You may very well have a juniper in your own backyard! Common Juniper is often used as an ornamental shrub in contemporary landscapes. In the past, Native peoples of North America used Junipers both for nourishment and medicinal purposes.
Throughout the cool temperate Northern Hemisphere from the Arctic south in mountains to around 30N latitude in North America, Europe and Asia. (according to Wikipedia Commons)
Cultivars of Common Juniper are associated with range:
- uniperus communis subsp. communis var. communis - Europe, most of northern Asia
- Juniperus communis subsp. communis var. depressa - North America
- Juniperus communis subsp. communis var. Juniperus communis - Mediterranean mountains
- Juniperus communis subsp. communis var. nipponica (Maxim.) - Japan
Spreading (30-100cm) tall evergreen groundcover. Bluish berries, actually fleshy cones appearing in April to May, maturing the following year. It can be a shrub or small tree, height reached is very variable on various conditions. Often, it is a low spreading shrub, but occasionally reaching 10 metres tall. Common Juniper has needle-like leaves in whorls of three; the leaves are green, with a single white stomatal band on the inner surface. See image below:
Juniper berries can be quite sweet by the end of their second summer or following spring. They have a somewhat strong flavor, which many people dislike. This can, however, be used as a flavoring in meat dishes.
Oil-of-juniper, made from juniper berries, was mixed with fat to make salves for protecting wounds from irritation from flies. Juniper berries stimulate urination by irritating the kidneys. It is reported that urine produced after consuming juniper berries smells like violets. Juniper berries are also said to help reduce blood sugar levels.
Juniper branches can be burned to repel insects. The berries make a pleasant addition to potpourris. "In Scandinavia, juniper wood is used for making containers for storing small quantities of dairy products such as butter and cheese, and also for making wooden butter knives." (Source, Wikipedia Commons)
Large, and or frequent doses of Juniper can result in convulsions, kidney failures, and irritation in the digestive tract. Some sources report that the bark tea is slightly toxic. The bud resin may irritate sensitive skin. Juniper oil can cause blistering. Remember that this article is no way is intended to offer medical advice; it is merely an interesting resource for those who would like to become more familiar with some useful plants.