Breverton's Complete Herbal



Family Cupressaceae, Cypress


OTHER NAMES: Culpeper names it Juniper-Bush, as it often only grows to 6 feet (1.8 m) high. Bastard killer, common juniper, gin berry, geneva, gin plant, enegro. There are up to 66 other species of juniper, and Juniperus communis has the largest range of any woody plant, being found across Europe, North America and the northern parts of Asia.

DESCRIPTION: The small, slow-growing evergreen has needle-like aromatic leaves, and the conifer can grow to 30 feet (9 m), with berries forming on the female tree.

PROPERTIES AND USES: Culpeper noted its use as a diuretic, against venomous bites, for dropsy, stranguary (difficulty in urinating), wind, colic, stomach aches, coughs, cramps, convulsions, eyesight, gout, sciatica and safe childbirth: “The ashes of the wood are a special remedy for scurvy in the gums, by rubbing them therewith. The berries stay all fluxes, help the haemorrhoids or piles, and kill worms in children. They break the stone, procure lost appetite, and are very good for palsies and falling sickness. A lye made of the ashes of the wood, and the body bathed therewith, cures then itch, scabs and leprosy.” Juniper is still used to treat rheumatism, cystitis and kidney inflammation. Juniper oil is used in aromatherapy and for massaging aching muscles. Crushed berries flavor meat dishes and marinades.

HISTORY: Greeks used the berries to increase physical stamina in athletes, and Romans used them as a cheap, domestically produced substitute for the expensive pepper from India. Pliny reported “Pepper is adulterated with juniper berries, which have the property, to a marvellous degree, of assuming the pungency of pepper.” Juniper was used to cure snakebites and protect against infectious diseases. It was burned in homes to ward off the plague. Juniper “berries,” actually black seed cones, give gin its flavor, and its name is the shortened version of jenever or genever, the Dutch name for the tree, or from the French genièvre. Gin was originally known as Holland’s Gin, denoting its Dutch origins.

Natural Contraceptive

In his De Materia Medica, Dioscorides lists juniper berries, when crushed and put on the penis or vagina before intercourse, as a contraceptive. Native North Americans used juniper berries as a female contraceptive, and in Somerset it was used for abortions and called bastard killer.