sacred plant. It was used as incense in temples. Later, juniper got an important role in church rituals, for example as an Easter Palm. That is the reason the berries are still called Holy Berries, Heilige Bessen or Weihbeeren in some parts of North-western Europe. The buds were often sprinkled on the floor in temples and later in churches, probably because of their aromatic scent.

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