The Juniper shrub (Arkenthos of the ancients), which is widely
distributed about the world, grows not uncommonly in England as a
stiff evergreen conifer on heathy ground, and bears bluish purple
berries. These have a sweet, juicy, and, presently, bitter, brown
pulp, containing three seeds, and they do not ripen until the second
year. The flowers blossom in May and June. Probably the shrub gets
its name from the Celtic
eneprus, rude or rough. Gerard notes
that it grows most commonly very low, like unto our ground
furzes. Gum Sandarach, or Pounce, is the product of this tree.
Medicinally, the berries and the fragrant tops are employed. They
contain juniperin, sugar, resins, wax, fat, formic and acetic acids,
and malates. The fresh tops have a balsamic odour, and a
carminative, bitterish taste. The berries afford a yellow aromatic oil,
which acts on the kidneys, and gives cordial warmth to the stomach.
Forty berries should yield an ounce of the oil. Steeped in alcohol the
berries make a capital ratafia; they are used in several
confections, as well as for flavouring gin, being put into a spirit
more common than the true geneva of Holland. The French obtain
from these berries the Genievre (Anglice geneva), from
which we have taken our English word gin. In France, Savoy, and
Italy, the berries are largely collected, and are sometimes eaten as
such, fifteen or twenty at a time, to stimulate the kidneys; or they
are taken in powder for the same  purpose. Being fragrant of
smell, they have a warm, sweet, pungent flavour, which becomes
bitter on further mastication.
Our British Pharmacopoeia orders a spirit of Juniper to be made
for producing the like diuretic action in some forms of dropsy, so as
to carry off the effused fluid by the kidneys. A teaspoonful of this
spirit may be taken, well diluted with water, several times in the
day. Of the essential oil the dose is from two to three drops on
sugar, or with a tablespoonful of milk. These remedies are of service
also in catarrh of the urinary passages; and if applied externally to
painful local swellings, whether rheumatic, or neuralgic, the bruised
berries afford prompt and lasting relief.
An infusion or decoction of the Juniper wood is sometimes given
for the same affections, but less usefully, because the volatile oil
becomes dissipated by the boiling heat. A rob, or inspissated juice
of the berries, is likewise often employed. Gerard said: A decoction
thereof is singular against an old cough. Gin is an ordinary malt
spirit distilled a second time, with the addition of some Juniper
berries. Formerly these berries were added to the malt in grinding,
so that the spirit obtained therefrom was flavoured with the berries
from the first, and surpassed all that could be made by any other
method. At present gin is cheaply manufactured by leaving out the
berries altogether, and giving the spirit a flavour by distilling it
with a proportion of oil of turpentine, which resembles the Juniper
berries in taste; and as this sophistication is less practised in
Holland than elsewhere, it is best to order Hollands, with water,
as a drink for dropsical persons. By the use of Juniper berries Dr.
Mayern cured some patients who were deplorably ill with  epilepsy
when all other remedies had failed. Let the patient carry a bag of
these berries about with him, and eat from ten to twenty every
morning for a month or more, whilst fasting. Similarly for flatulent
indigestion the berries may be most usefully given; on the first day,
four berries; on the second, five; on the third, six; on the fourth,
seven; and so on until twelve days, and fifteen berries are reached;
after this the daily dose should be reduced by one berry until only
five are taken in the day; which makes an admirable 'berry-cure.'
The berries are to be well masticated, and the husks may be
afterwards either rejected or swallowed.
Juniper oil, used officinally, is distilled from the full-grown,
unripe, green fruit. The Laplanders almost adore the tree, and they
make a decoction of its ripe berries, when dried, to be drunk as tea,
or coffee; whilst the Swedish peasantry prepare from the fresh berries
a fermented beverage, which they drink cold, and an extract, which
they eat with their bread for breakfast as we do butter.
Simon Pauli assures us these berries have performed wonders in
curing the stone, he having personally treated cases thus, with
incredible success. Schroder knew a nobleman of Germany, who
freed himself from the intolerable symptoms of stone, by a constant
use of these berries. Evelyn called them the Forester's Panacea,
one of the most universal remedies in the world to our crazy
Forester. Astrological botanists advise to pull the berries when the
sun is in Virgo.
We read in an old tract (London, 1682) on The use of Juniper and
Elder berries in our Publick Houses: The simple decoction of
these berries, sweetened with a little sugar candy, will afford liquors
so pleasant to the eye, so grateful to the palate, and so beneficial to
the  body, that the wonder is they have not been courted and
ushered into our Publick Houses, so great are the extraordinary
beauty and vertues of these berries. One ounce, well cleansed,
bruised, and mashed, will be enough for almost a pint of water.
When they are boiled together the vessel must be carefully stopt,
and after the boiling is over one tablespoonful of sugar candy must
be put in.
From rifts which occur spontaneously in the bark of the shrubs in
warm countries issues a gum resembling frankincense. This gum, as
Gerard teaches, drieth ulcers which are hollow, and filleth them
with flesh if they be cast thereon. Being mixed with oil of roses, it
healeth chaps of the hands and feet. Bergius said the lignum
(wood) of Juniper is diureticum, sudorificum, mundificans; the
bacca (berry), diuretica, nutriens, diaphoretica. In Germany
the berries are added to sauerkraut for flavouring it.
Virgil thought the odour exhaled by the Juniper tree noxious, and he
speaks of the Juniperis gravis umbra:--
Surgamus! solet esse gravis cantantibus umbra;
Juniperis gravis umbra; nocent et frugibus umbrae.
Eclog. X. v. 75.
But it is more scientific to suppose that the growth of Juniper trees
should be encouraged near dwellings, because of the balsamic and
antiseptic odours which they constantly exhale. The smoke of the
leaves and wood was formerly believed to drive away all infection
and corruption of the aire which bringeth the plague, and such like
Sprays of Juniper are frequently strewn over floors of apartments, so
as to give out when trodden down, their agreeable odour which is
supposed to promote  sleep. Queen Elizabeth's bedchamber
was sweetened with their fumes. In the French hospitals it is
customary to burn Juniper berries with Rosemary for correcting
vitiated air, and to prevent infection.
On the Continent the Juniper is regarded with much veneration,
because it is thought to have saved the life of the Madonna, and of
the infant Jesus, whom she hid under a Juniper bush when flying
into Egypt from the assassins of Herod.
Virgil alludes to the Juniper as Cedar:--
Disce et odoratam stabulis accendere cedrum.
But learn to burn within your sheltering rooms
Its powerful odour is thought to defeat the keen scent of the hound;
and a hunted hare when put to extremities will seek a safe retreat
under cover of its branches. Elijah was sheltered from the
persecutions of King Ahab by the Juniper tree; since which time it
has been always regarded as an asylum, and a symbol of succour.
From the wood of the Juniperus oxycoedrus; an empyreumatic oil
resembling liquid pitch, is obtained by dry distillation, this being
named officinally, Huile de cade, or Oleum cadinum, otherwise
Juniper tar. It is found to be most useful as an external stimulant
for curing psoriasis and chronic eczema of the skin. A recognised
ointment is made with this and yellow wax, Unguentum olei
In Italy stables are popularly thought to be protected by a sprig of
Juniper from demons and thunderbolts, just as we suppose the
magic horseshoe to be protective to our houses and offices.