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Herb Spotlight - Juniper Berries

Herb Spotlight - Juniper Berries

We’re kicking off our Herbal Spotlight Series with Juniper Berries. These berries are one of my favorite things to forage each fall. From culinary to medicinal uses, I just can’t get enough of those little dusty blue spheres. Surprisingly, however, many people overlook them and don’t realize the healing power they possess. Today, we’re going to change that and break down everything you need to know about the mighty Juniper Berry. 

Juniper Berry Meat Rub

What Are Juniper Berries?

To start our breakdown, we first need to discuss the fact that Juniper berries are not actually berries. They are fused female seed cones, similar to the pinecone. However, unlike the pinecone, these cones are round and unusually fleshy with merged scales, giving them their signature berry-like appearance.

Juniper Berries are both a food and an herb, though they are technically classified as a spice. They are the only official spice to come from a conifer tree, and with the exception of pine nuts, Juniper Berries are also the only common food that comes from conifer trees.

It’s important to note that though the berries grow on all juniper species, not all of them are edible. For example, the berries of the Tam Juniper shrub (Juniperus sabina), a popular landscaping choice, are toxic. 

The two most common types of Juniper used for herbal preparations are Juniperus communis Common Juniper) and Juniperus virginiana (Eastern Juniper or Virginian Juniper). In our own preparations, we use Juniperus osteosperma (Utah Juniper) because that is what grows on our family land. 

Foraging and Storing Juniper Berries

Always practice sustainable foraging, and never completely decimate the berries from a single tree. When little else is available in the winter, these fleshy little cones are a food source for birds, chipmunks, mice, opossums, voles, coyotes, red squirrels, and foxes. 

Juniper berries begin to bud in the late summer, and the berries grow until they ripen in the fall, making late fall and early winter the best time to harvest. The berries start out pale green and ripen to a dark blue/purple.  As with any foraging, ensure your identification is positive before harvesting. Once harvested, dry your berries in the sun or a dehydrator before transferring them to an air-tight glass container. For long-term storage, the dried berries may be stored in the freezer. 

History and Folklore

Juniper has been used for spiritual, medicinal, and culinary purposes since ancient times. In Syrian mythology, Juniper symbolized the Canaanites’ fertility goddess Ashera or Astarte. It even appears in the bible’s Old Testament, where a juniper with an angelic presence sheltered the prophet Elijah, and later, a tale tells of a Juniper that hid the infant Jesus and his parents from King Herod’s soldiers during their flight into Egypt.

Juniper has folkloristic roots dating back to medieval times, where it was seen as a protective herb and used to ward off witchcraft and black magic. The smoke of both berries and branches was used for ritual purification and was said to aid in clairvoyance. On the Festival of Samhain, Juniper was burned to stimulate contact with the Otherworld when the veil between the worlds was considered at its thinnest. Juniper wood was also commonly used in Beltane fires to purify buildings. 

Juniper may best be known for its culinary uses with a long history of being used as a spice, particularly for game dishes. Romans were said to use the berries as a less expensive pepper substitute. And, of course, the most well-known use is in the flavoring of Gin, and indeed, the words gin and juniper have a common root. The name gin is derived from the old English word genever, which is related to the French word genièvre and the Dutch word jenever. All ultimately derive from juniperus, the Latin for juniper.

Medicinally, the Juniper Berry has been used for healing dating back to ancient Greece, where the Greeks used juniper berries as stimulants for Olympic athletes. The earliest recorded medicinal use of Juniper Berries can be found in an Egyptian papyrus dating back to 1500 BCE, where it is mentioned in a recipe to cure tapeworm infestations. Famous medieval herbalist Nicholas Culpeper recommended them for a wide variety of conditions, including the treatment of flatulence, for which Juniper oil is still used today. 

Christmas Gin

Typical Usage Of Juniper Berries

Juniper Berries have traditionally been used to treat all manner of complaints ranging from kidney and urinary tract infections to digestive issues, gout, warts, and skin growths. They are well known for their antiseptic properties and were once even used as a disinfectant for surgeons’ tools. Typical medicinal preparations include tinctures, teas, and essential oils. 

Constituents, Actions and Energies

Constituents of Juniper Berries

Monoterpenes, alpha and beta-pinene, sabinene, limonene, terpinene-4-ol, alpha-terpineol, borneol, geraniol5, myrcene, camphene2, camphor and alpha-Endemol.

Herbal Actions of Juniper Berries

Antibacterial, Anti-inflammatory, Antirheumatic, Carminative, Diuretic, Digestive, Emmenagogue, and Urinary Antimicrobial

Herbal Energies of Juniper Berries

Energies include warm, dry, pungent, and bitter. 

Dried Juniper Berries

Precautions, Contradictions, and Interactions

Juniper is potentially unsafe for long-term usage, i.e., past 4 consecutive weeks, as it may cause kidney issues. Because Juniper stimulates the contraction of smooth muscles, it should be avoided if pregnant or nursing. Juniper berries are contraindicated for those suffering from inflammatory bowel diseases or kidney diseases. Avoid combining with prescription medications for diabetes, glucose regulation, or hypoglycemia. As always, consult your physician before beginning any herbal remedies. 


Juniper Berries are one of my favorite wild edible medicinals, and I hope this article has sparked your curiosity about them. If the Juniper tree is not native to where you live, and foraging is not an option for you, you can purchase sustainably foraged Juniper Berries in our Apothecary at any time. 

If you already use Juniper berries, what is your favorite way to use them? As food? As Medicine? Tell us all about it in the comments below, and we would love to see your recipes as well! Until Next time,

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Content from is meant to be informational in nature and is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice. Remember that just because something is “natural” does not always mean it is safe for every person. When it comes to herbal medicine, many plants should be avoided when pregnant or nursing and some can cause extreme interactions with prescription and over-the-counter medicine. 

While we strive to be 100% accurate, we are not health professionals, medical doctors, or nutritionists. It is solely up to the reader to verify nutritional information and health benefits with qualified professionals for all edible plants listed on this website and to ensure proper plant identification. 

The information provided by this site is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Before using herbal preparations, always do your research, speak to a professional regarding any significant concerns, and never fail to seek medical advice when needed.

Herb Spotlight - Juniper Berries

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