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juniper, any tree or shrub of the genus Juniperus, aromatic evergreens of the family Cupressaceae (cypress family), widely distributed over the north temperate zone. Many are valuable as a source of lumber and oil. The small fleshy cones are berrylike in appearance. The so-called common juniper (J. communis) is found throughout the genus range and is also much cultivated in different varieties, e.g., dwarf and pyramidal. Its cones are the juniper berries used for flavoring gin and other beverages and sometimes in cooking. The juniper most common in North America is usually called red cedar (J. virginiana) and is found over most of the E United States. Its fragrant, insect-repellent wood, closegrained but brittle, is much used for chests, closets, posts, woodenware, and pencils, for which uses the large forests of these trees have been depleted. Oil of red cedar has been used in medicine, perfumery, and microscopy. It is the alternate host of the apple-cedar rust. West of the Mississippi, J. virginiana can be an invasive species in grasslands and grazing lands, detrimentally affecting ecosystems and agriculture. Other trees are sometimes called red cedar. Western juniper, J. occidentalis, of the W United States (not to be confused with the western arborvitae, although both are also called western red cedar) has edible cones. Native Americans also used the cones of other Western species as food and the bark for fiber. Junipers have been used for incense in Asia and by the Plains people in religious ceremonies. Juniper is classified in the division Pinophyta, class Pinopsida, order Coniferales, family Cupressaceae.
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There are over 50 varieties of juniper and not all are edible, so check first. Savin Juniper (Juniperus sabina)-a popular ornamental shrub, for example is toxic. Many of the small ornamental junipers are not edible. If you are interested in consuming junipers, do more research first. Junipers resemble cedar, which can be confusing. (Eastern red cedar is really a Juniper) Juniper berries have multiple seeds inside the berry, cedar only has one. Even more confusing is that young leaves look different than mature ones. Young are usually sharp and spikey like pine needles, while older ones are scaly, overlapping and branched. The most common and best edible variety is Juniperus Communis. Some other ones that have been used are drupacea, phoenicea, deppeana, californica, horizontalis, monosperma, occidentalis, osterosperma, scopulorum, tetragona. Remember to do more research first. Juniper needles (leaves) can be made into a tea, and have been burned in hospitals since the 1500s as incense to kill bacteria in the rooms. Has lots of medicinal properties. Gin is made from Juniper berries and it is said that people who drink gin live longer and have less health problems. Brown bark that peels away like paper. The berries (have 3, 5 or 7 stones in them) and can only be consumed in the fall when they are ripe (purple), not when green. Be aware some juniper berries take up to 3 years to ripen! There are often unrip berries right next to ripe ones. Never consume unripe berries. Ripe berries are used for stomach problems. Anti-inflammatory diuretic that reduces spasms. Antiseptic for infections. Very popular for urinary infections. Chewing berries helps inflamed and infected gums. Used for colic, bronchitis, coughs and colds. It’s a diuretic because it irritates renal tissue (kidneys) so don’t keep taking it for long periods of time. Do not take during pregnancy. Used to strengthen blood vessels, nerves and the optic nerve, improve night vision, lower blood sugar in diabetics, and to strengthen the adrenal glands, which prevents stress induced visual problems. Vitamin C, bioflavonoids, and sulfur in juniper berries may help macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy by strengthening the blood vessels in the eyes. Strengthens nerves, helps regulate estrogen, anti-fungal, improves digestion for better nutrient absorption. Contains a compound that is similar in structure and function to insulin, which is used to heal and improve pancreas function. Removes uric acid in alloxan induced diabetes. Vit A, B1, B2, B3, C, D, E, calcium, chromium, cobalt, iron, manganese, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, selenium, silicon, tin, zinc, and insulin-like compounds. Used as an antiseptic Contains the same active ingredient in tea tree oil, and the antiviral compound gallotannin, a powerful antioxidant that quenches free radicals. Used to help dissolve kidney stones, and increase stomach acid and enzymes. Male and female plants required to produce berries. When ripe, smash juniper berries and swallow a few. Helps with stomach acidity which is good for acid reflux, gerd (gastric-esophageal reflux disease), but don't take too much because it lowers blood sugar- has an insulin-like compound- don't take more than 5 berries at a time. Leaves can be used as a tea to gargle with for sore throats because the oil content makes it a powerful antiseptic- the green unripe berries are great for ringworm, nail fungus, (very strong antiseptic when not ripebut use only externally) Only use internally when they turn a powdery purple. Do NOT eat when they are not ripe because the oils can cause kidney damage. Never take juniper extract, this could be deadly.
Edible Plant Guide © 2012 Markus Rothkranz
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



any one coniferous plant of the genus Juniperus of the family Cupressaceae. Junipers are monecious or dioecious evergreen trees and shrubs, having an erect or prostrate habit. The leaves are opposite or in whorls. In some species the leaves are scalelike and decurrent on the shoots; in others, sharp, needlelike, and spreading. The cones, which mature in the first, second, or third year, are fleshy. Junipers form thickets among the undergrowth of light forests, along forest edges, in open areas, in sandy regions, and along dry rocky mountain slopes.

There are about 60 species of junipers, distributed in the northern hemisphere. Of the approximately 20 species in the USSR, eight grow in the Caucasus and seven in Middle Asia. The common, or dwarf, juniper (Juniperus communis) is wide-spread in the forest zone. A dioecious shrub or sapling measuring 1–5 m in height, it has needlelike leaves in whorls of three. The berrylike cones have one to three seeds and are blue-black, often with a thin bluish coating; they mature in the second year. The cones contain 0.5–1.5 percent essential oil, which is used to give aroma to wines and liqueurs. The savin (J. sabina), which grows on mountain slopes from Southern Europe to Central Asia, is a low prostrate shrub with an unpleasant odor; it is up to 1.5 m in height and has scalelike leaves and brown-black, drooping, berrylike cones on the ends of short shoots. The young branches of the savin contain an essential oil, which is used in the manufacture of cosmetics.

In the eastern United States there are forests of eastern red cedars (J. virginiana), trees measuring up to 15–30 m in height. Their light and soft wood, with pinkish heartwood, can be easily cut and chopped; it is used mainly in the manufacture of pencils. The wood also yields an oil used as an insecticide and an immersion oil for microscopes. The eastern red cedar is cultivated in Middle Asia, the Caucasus, and the Ukraine (including the Crimea).

Junipers are ornamentals and are often grown in gardens. The ripe dried fruit is used in medicine in tincture form as a diuretic; it is also used in diuretic mixtures (teas).


Derev’iai kustarniki SSSR, vol. 1. Moscow-Leningrad, 1949.
Dallimore, W., and Jackson, A. B. A Handbook of Coniferae and Ginkgoaceae, 4th ed. London, 1966.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


1. any coniferous shrub or small tree of the genus Juniperus, of the N hemisphere, having purple berry-like cones. The cones of J. communis (common or dwarf juniper) are used as a flavouring in making gin
2. any of various similar trees, grown mainly as ornamentals
3. Old Testament one of the trees used in the building of Solomon's temple (I Kings 6:15, 34) and for shipbuilding (Ezekiel 27:5)
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
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