Herb Of The Month: Juniper
I want to share with you some info about a herb you can almost guaranteed to be pretty close by as you read this.
First, some context:
Our exposure to herbs has become so rare that most people now lack pretty much any significant interaction and experience with medicinal plants. So even though Europe has an extraordinarily rich history of herbalism, the effectiveness of herbs is questioned by the average person. Much of the knowledge of how to use plants is underused. It’s not lost, but extremely marginalized, and most people have never picked a plant fresh and ingested it for a specific condition. Even fewer of us manage to do this regularly.
Of course, with a slow revival of natural medicine, it’s slowly changing, but most people still feel most familiar with plants processed into a tablet or capsule, or pre-packaged teabags, etc.
One of my values and passions is to expose clients to the raw plants. For example, on the last Seasonal Retreat Day for my Vitality Recharge members, we went on a herb walk to discover some of the medicinal plants in a typical city park, and every harvested a little and made a medicine with which each person could take home.
Wherever possible, I encourage clients to eat the powdered form of the herbs rather than the pill, or make a tea, decoction, or medicinal ghee from it. Besides the fact that it is a fraction of the cost in raw form, it also brings a new level of interaction with the plant, which awakens the consciousness of our inner healer and brings us one step closer what really heals.
So enter onto the stage the Juniper tree. It’s a great example of a plant that grows absolutely everywhere in the northern hemisphere, but we often pass by on our walk through the park or woods without a second glance. You might know it as the berries in gin (our beloved Dutch genever!) But it’s ubiquitous; traditionally, nearly every culture across the northern hemisphere used this plant – and they seem to all agree that is specifically useful for energetic cleansing.
It has been used to purify both the internal and external ecosystems. For example, chewing the berries disinfects and give you fresh breath, and meanwhile juniper is used in rituals, temples, and homes for a disinfectant effect and energetic cleansing.
It’s the berries that are mostly used. They ripen in the fall, typically September and October, in 3 year cycles. They can be eaten as a handful, used to make a tea, cooked down into sauces and fruit compotes. Just be mindful they have pretty strong flavor from their essential oils.
Although you might think of Juniper as a European plant, it is also known in India’s pharmacopea. Either way, what’s important to note are Juniper’s qualities.
Rasa (taste): sweet, pungent, bitter
Virya (heating/cooling effect): warming. This means if you have a condition of heat, it’s not the best choice for you
It’s also slightly damp, rather than drying.
So this lends itself to reducing vata and kapha conditions. For Kapha you’d have to also watch out to make sure it doesn’t aggravate the moistness.
Areas of Action
It has an affinity to blood and especially the urniary tract. Meanwhile, It’s a nourishing herb, so that means it is useful to help build up tissue, or do the brimhana action (also known as yin in Chinese medicine). But interesting, although it is nourishing and building up, it also purifies. That’s noteworthy because many plants that purify strip away and reduce the tissue.
So think about Juniper for conditions where you need a cleansing effect in the blood or urinary tract, but where there is weakness, For example prostate conditions in older men, or history of chronic (versus hot & acute) infections in the urinary tract, skin or rheuma conditions with Vata and Kapha involvement.
A urinary condition that should come to mind immediately is VK-type or K-type diabetes. In Ayurveda, diabetes is understood as excessive urination that causes excretion of too much sugar, and Juniper can go a long way to correcting the Kapha imbalance driving that condition..
So if you have one of these fragrant bushes in your garden or on a hike you love, pay attention each season, get to know it, and watch out for when it fruits. Leave most for the birds, but try a handful for yourself!