Juniper Myth and Medicine

Phoenix – I collected some Juniper and have been stringing Juniper beads the last few days, and usually the seeds are hard and you can’t get a needle through it but I thought I would try again. Its time consuming but this time I found a batch of junipers trees next to Pluto’s Cave (a vent coming off of Mt Shasta) and I must have picked them just before the seed hardened and I got to finally sew a row of beads for a few necklaces.

Six months later, I would need to drink some Juniper infused water for a detox, which helped me immensely. Its very strong and potent as an herbal medicine. Now I have to wait to see if the berries get dry and crumbly for the necklaces, which is the other issue I have had, once strung. They did work out ok.

I also used juniper beads in all of my rattles and rattle making from the first time after I met an Apache my age who we became friends and he took me deep into their lands in Arizona, to pick some from their shaman’s juniper trees. He asked me if I wanted to walk in the desert another two hours to meet his shaman but it was summer, over 100 degrees and I had just finished my third vision quest in a cave in Arizona and was exhausted.

I told him next time, I wished I would have had the strength back then to meet their Navajo shaman in the cave. I was completed with my journey at the beginning of 2018 and gave both my drum and all my rattles to the ocean, so she holds them now.



Mt Shasta in Juniper Valley.
My string of Junipers for a few necklaces.

In Scottish Folk Magic

Síla of the Trees

Saining with the smoldering Juniper
our prayers rise with the smoke
dancing and spiraling into the sky.

Bathing ourselves in the scented,
energy-filled clouds, opening ourselves
to the cleansing wind blowing in from the sea.
“Am goeth i muir” – I am a Wind on the Sea.

Saining with smoke is usual not only at quarter days but at other times. The most common plant used for Saining with smoke is Juniper (known as iubhar-Beinne in Scottish Gaelic the Mountainous/rock Yew or bountiful yew)or the Rowan (Called Caorran in Scottish Gaelic and used, whilst smouldering, as in the Snaim charm).

I have found some mention of the smoke from a burnt bannock (recipe for which can be found here) but I can’t find a reference for this. We do know charred bannocks were common at the Quarter festivals however and it may be a great excuse for my bad cooking skills.

This plant is a protection by land and sea, and no house in which it is will take fire. Shrovetide [the Tuesday before Lent] was one of the great days for ‘saining’ cattle, juniper being burned before them, while other superstitious precautions were taken to keep them free from harm.”

Juniper was primarily used and burnt in such quantity as to fill the whole household with smoke. People and animals alike would sit in the smoke until they coughed and sputtered and had no other choice but to leave and wait for the smoke to recede. This was usually done on New years day.

“Juniper is another tree whose branches were sometimes hung above the doors and windows on auspicious days or burned in the fire. Juniper burning, which formed part of the New Year rituals in some parts of the country, seemed to have a dual purpose. Not only was it supposed to ward off witches and evil spirits but, at a more practical level, it cleansed the house of pests and diseases.

The branches were dried beside the fire the night before, and when all the windows and doors were shut, fires were lit in each room until the whole house was full of their acrid smoke. When the coughing and sputtering inhabitants could stand it no longer, the windows were opened, and the process was repeated in the stables. Interestingly, the smoke of burning juniper is also used for spiritual cleansing in Nepal, where it plays a key part in puja ceremonies such as those held before attempts to climb Mount Everest.”

“Juniper, or the mountain yew, was burned by the Highlanders both in the house and in the byre as a purification rite on New Year’s morning. Like all magical plants, it had to be pulled in a particular manner. The Druids, as we have seen, had considerable medical skill. They knew all that was known of botany and chemistry, and to them fell the selection of the herbs for the mystic cauldron.

These were gathered at certain phases of the moon. Magical rites were employed in the culling; sexual abstinence, silence, a certain method of uprooting, and occasionally sacrifice was necessary. Long after the disappearance of the Druids, herbs found by sacred streams were used to cure wounds and bruises and other ills, and traces of the rites and runes linger in folk tradition.

Many people us Juniper like Sage and smoke it up or fire it up to do cleansing on the self, others or personal spaces. I ran across an article on Sain, which is a traditional Scottish Smudge used for ceremony.

I use juniper in some of my sacred ceremonies and some sacred art work, but mostly in bowls or adding it to my folk smudge. I hang my strings of any types of beads I make, such as Rosehips, Madrone or Juniper etc., in a dark closet, so they can dry and process with the night energy or moistness. I work with elements of air, fire, earth water and night, day, sun, moon in all things I do as a shaman in seasonal cycles. Night  (dark drying), has seemed to help with most things I string in the way of natural berries into beads, and that helps it keep the moisture in.

Since night (moon) is moist (called fertility outside the context of women or birth or agriculture), and day (sun) is a dry or drying element within natures principles, I just apply the natural element to what even makes things grow and die. Also witch hazel took the stickiness off my hands and needle very easily after I was done. I found a nice article, and added a few of my comments along the way…

Juniper – Originally published at Beltane in 1996 by Rowan:

Juniperus communis is a shrub, typically growing from 4 – 8 feet with the leaf form of needles. Its color ranges from a deep blue, to deep or light green and sometimes a bluish or blue-green tinge depending upon where it grows on earth. In some folk traditions, its called the needle yew.

The berries are abundant, and usually take two to three years to fully ripen. When fully ripe, the berries are about the size of a pea and have a wonderful aromatic resiny pine scent.There is some evidence that the juniper may have been one of the first shrubs to grow as the ice sheets retreated 12,000 years ago.

Extremely hardy, juniper was able to establish itself on the emerging tundra and some even have thorns to have given protection from grazing animal to other, less well protected, trees. Hawthorne, a very old shrub tree as well, may have been one of the oldest tree shrubs also.

Juniper in the Kitchen

The Comanche and the Lakota American Indians use the berries of the eastern red cedar (juniper), eating them whole and also crushed as a spice for soups, meats, and stews. The berry is much smaller than that of the common juniper. It’s also sweeter and less harsh, without those “turpentine” qualities.

The berries can be eaten dried, fresh, chopped, or powdered to impart a sharp, peppery flavor to balance the richness of winter game, meats, soups, and stews. Right before using the berries, you can also grind and sprinkle them on meats as a seasoning, or make a juniper sugar for blueberry scones (add extra juniper spice if you’re using foraged eastern red cedar berries, as their flavor is more subtle).

Try chocolate sables with juniper sugar for a treat that’s not too sweet and more on the order of a European-style biscuit cookie. Juniper berries are also a traditional ingredient in making German sauerkraut and they pickle well on their own. On the savory side, the Wong family’s favorite is wintertime cauliflower soup with wild juniper.

The pepperiness of the juniper balances the creaminess of the cauliflower exquisitely.

The whitish blush on the outside of juniper berries is wild yeast. You can make a sourdough starter by mixing a cup of flour, three or four berries and 1/4 cup water in a glass jar. Let sit in a warm place, loosely covered, until the mixture begins to form.

Remove the berries and use the starter as you would any other sourdough starter. Some people have also brewed beer with the yeast from juniper berries. Whenever using wild yeasts, be wary of contamination by other bacteria. If you notice any discolored patches or growths in your starter, discard it immediately.

*Note:  Their are about 50 species of Juniper shrubs, trees and only a few that are poisonous, the only one I could find that was, is: Juniperus sabina, toxic and consumption of them is inadvisable.

Juniper Tree ©2006 Edith Krueger-Nye.

Juniper Medicinal

Common Benefits of Juniper Berries –
A source of Vitamin C and the mineral Cobalt. Juniper is used to address digestion problems including upset stomach, intestinal gas, heartburn, bloating, and loss of appetite, as well as gastrointestinal infections. It is also used to treat urinary tract infections and kidney and bladder stones.

Historically, juniper berries have been used only to treat bladder or kidney issues and infections and were used in tea as a way to disinfect surgeon’s tools. The antiseptic properties of juniper berry helps aid in the removal of waste and acidic toxins from the body.

Improved Digestiom – If heartburn and indigestion are a problem for you, juniper could help ease your discomfort. Juniper is one of a group of herbs referred to as bitters or astringents because of their somewhat bitter flavor. The University of Michigan states one of the main benefits of bitter herbs is their ability to improve digestion.

When you eat them, bitters cause saliva, digestive enzymes and stomach acid secretions to increase. This increase in the body fluids needed for digestion helps in the break down of food and, thus, improves digestion.

Diuretic Properties – In addition to improving overall digestion, eating juniper berries may relieve symptoms of bloating and water retention. According to the University of Michigan, juniper is a diuretic, meaning it increases urine output. Diuretics are useful when attempting to combat excess water retention in the body, which is often caused by eating too much sodium or from inflammation and injury. The University notes that because of its diuretic action, juniper may prevent urinary tract infections by helping to flush out toxins and bacteria in the urinary system.

Antimicrobial and Antifungal Properties

According to researchers at Shiraz University of Medical Sciences, juniper berry combats both gram-negative and gram-positive bacteria. Gram-negative bacteria are the cause for E. coli, pneumonia and gonorrhea, while gram-positive bacteria cause Staphylococcus aureus. S. aureus is a common infection that people acquire in hospitals and it is often resistant to antibiotics; you have probably heard it called MRSA. Since pharmaceuticals are often ineffective at treating MRSA, juniper berry could be an effective alternative to help combat infections. 

Role as an AntioxidantElder Mountain Dreaming Juniper Tree and Berries 107
According to a study published in the medical journal “Pharmacology Research,” juniper berries contain high amounts of antioxidants. These compounds help to neutralize free radicals in the body, which eventually lead to the development of diseases like cancer, arthritis and cardiovascular disease. Antioxidants also maintain healthy, youthful skin by fighting wrinkles and lines, aiding in cell regeneration and reducing inflammation.

Juniper essential oil is used in alternative medicine, most commonly aromatherapy and say approximately 100g of berries are required to produce 1 g of oil, which is at its most concentrated just at the time that the berries finally ripen. Harvesting usually takes place around September and October when the berries tend to make the final “push” towards maturity. The oil is relatively light, of a greenish-yellow color and has a balsamic, woody and fresh scent. It tends to evaporate quite easily so must be kept well-stoppered and away from heat.

The Hopi native americans and the Navajo people boil up the green parts of the shrub and consume them to treat stomach disorders. A few drops of the oil may be used cosmetically mixed with distilled or spring water to produce skin care products which, used as a wash or cleanser, are useful for oily skins which are prone to infection. During the 1918 Spanish Flu epidemic, which is believed to have killed some 20,000,000 people worldwide, a number of hospitals experimented with spraying vaporized essential oils into the atmosphere of flu wards in an attempt to prevent air-borne infection spreading.

Juniper was one of the oils which was found to be particularly effective – the others being lavender and thyme, which have both come back into use more recently as antiseptics and disinfectants. According to Robert Tisserand, juniper twigs and rosemary leaves used to be burned to purify the air as well as being widely used in Slavic (Yugoslavian) folk medicine for treating virtually everything.

Juniper Peasant Traditions

Dreaming Folk Traditions – Some of the old records of divinatory significance of Juniper, say that the appearance of Juniper in dreams has several meanings: “If one of dreams of the Juniper Tree itself, there maybe a sickness that juniper berry or needles may help with. To dream of gathering the berries in winter, denotes prosperity and health.

To dream of the actual berries signifies that the dreamer will be appreciated for something. To a woman who is pregnant, to dream of Juniper foretells the birth of a male child.” The largest body of folklore concerning Juniper comes from Iceland where it was traditionally believed that Juniper and Rowan could not grow together because each creates so much heat that one or other of the trees would be burn up. For sage and folk smudge its a good combination if heat and fire is needed to purify shadow.

It was considered not a good idea to bring sprigs or the wood into the house together unless you particularly wanted your house or area to burn. (I can attest this to be true because when I brought some home to make necklaces and sprigs for my folk smudge, the hill around the lake near here caught on fire that night ~Phoenix).

Another Icelandic belief has it that if you are building a boat, you must either use both juniper and rowan wood or use neither of them in the boat, otherwise it will sink. In Wales it was said that anyone who cut down a juniper tree would be dead within a year, while in Newfoundland it was believed that wolves and bears are repelled by juniper wood and for this reason people who kept stock would ensure that juniper wood was used in building enclosures or stockades in which livestock would be kept.

Also in Newfoundland it is believed that you will always find water under a juniper tree, though this seems to contradict the natural history of juniper which, as mentioned above, generally grows best on limestone or chalk soils which are usually well-drained.

Juniper Mystical and Magic Traditions

Manifestation – for incense intended for use in rituals where manifestation is an important part of the working with charms, prayers, evocations, where lots of smoke is helpful to the working (which adds the power of the air element).

Purification – as an incense or “smudge” in most rituals of purification, including the blessing of houses and other buildings or land, and for dedicating new working areas and temples; for animals; and for purifying people, for example baby-blessing ceremonies, women’s initiations, sweat lodges etc.

Magical uses – From the point of view of witches and occultists, the juniper’s most common use is in the making of incense, for which both the dried berries and needles and the essential oil are used. The berries, having a relatively high oil content, tend to burn with a good deal of smoke and any incense containing them is likely to produce a good fug if that is what appeals to you.

Paul Beyerl has little to say about juniper except that it is generally recommended for rituals connected to good health and banishing anything injurious to health, while Smith, gives the main correspondences as being with Jupiter and the element of fire and suggests that appropriate uses are in incenses for retention and strength.

A small bunch of twigs or a few berries in a pouch can also be hung in the rafters of a building or over the lintel of the doorway as a longer-term protection. They are used in rattles by the Native Americans, especially Navajo and Apache. Juniper in Folklore by F Marian McNeill records that in the Scottish Highlands on New Year’s morning, juniper was burned in both house and byre to purify buildings and inhabitants.

This is echoed by the tradition in some parts of Cornwall and Brittany of using juniper wood in the Beltane fires, between which cattle and other livestock were driven as a means of purification.

Elder Mountain Dreaming Juniper Tree and Berries 07

Burning juniper berries in the house in the three days leading up to Summer, Autumn and Winter Solstice fumigates the house and welcomes new energy. In parts of Czech Republic and Slovakia, juniper berries are used to fumigate homes, churches and stables to expel demons and other unwanted soul roaming shadows. There was also a folk medicine custom in some parts of the South West of England of burning the wood and needles close to a sick person.

This practice is closely allied to the above New Year customs and presumably recognizes that the vaporized oil released into the air had some beneficial purifying effect to dispel infection. Like many plants, there was a definite ritual which had to be followed when pulling or collecting juniper so that the power and essence of the plant was not lost.

In the case of juniper, it had to be pulled up by the roots, the branches made into four bundles and held between the five fingers while intoning the appropriate prayer of thanks when harvesting. Unfortunately versions of pagan and goddess chants were heavily Christianized, but as we reclaim what was taken, we just repaganize or goddessize it:

“I will pull the bounteous yew, and give thanks for the elements, in the name of the ancestral mothers, fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers. I ask the power of the light of the tree (or great spirit) to keep one safe from drowning, dangers, confusion and shadow when the Juniper is used in sacred ways.”

IMG_6677Juniper Folklore

Grimms’ Fairy Tales, The Juniper Tree: A pregnant woman eats the berries of the juniper tree which grows in the garden of her house, as a result of which she becomes ill and lives just long enough to give birth to a son. She is buried beneath the juniper tree and after a period of mourning the father remarries; in time a daughter is born and the stepmother becomes jealous, seeking to gain all of the father’s wealth for the daughter.

She first physically abuses and then kills her stepson and feeds his flesh in the form of a stew to his father. His half-sister collects his bones and lays them beneath the juniper tree in the garden, below which the boy’s mother had been previously buried. Amidst a magical mist and flames the bones are transformed into a bird, who is able through its song, reveal how he was murdered.

By singing his song to various enchanted listeners, he is able to gather to himself the things he needs to dispense justice. He is clearly intended to be seen as a magical bird as his plumage is described as being beautiful and he is able to lift aloft a huge millstone which he subsequently drops onto his stepmother and kills her. Once justice has been dealt out to the stepmother, the bird is transforms back into the child and normality is resumed.

The shamanic initiatory elements within this story are unmistakable. The sequence of events may be summed up as: the initial death, the return to the womb, the transformation spirit fires (ie cooking pot), the stripping of the traveler’s flesh from his bones (dismemberment or the shamans wrath); and the consumption of that flesh by the traveler’s life guide/father, the return of the journeyer to the ancestors and the world tree, the shape-shifting and subsequent re-integration and return to the normal world.

The shamanic pattern is so strong that it seems the evil stepmother, was just a late edition corruptions added to this traditional story, which appears to have been strongly changed by the addition of a stereotypical evil woman or witch (projection by the Christian morality who always have to find someone else that is evil besides themselves).

I am tempted to believe that this story originally concerned the first steps of youth, as a shamanic initiation of a young man and young woman, or, alternatively, puberty initiatory rites for the girl and boy. The essential magical or transformational elements all takes place around or beneath the eponymous juniper tree.

The image of the bird as a symbol of shamanic magical bird (soul) flight. In the context of The Juniper Tree has a connection to our shamanic past and to shamans themselves. And because water grows under the juniper tree, this correlates to the shamanic World River of the prehistory or grandmothers tradition, than it does the World Tree, because of the eternal evergreen and its moisture and water quality, that is self fulfilling. 


Three Juniper Trees are native to the Pacific Northwest

western juniper: most common; combination of needle with a white resin dot;
common juniper: grows primarily near treeline at high elevations;
Rocky Mountain juniper: northeastern Oregon; needles don’t have resin dots.

Finnish Juniper

Sources: Photo’s of hand picked Juniper by Phoenix; Tree Juniper Tree ©2006 Edith Krueger-Nye;,;,, Juniper berries by Kate at

6 Comments Add yours

  1. Patty says:

    Well, I learned something new today.

    I always was under the belief that Juniper was poisoness.

    I never knew it could be eaten or used in all the ways written of here.

    How wonderful this age of blogging is. I’m learning so very much.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. *Note:  The only Juniper out of the 60 species that is poisonous that I could find, is: Juniperus sabina, are toxic and consumption of them is inadvisable.


  2. Phil Porter says:

    Many years ago, about 35 or more, I had an old sourdough starter that gut invaded by a toxic mold. I couldn’t replace because the person that had gifted it to me had passed. Needing a starter, I knew that the white powder in fruits and berries were wild yeast, I gathered juniper berries from a tree on local Juniper Ridge, placed them in sugar water for a day and strained the water into a ceramic bowl added flour and water, began propagating my own colony of sourdough starter. Still using it to this dat, I call it Juniper Ridge Sourdough.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That is a wonderful share Phil, may I use it in the article?


  3. Steve Zubo says:

    Beautiful as always.

    Liked by 1 person

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