According to some paleoethnobotanists Juniper has been our closest magical plant ally since Neolithic times. Juniper was already mentioned in the ancient Egyptian papyri; its fragrant wood, needles and berries were used as incense and medicine. Juniper is said to have the power to ward off evil. No demons or devils could withstand its power, not even the demons of disease: fumigating a space with Juniper will kill off germs and purify the air in a sick room. When the Black Death ravaged Europe, Juniper was one of the most promising and effective protectors. Yet, it was also considered a guardian of the threshold between this world and the next. Like Yew, it was thought to nurture the souls of the dead until they were ready to reincarnate. For this reason they were often planted on graves. In Egypt they also played a role in the mysteries of the dead. Juniper berries were found in the sarcophagi and even in the hand of one of the pharaohs, as if he had intended to pay the ferry man with these seeds. Country folk respected Juniper so highly that they would tip their hats in passing. All sorts of magical powers were ascribed to it: It was said to retrieve lost objects, protect against venomous beasts and guard against spells of faintness and weakness, to name but a few. Some of these old folk uses certainly are based on empirical evidence. Juniper indeed repels biting bugs and its stimulating properties can 'preserve the spirit' and prevent dizziness and weakness. But today, it is another kind of 'spirit preservation' Juniper is best known for: it contributes its unique flavour to Gin. Juniper is not frequently encountered in the kitchen these days, though previously it was a common spice, particularly favoured for greasy meats.
Just as Juniper smoke is purifying and cleansing, the berries cleanse the body and protect against infection. The berries act diuretic and diaphoretic. They are specifically indicated for urinary problems and oedema, though it should be avoided in cases of acute kidney inflammation. Juniper is particularly useful for the treatment of arthritis and rheumatism, neuralgia and muscle aches and pains. They strengthen and cleanse the stomach and digestive tract. Juniper may be used to stimulate menstrual flow, to relieve menstrual cramping and other PMT related symptoms. Juniper is very energising and restoring and can help coping with nervous exhaustion, mental fatigue, angst and other stressful conditions. Although food doses are acceptable; avoid in larger therapeutic doses in pregnancy and breastfeeding.
Juniper is a purification plant par excellence. It can be used to cleanse ritual spaces or magical tools. It is strongly protective and dispels negative energies and entities. It is often used as incense in healing rites and to purify the sick room. During meditation it helps focussing and concentration. It has also been associated with prophecy and divination. Juniper can be used in rites of passage and as a protector on shamanic journeys to the Otherworld. It is an excellent herb for getting in touch with the deities and spirits of nature.
Not all herbs are suitable in pregnancy, breastfeeding or for young children, or if you are unwell, or taking any medication. If in doubt, please ask a medical herbalist or healthcare practitioner.