Power Plants: Juniper

via Bryce Wylde

Biohacks, Remedies

Power Plants

JUNIPER (Juniperus spp.)
If you like gin, you’re already familiar with the essence of juniper. The berries, which are found amongst the prickly leaves of the bush, give off the strong and distinctive aroma that defines gin. These “berries” are actually fleshy cones that ripen to blue-black and show up only on the female plant.
Junipers are in the cypress family, and they’re widely distributed around the world. There are dozens of species, but the berries used in gin and in herbal remedies are usually taken from the common juniper, Juniperus communis.
In ancient Rome, coating the body with a juniper-berry extract was protection against getting bitten by snakes, against poisons, and contracting the plague. It was even considered a remedy for feeble-mindedness.
Beginning in the 20th century juniper was often prescribed as a diuretic for treating water retention, to relieve kidney and bladder problems, and externally for muscle aches and pains, arthritis, and even eczema.
Juniper berries contain flavonoids, tannins and many volatile oils that laboratory research has shown to be effective diuretics in animals. These compounds work by irritating the kidney lining, thereby increasing fluid loss by increasing urine flow.
Difficulty: Easy
Hardiness: Perennial in zone 3 to 8
Time to Plant: Early spring or early fall
Time to Harvest: Fall
Location: Full sun
Soil Type: Well-drained; will survive rocky soils
This popular landscape shrub comes in many different shapes, sizes and colours—spreaders, upright pyramidal forms, blue needles, gold needles, and some even with fall colour. Junipers can really enhance a landscape by offer winter interest and colour all year long, but not all of them are suitable for medicinal purposes. Some produce berries that are bitter, and a few are even poisonous. Know what you are eating!
Common Varieties: The best berries come from Juniperus communis, which is common in the wild. Other edible species include J. drupacea, J. phoenicea, J. deppeana, and J. californica. Avoid J. sabina and J. virginiana, which are toxic.
Junipers can be planted throughout the growing season, but for best results plant them in early spring as soon as the ground is workable, or in early fall. Both seasons are ideal for establishing roots before harsh weather like dry summer or extremely cold winters.
Select healthy plants! Look for needles with no signs of browning. Junipers have both male and female plants, and berries only appear on the females. The sex is never marked on the plant tag, so if you’re plant shopping in the fall look for plants with berries already on them.
Locate in full sun and soil that is well-drained—junipers hate being too wet!
Every landscape needs some evergreens, and junipers fit the bill. Not only do they provide four seasons of colour and interest, the taller varieties also help block winds and will provide cover for birds during harsh weather.
Junipers are easy: once they’re established they take care of themselves. But I do recommend a few things that can help.
First, prune them annually in early spring before buds appear: remove any dead or broken branches and selectively remove others to improve air-flow. Never remove more than a third of the plant at one time. Junipers can be lightly pruned again in early summer, but avoid pruning in late summer or fall.
Ensure junipers are well watered in fall: this will minimize winter burn. In areas of high winds, cover junipers in late fall or early winter with a burlap screen. You may also want to tie upright varieties with twine to protect them from damage caused by heavy snow loads.
Junipers rarely have a problem with insects or disease. In residential settings, the browning of lower needles is often the result of dog urine. You don’t want to eat the berries if that’s the case!
In late summer or early fall, look for plump, bluish to black berries. Lay a bed sheet under your juniper, wear gloves and give the bush a shake. The ripest berries will quickly fall onto the sheet. Hand-pick the remaining ripe berries, but don’t harvest the green ones. You may want to come back and repeat this process later on if several green berries remain.
Junipers can be easily found in the wild too, so if you don’t have the space to grow your own, just forage! Always make sure you can identify the species of juniper to make sure the berries are safe.
Wash the berries by soaking them in cold water to remove bugs and debris. Strain them and spread across drying trays or cookie sheets. Allow space between the berries and place them out of direct light in a dry space for up to three weeks. Monitor and remove any rotten berries (they’ll turn brown or have holes in them). After drying, store in sealed containers.
Retaining water? Expel it with juniper berry!
Edema is swelling caused by fluid retention—often in the feet, ankles, and legs, but it can involve your entire body. It requires attention from your physician, because it can represent a more serious underlying condition. But when it isn’t too serious, a natural remedy like juniper berry may help.
Gather a basket or bowl of ripe juniper berries and wash them gently with cold water. Place the berries in a glass Mason jar and fill with 100-proof (50% alcohol) brandy until the berries are submerged by at least an inch. Seal and store the jar in a cool, dark space for 1 week, shaking it daily to make sure the berries are submerged and mixing with the alcohol.
After a week, place the contents in a blender and blend on low speed until the plant material is broken up. Return the mixture to the glass jar and replace the lid. Leave your mixture in a dark, cool spot for 4 more weeks. Continue to shake it vigorously once every week.
When the 4 weeks are up, place a colander over a pot and line with cheesecloth. Pour the mixture into the cheesecloth to strain out the berry pulp and allow the tincture to drain into the pot. Squeeze the cheesecloth to extract as much liquid as you can. Pour the tincture into a glass jar, seal the lid and store. Take 1 tsp with water twice daily between meals.
Joint or muscle pain? Juniper packs can help!
If your joints ache from an arthritis flare-up, if your muscles are sore from intense activity, or if you’re just feeling like a rusted Tin Man, then these juniper oil packs may help.
To simulate a double boiler, pour 2 cups of castor oil into a glass or ceramic bowl over a pan of boiling water, and heat. When the oil is hot, add 1 cup of juniper berries to the bowl and stir. Cover and simmer very gently for up to 3 hours. Check occasionally to make sure there is enough water in the double boiler and that the formula isn’t burning. After 3 hours, the castor oil will have taken up the ingredients of the juniper berries and made your home smell like a fresh forest!
Strain the liquid mixture through a sieve to removing berries and allow liquid to drain into a glass bowl. Add 1 cup of Epsom salts and stir well. While still hot (but not hot enough to burn skin), dip a piece of flannel cloth into the mixture. Let excess oil drip away.
Take care not to spill this oil on clothing, as it will stain! Carefully apply soaked flannel to the area where there is pain, cover with a towel, and wrap with plastic wrap. (You can also apply a hot water bottle or heating pad.) Leave on for 10 minutes.
Remove and clean the area with baking soda and water. If you want, you can apply an ice pack for 7 minutes.
Fast forward to the health food store to purchase Herb Pharm’s Juniper tincture or equivalent. Follow the instructions on the label.
Taking juniper for longer than 6 weeks could result in kidney damage. Strictly avoid in pregnancy and do not use if there is any inflammation of the kidneys.
Don’t exceed recommended dose, as doing so may lead to kidney and skin damage. Overdose symptoms include blood in the urine, increased heart rate, high blood pressure, convulsions, and non-menstrual uterine bleeding.
Juniper may also lower blood sugar levels, so it should be avoided by those with diabetes or low blood sugar, and those taking drugs, herbs, or supplements that affect blood sugar.
Newall CA, Anderson LA, Philpson JD. Herbal Medicine: A Guide for Healthcare Professionals. London, UK: The Pharmaceutical Press, 1996
Leung AY, Foster S. Encyclopedia of Common Natural Ingredients Used in Food, Drugs and Cosmetics. 2nd ed. New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons, 1996.
Robbers JE, Tyler VE. Tyler’s Herbs of Choice: The Therapeutic Use of Phytomedicinals. New York, NY: The Haworth Herbal Press, 1999.
Sanchez de Medina F, Gamez MJ, Jimenez I, et al. Hypoglycemic activity of juniper “berries.” Planta Med 1994;60:197-200.
Swanston-Flatt SK, Day C, Bailey CJ, Flatt PR. Traditional plant treatments for diabetes. Studies in normal and streptozotocin diabetic mice. Diabetologia 1990;33:462-4.

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