|Juniperus communis subsp. communis
in the Netherlands
Juniperus communis, the Common Juniper, is a species in the genus Juniperus, in the family Cupressaceae. It has the largest range of any woody plant. It is all over the cool temperate Northern Hemisphere. It can be found in North America, Europe and Asia.
It is too small to be used for lumber. In Scandinavia, however, juniper wood is used for making containers. These containers store small amounts of dairy products such as butter and cheese. In Estonia juniper wood is valued for its long lasting and pleasant aroma. Various decorative items (often eating utensils) are common in most Estonian handicraft shops and households.
Its astringent blue-black seeds, commonly known as "Juniper berries", are too bitter to eat raw. They are usually sold dried and used to flavour meats, sauces, and stuffings. They are generally crushed before use to release their flavour. The berries are used to flavour certain beers and gin. The Slovak national alcoholic beverage Borovička is also flavoured with juniper berry extract.
Juniper berries have long been used as medicine by many cultures. Juniper berries act as a strong urinary tract disinfectant if eaten. They were used by Native Americans as an herbal remedy for diabetes. Western American tribes combined the berries of Juniperus communis with Berberis root bark in a herbal tea. Native Americans also used juniper berries as a female contraceptive.
As the cones need more than a year to become ripe, both ripe and unripe cones can be seen together, as on this tree on Saaremaa, Estonia
Images for kids
Juniperus communis wood pieces, with a U.S. penny for scale, showing the narrow growth rings of the species.
Common Juniper Facts for Kids. Kiddle Encyclopedia.