My juniper berries look like this, not the big pretty ones you see pictured everywhere else online.
But don't get too excited about eating these berries. Sure, you can eat them. They just aren't all that sweet or juicy or filling, any of those things that we really like about blueberries and blackberries and strawberries. The juniper berry isn't actually a berry. It's a seed cone. A baby tree. And that's exactly what the green, unripe berries taste like. The old, dried berries taste like dead trees. The bluish/purplish ones, the ones you want for medicine and eating (if you really want to eat them) have the tiniest amount of flesh on them that if you think really hard about while chewing on might just have a hint of fruitiness about them.
However, juniper berries do have their own grand purposes in life. Some would say their greatest use is as gin, and indeed juniper berries were historically used to sanitize medical equipment (more on that in another post). Juniper is employed in so many ways and for so many conditions that we'll need a few posts to cover them all.
Junipers of the western United States were widely used by Native Americans in treating many medical conditions, especially those related to the urinary tract, digestive tract, and skin.
Time to harvest: Berries--in the fall, after the first frost and the berries have turned blue/purple, and before they start to shrivel. Berries develop on the tree for two to three years; green berries should not be used.
Medicinal uses of juniper berries: Juniper is or has reportedly been used in the treatment of arthritis, rheumatism, heartburn, indigestion, constipation, upper respiratory infections, sinus infection, insomnia, and Staphylococcus aureus. Unfortunately, all that is sometimes recorded is that an herb was used, without detailing how much was used, how it was prepared, or how often it was used. There are references to juniper something being used to treat gout, diarrhea, nausea, hemorrhage, flatulence, bloating, loss of appetite, depression, fatigue, high blood sugars, tuberculosis, herpes simplex 1 and 2, Aspergillus niger, kidney stones, bladder stones, enlarged prostate, and acne.
Preparation: Pick them off the tree (yeah, you could gather them from the ground, but you'd have to bend over to do that, and there are so many on the tree). Make sure to only get blue/purple berries, not green ones, after the first frost. Let them dry for a day or two before storing.
Whole berries: For heartburn and indigestion herbalists recommend eating 1-5 berries per day for 2 weeks. For constipation, 5-8 berries per day as needed. Berries must be eaten whole or tinctured in alcohol to be effective.
Wound powder: Powder the berries (or needles) in a blender or coffee grinder and use alone or add to other wound powders to cure or prevent infection in wounds.
Essential oil: Juniper berry essential oil has been approved by the FDA for limited internal use. To treat upper respiratory infections and sinus infections, put 8-10 drops of juniper berry essential oil in 1 ounce of water in a nasal spray bottle. Administer 4-6 times per day, shaking well before each use. Alternatively, put the essential oil in a diffuser to both prevent and treat upper respiratory infections and other airborne illnesses. (For the curious, about 36 ounces of dried juniper berries will yield about 10 ml of essential oil.) Juniper essential oil diffused at night has also been shown to help alleviate insomnia.
Tincture: 1:5, 75% alcohol (that's one ounce of juniper berries to five ounces of 150-proof alcohol, by volume*). Store the tincture in the dark and give it a good shake once each day. After five days, blend the tincture in a blender and then put it back in the jar and store it in the dark for four weeks. For the last step, strain the tincture through a coffee filter or cheesecloth to remove the herb and pour it into a clean bottle or jar. Store in a cool, dark location.
Tincture dosage: 5-20 drops, up to 3x daily, for a maximum of four to six weeks. Begin with a lower dosage and increase, if needed.
Ointment: Soak 1/2 cup juniper berries in just enough distilled water to cover for several hours. Crush the berries slightly and put them and the distilled water and 1 cup oil (olive, sweet almond, jojoba, avocado) in a double boiler over low heat. Bring the water to a simmer and simmer for several minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and strain to remove the juniper berries. Discard the berries and put the strained oil back in the pan on low heat. Stir in 1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons of beeswax. When all the beeswax is melted and stirred in, pour the juniper berry ointment into a jar and let set. Massage ointment into sore joints and muscles for relief from pain due to arthritis and rheumatism.
Contraindications: Juniper is a common allergen for hay fever. It also affects blood glucose levels in diabetics. Avoid juniper during pregnancy and while nursing.
Cautions: Large doses of juniper, like six cups of strong tea in a day, may cause vomiting, diarrhea, and increased urine flow. Use juniper only for a month or so; then abstain for a week or more before using the herb again.
*If you have Everclear, you can use four ounces of that plus one ounce of water to get a total of 5 ounces of 150 proof alcohol.
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