The juniper tree can be identified by its stiff and needle-like blue-green leaves, short reddish-brown trunks, small yellow flowers and blue or black fruits or berries (produced by the female trees).
The tree can grow anywhere between six to 25 feet high. The leaves, which grow in whorls of three on the woody twigs, emit a lemon- or apple-like fragrance when crushed.
Both the branches and the berries of the leaves have been used since ancient times for medicinal and spiritual purposes.
Juniper essential oil is traditionally steam-distilled from the needles, twigs, wood and berries. However, juniper berry oil, which is extracted solely from the berries, is superior in quality.
The Greeks used Juniper as a purifying herb and the original Olympians believed the berries increased physical stamina in their athletes. The ancient Egyptians used Juniper extensively as a medicine and also to embalm their dead. As recently as world war II French nurses burned Juniper in hospital rooms to fumigate them.
During the middle ages Europeans believed that planting a Juniper beside the door kept witches out but the tree could not provide complete protection, a witch could still enter if she correctly guessed the number of its needles!
By the 17th century Juniper was a popular diuretic (increasing urine flow). Culpeper wrote 'Juniper provokes urine exceedingly; it is so powerful remedy against the dropsy that it cures the disease'.
The Chinese, American Indians, and old European cultures of medicine all highly regarded Juniper as a blood purifying kidney tonic. One of the great European herbalists of the 20th century, R.F. Weiss, prescribed Dandelion in the spring and Juniper in the autumn for chronic arthritis, gout, neuralgia, and rheumatism.