Jumpin’ Juniper

Juniper bushes, we see them everywhere. These prickly, low-lying bushes are prolific throughout the peninsula. Juniper bushes (juniperus communis) are natives here, unlike most of us (no matter how long we have lived here). Juniper’s berries are enjoyed by some real Door County locals, cedar waxwings, quail, squirrels, chipmunks, and racoons. These wonderful bushes are home to an abundance of wildlife. A great hiding place for small birds and animals, there is shade as well as prickly protection from predators. We too can enjoy the powerful medicine of these seemingly uninviting evergreens. Juniper boasts a multitude of internal, external and domestic uses. Here are just a few.

Juniper baths and oils, very nice!

Much safer, and I would venture to say more pleasant, ways to enjoy our local abundance of juniper is through the skin. Try bathing in a tub with some fresh berries, in a muslin sac (you don’t want to clog the drain with these!) or a few sprigs thrown in (watch for prickles). I personally like to make a strong infusion in water and pour it into the bath water. The oil is strongest in freshly picked berries, but it is also found in the wood and needles. The mature berries are the blue or black ones. You could also dry them and store them for later use in a sealed mason jar. You can harvest the berries all winter, but do wear gloves lest you scratch the heck out of your hands!

A classic Door County Infusing blend could include Juniper Berries, Cedar Leaves, and some White Pine Needles.

An infusion of juniper twigs or berries could also be done in oil, and then applied directly to tired, overexerted, or sore limbs. My own Trillium Herbal Company uses Juniper Berries, Cedarwood, Pine and Rosemary in the Virgin Forest Aromafusion TM oil. The fresh scent of Door County’s lush forests fills your senses, energizing, cooling and detoxifying your body.

The essential oil is antiseptic and clarifying. Master Aromatherapist, Jeanne Rose suggests an inhalation of Juniper and Rosemary to jog a poor memory. She also says that Juniper is the key ingredient to a very effective treatment for obesity and cellulite, the essential oils dispersed in alcohol and then applied in a vigorous friction rub. Now here’s something we cheese eaters could really use.

Juniper Tea? What a concept!

Yes, Gin is not the only way to imbibe of the jolly juniper. Juniper tea is made from the berries, and leaves. It is spicy, with a flavor much like the smell of the bushes. Juniper tea has been documented as an effective tonic for inflamation of the bladder, flatulence, digestive disorders, respiratory ailments, intestinal parasites, venereal disease, cystitis rheumatism, gout, urethritis and scurvy. Although I have no personal experience of this, some say the tea makes your urine smell of violets; that effect alone makes it almost worth trying. Caution! Juniper is heavy medicine. This is not meant for pregnant women or small children. Taking it in tea is generally safe because it is so diluted, but overdoses can cause kidney failure, convulsions and personality changes.

Juniper Cuisine

Of course, the most famous use of Juniper is the Dutch invention, Gin. The name comes from the Dutch word for the plant, “jenever.” In Europe, the dried berries and oil are used in cordials, liqueurs and even beers. The berries add a lovely piquancy to meats, game and fish. To really get into the local Door County flavor of things, try using the berries to season locally-caught whitefish. Crush the berries and rub the fish before broiling. They are great in herbed vinegars, to use in salad dressings and the like.

Decorative Juniper

The branches make lovely aromatic wreaths. As the scent is a good insect repellant, it would be advantageous to have sprigs or wreaths around doors and windows to keep bugs at bay.

Harvesting Sources:

The New Age Herbalist, by Richard Mabey.

The Aromatherapy Book, by Jeanne Rose.

The Complete Book of Essential Oils and Aromatherapy, by Valerie Ann Worwood.

The Old Herb Doctor, A Collection, by Newcastle Publishing

“An Herb to Know,” by Betsy Strauch, in The Herb Companion February, March 1996