Courtesy of M. Michener
Courtesy of M. Michener

 Juniper, Juniperus communis

Family:Cupressaceae, the Cypress Family

Description: Native low, evergreen shrub. Leaves needle-like with central stripe, tapering to a sharp point. Seed cones resemble a light blue-green berry found in axils of branches.

Abundance: Common

Habitat: Dry fields, shores, coastal headlands

Plant Parts Used: Seed cones

Food: Gin, pemmican

Medicine: Balancing hormones, staph infections, bladder

Anyone familiar with gin knows the smell of juniper. The name “gin” in fact comes from the Dutch word for juniper, “genever.” However, according to Patti, true juniper gin is often hard to find because gin is now frequently made with “natural flavors” instead of true distilled juniper. Patti experienced the struggle of finding  true juniper gin when she was searching for some for her daughter, who needed help normalizing her hormone production. Patti’s knowledge of juniper as a hormone balancer led her to try treating her daughter with Bombay Sapphire Gin, 5 drops in juice or water 1-2 times per day, to slow down her production of hormones, which was leading to early breast development She recalled administering this treatment for about three months and said it slowed down her daughter’s hormone production. Similarly, the Cree, Woodlands, Delaware, and Ontario Native Americans used the branches and bark for treating “women’s diseases” or “women’s troubles.” The Cheyenne burned juniper leaves to promote delivery at childbirth and the Cree made a decoction of the branches for treating a woman’s sickness after she gave birth.

Juniper aril, courtesy of M. Michener
Juniper seed cone, courtesy of M. Michener

Ray adds the berries (actually fleshy seed cones) to pemmican, a mixture of dried meats. Medicinally, John told me that these seed cones make a bladder-supporting tea. According to Arthur, juniper is especially good for treating staph infections. Native American tribes all around North America have frequently used juniper as a pulmonary aid, such as for respiratory infections, and for preventing and treating colds, flus, and fevers.

Caution: Juniper should not be used during pregnancy. According to Turner and Von Aderkas, prolonged use can cause kidney damage so should not be used if the kidneys are already inflamed. Also, the safety of juniper’s use as a diuretic has been questioned.

Note: This post is part of my Plants and People series. See my Plants and People page for more information about the project and the people referenced in this post.


  • Brooks, John. Personal Interview. 28 Nov. 2010.
  • Chilton, Patti. Telephone interview. 31 Oct. 2010.
  • Haines, Arthur. “Preserving Native Plant Knowledge.” Somes-Meynell Wildlife Sanctuary, Mt. Desert, Maine. 9 Oct. 2010. Lecture.
  • Michener, Martin C. Botany Everywhere: Woods, Field, Home, and Garden Plants of NE USA, Third Edition. Hollis, NH: MIST Software Associates, Inc., 2009. PDF.
  • Mittelhauser, Glen H., Linda L. Gregory, Sally C. Rooney, and Jill E. Weber. The Plants of Acadia National Park. Orono, Me.: University of Maine, 2010. Print.
  • Moerman, Daniel. “Native American Ethnobotany: A Database of Foods, Drugs, Dyes and Fibers of Native American Peoples, Derived from Plants.” UM-Dearborn College of Arts, Sciences, and Letters. Web. 14 Dec. 2010. <;.
  • Moerman, Daniel E. Native American Medicinal Plants: an Ethnobotanical Dictionary. Portland, Or.: Timber, 2009. Print.
  • Turner, Nancy J., and Patrick Von Aderkas. The North American Guide to Common Poisonous Plants and Mushrooms. Portland:  Timber, 2009. Print.