Juniper, an ancient plant already known to the ancient Romans: properties and uses

Juniper (Juniperus) is an arboreal plant which belongs to the Cupressaceae.
There are several species of juniper, including the common juniper - Juniperus communis - which provide excellent berries to use in recipes and to produce essential aromatic oil;
juniper sabina - Juniperus sabina - grown as an ornamental plant;
Other species are considered excellent for their high quality wood, such as the Virginia cedar - Juniperus virginiana. Its leaves, with their pleasant smell and green-blue olor, are used for decorations and embellishments.

Properties

Juniper has many herbal properties, which were already known in ancient times to Arab and Greek doctors, as well as during the domination of the Roman Empire. Let's see what they are.

  • Seasonal allergies - In spring Juniper may help in case of colds, headaches, watery eyes, red eyes and sneezing when associated with the therapies prescribed by your doctor or allergist. This is because the plant is rich in resin, essential oils and oxalic acid, which reduce secretions and perform an antiseptic action on the respiratory tract.
  • Digestive disorders - Used in case of stomachaches, dyspepsia, digestive problems and diarrhea. A good way to introduce it in the body is by drinking herbal tea before or after meals, as it prevents intestinal fermentation and also increases appetite.
  • Urinary tract infections - Its essential oil has an anti-infective and antibacterial action, that may be useful to the urinary tract and provide help during urinary related diseases, such as cystitis. Its antiseptic and diuretic actions are helpful in case of water retention, kidney stones, cellulitis and lymphatic stagnation.
  • Respiratory diseases - When inhaled, it is excellent against respiratory diseases, such as coughs and colds, due to its expectorant and mucolytic properties; it is also an excellent natural antiseptic in case of sinus, nose and bronco infections.
  • Rheumatic diseases - Its anti-inflammatory properties make it ideal against rheumatic pains, headaches and osteoarticular inflammation. Its analgesic effect is also used against menstrual pain. The essential oil stimulates the natural production of cortisone. For this reason it is used as a muscle relaxant, after sports and when tension, back pain and stress pains are present.

 

Contraindications

Natural does not mean 100% safe; this is why, as for all plants, juniper oil should be used for external use only, and always under medical supervision if you suffer from some chronic diseases.

In addition, it should absolutely be avoided in case of pregnancy, lactation and for  young children.

 

Practical use

The essential oil of this plant may be used by:

Pouring some drops into a diffuser, a radiator humidifier, or an essential oil burner, in order to disinfect the air, the rooms and the lungs, especially during a flu or cold or when you have a cough. It is also useful in hot water (boiled water), to breathe and to open up the respiratory system when there is mucus.

A few drops can be diluted to wash private parts, although it is best to wash in a consistent amount of water and rinse thoroughly afterwards.

During a hot bath, to relax, it is sufficient to pour quite a few drops of essential oil and stay in the water, in dim light, and perhaps with a few candles to better relax and to unwind at the end of the day.

In do-it-yourself creams, combine juniper essential oil and another suitable oil (almonds, olive or jojoba) and massage it on the legs to promote muscle relaxation, against edema, lymphatic stagnation and cellulite, but also to keep the skin clean and free from bacteria and fungal infections.

As an infusion, leave the juniper berries to infuse for 3-5 minutes in boiling water, to calm down a cough, as an expectorant and to clean and disinfect the urinary tract. In the latter case, it will be useful to take it in the evening before going to bed. Its infusion promotes diuresis and is therefore an excellent adjuvant against cellulite and lymphatic stagnation. It may also help, if taken after meals, to prevent heartburn and some bothersome symptoms of gastro-intestinal problems.

In the kitchen

During ancient Roman times juniper was already appreciated for its aroma. Popular tradition also considered it suitable to keep away evil spirits;  even back then it was burned to purify the air. Its fragrant wood was used to build utensils, so then when used to cook it would transfer its aroma to the dishes. Today its use has almost completely abandoned superstition, and in its place it is used in our kitchens to make tasty dishes, like chicken.

Its slightly sour berries find the highest culinary expression with game, sauerkraut and sausage, and  marinades. The reason is precisely because it helps to enhance and diminish the strong flavor of food. It also goes well with baked fish.
The berries are also excellent in distillation, becoming the base of gin, brandy and medicinal wine. Wood is also used for the smoking of cured meats, such as Italian speck.

Curiosity

A medieval legend tells that, during the flight into Egypt, the juniper was the only that had opened its branches to protect the Holy Family, which was being pursued by the soldiers of Herod. Mary, grateful, had blessed it, and foretold that it would have the great honor of providing  its wood to make the cross.