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What is Juniperus Communis?

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  • Written By: Henry Gaudet
  • Edited By: A. Joseph
  • Last Modified Date: 11 November 2016
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Juniperus communis, or the common juniper, is a woody plant found throughout the northern hemisphere. Its concave awl-shaped leaves grow in clusters of three and are green with a grayish or bluish tint and have a distinctive pale band along the inner surface. Native to North America and Europe, it has been cultivated globally and is the world’s most widespread conifer.

The juniperus communis is dioecious, meaning that the plant’s cones are either male or female and only one gender is found on any given plant. Wind is required to pass the pollen from the yellow male cones to the green female cones. The resulting berries ripen from green to a dark purple over a period of 18 months.

Subspecies of juniperus communis can grow as trees and shrubs of varying size. Most mature juniper shrubs are no larger than 13 feet (4 m), with trees reaching heights of 30 feet (9.1 m) or more. One juniperus communis growing in Sweden has reached the height of 60 feet (18.3 meters).

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Often used ornamentally in landscaping, juniperus communis is a hardy plant able to grow in poor-quality soil and able to withstand harsh environmental conditions such as drought and heavy winds. Once mature, juniperus communis requires little in the way of care and maintenance. The plant does not grow well in warmer regions, thriving instead in its native cooler climates. Even so, young juniper plants are vulnerable to frost damage, and the leaves turn yellow during the winter months.

Apart from decorative applications, the juniperus communis has been used as a traditional herbal remedy. Juniper berries, either eaten raw or made into a tea, have been used by cultures all over the world to treat a variety of conditions, including warts, digestive complaints, flatulence, urinary tract infection, cystitis, rheumatism, gout and diabetes. It was even believed that juniper berries could help ward off the plague.

Juniper berries can also act as an abortifacient, a substance that can trigger an abortion. They have been used historically in some cultures as a contraceptive, and women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should avoid products containing juniper. More recently, juniper has been used as an ingredient in anti-dandruff shampoos and insect repellents.

Despite its bitter taste, juniper has also been used over the years as an ingredient in food production. It is an essential ingredient in the making of gin, and in fact, the word “gin” comes from genièvre, the French word for juniper. Juniper also has been used to produce stuffings, pate and sauerkraut, and the seeds can be roasted and ground to make a coffee substitute.

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