Juniperus communis

Botanical Name :Juniperus communis
Family: Cupressaceae
Genus:     Juniperus
Species: J. communis
Kingdom: Plantae
Division: Pinophyta
Class:     Pinopsida
Order:     Pinales

Synonyms: Genévrier. Ginepro. Enebro. Gemeiner Wachholder.

Common Name:Juniper Berries

Parts Used: The ripe, carefully dried fruits, leaves.

Habitat:Juniperus communis is native to  Europe. North Africa. North Asia. North America. It grows throughout the cool temperate Northern Hemisphere from the Arctic south in mountains to around 30°N latitude in North America, Europe and Asia.

Description:
Juniperus communis is a shrub or small coniferous evergreen tree, very variable and often a low spreading shrub, but occasionally reaching 10 m tall. It has needle-like leaves in whorls of three; the leaves are green, with a single white stomatal band on the inner surface. It is dioecious, with male and female cones on separate plants, which are wind pollinated.

Leaf: Persistent, linear-lanceolate (sword-like), about 1/3 to 1/2 inch long, and ternate (arranged in whorls of 3); white stomatal bloom above and green below; sessile (no petiole).

Flower: Species is mostly dioecious, rarely monoecious; male cones small, yellow and solitary; female cones small, round and solitary.

Fruit: Cones are small (about 1/4 inch diameter) and round with smooth, leathery scales; green when young and bluish black when mature, but always covered with white bloom, require 3 growing seasons to mature.

Twig: Slender, smooth, and often shiny; triangular between the nodes.

Bark: Mature bark is thin (less than 1/4 inch thick), shreddy, and red- to gray-brown.

Form: Most commonly grow as prostrate, mat-forming shrubs, but sometimes as upright shrubs or small trees.
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The seed cones are berry-like, green ripening in 18 months to purple-black with a blue waxy coating; they are spherical, 4–12 mm diameter, and usually have three (occasionally six) fused scales, each scale with a single seed. The seeds are dispersed when birds eat the cones, digesting the fleshy scales and passing the hard seeds in their droppings. The male cones are yellow, 2–3 mm long, and fall soon after shedding their pollen in March–April.

Edible Uses:
Its astringent blue-black seed cones, commonly known as “juniper berries“, are too bitter to eat raw and are usually sold dried and used to flavour meats, sauces, and stuffings. They are generally crushed before use to release their flavour. Since juniper berries have a strong taste, they should be used sparingly. They are generally used to enhance meat with a strong flavour, such as game, including game birds, or tongue.

The cones are used to flavour certain beers and gin (the word “gin” derives from an Old French word meaning “juniper”).   In Finland, juniper is used as a key ingredient in making sahti, a traditional Finnish ale. Also the Slovak alcoholic beverage Borovi?ka and Dutch Genever are flavoured with juniper berry or its extract.

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Medicinal Uses:
Constituents:  The principal constituent is the volatile oil, with resin, sugar, gum, water, lignin, wax and salines. The oil is most abundant just before the perfect ripeness and darkening of the fruit, when it changes to resin. The quantity varies from 2.34 to 0.31 per cent Juniper Camphor is also present, its melting-point being 1.65 to 1.66 degrees C.

The tar is soluble in Turpentine oil, but not in 95 per cent acetic acid.

Junol is the trade name of a hydroalcoholic extract.

Oil of Juniper is given as a diuretic, stomachic, and carminative in indigestion, flatulence, and diseases of the kidney and bladder. The oil mixed with lard is also used in veterinary practice as an application to exposed wounds and prevents irritation from flies.

Spirit of Juniper has properties resembling Oil of Turpentine: it is employed as a stimulating diuretic in cardiac and hepatic dropsy.

The fruit is readily eaten by most animals, especially sheep, and is said to prevent and cure dropsy in the latter.

The chief use of Juniper is as an adjuvant to diuretics in dropsy depending on heart, liver or kidney disease. It imparts a violet odour to the urine, and large doses may cause irritation to the passages. An infusion of 1 oz. to 1 pint of boiling water may be taken in the course of twenty-four hours.

Juniper berries have long been used as medicine by many cultures. Juniper berries act as a strong urinary tract disinfectant if consumed, and were used by Navajo people as an herbal remedy for diabetes. Western American tribes combined the berries of Juniperus communis with Berberis root bark in a herbal tea. Native Americans also used juniper berries as a  contraceptive.(Dioscorides’ De materia medica also lists juniper berries, when crushed and put on the penis or vagina before intercourse, as a contraceptive.)

Other Uses:
The berries are used for the production of the volatile oil which is a prime ingredient in Geneva or Hollands Gin, upon which its flavour and diuretic properties depend.

Crafts:
It is too small to have any general lumber usage. In Scandinavia, however, 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. It was also frequently used for trenails in wooden shipbuilding by shipwrights for its tough properties.

In Estonia juniper wood is valued for its long lasting and pleasant aroma, very decorative natural structure of wood (growth rings) as well as good physical properties of wood due to slow growth rate of juniper and resulting dense and strong wood. Various decorative items (often eating utensils) are common in most Estonian handicraft shops and households.

According to the old tradition, on Easter Monday Kashubian (Northern Poland) boys chase girls whipping their legs gently with juniper twigs. This is to bring good fortune in love to the chased girls.

Adulteration by oil of Turpentine can be recognized by the lowering of the specific gravity.

Disclaimer:
The information presented herein is intended for educational purposes only. Individual results may vary, and before using any supplements, it is always advisable to consult with your own health care provider.

Resources:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Juniperus_communis
http://www.botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/j/junipe11.html
http://dendro.cnre.vt.edu/dendrology/syllabus/factsheet.cfm?ID=212

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