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Juniperus virginiana is a species of tree in the Juniperus genus of the family Cupressaceae. The plant is more commonly referred to as Eastern Redcedar, or Red Cedar, though it is not a true cedar, but rather a species of juniper. J. virginiana is native to North America, and is found along the eastern United States down to the Gulf of Mexico. It also can be found as far west as Texas.
Eastern Redcedar can be divided into two subvariants: Juniperus virginiana variety silicicola, or Southern Redcedar, and Juniperus virginiana variety virginiana, or Eastern Redcedar. Southern Redcedar, classified as small, is indeed a smaller variety. Progressing further west into North America, J. virginiana is replaced by Juniperus scopulorum, or Rocky Mountain Juniper.
The uses of Juniperus virginiana vary widely. Sometimes referred to as Pencil Cedar, it was at one time used as the main source of wood in pencil making. It was later replaced in pencil production by Incense-cedar, which proved more abundant and a superior wood. Redcedar wood is resistant to moths, and is therefore used in chests and inserts for drawers and closets. Eastern Redcedar wood is also rot resistant, making it a useful material employed in fence posts; additionally, the trees often are employed as Christmas trees in place of spruce or fir.
Despite its usefulness, the tree is considered to be invasive, particularly in grasslands. Its foliage is dense and blocks important sunlight to shrubs and plants growing beneath. The species is intolerant to fire, and as such can be controlled with burnings, but the plant is able to spread rather quickly and can in some regions be a catalyst for out-of-control wildfires.
Juniper has a long history of medicinal uses. Native American tribes held it in high esteem, and species have played a rather large role in European herbal remedies, particularly in Scandinavian countries like Norway and Finland. The essential oils of the wood and the extracts of the berries have been used for centuries for their antiseptic properties, and teas infused with juniper extracts are said to be useful as diuretics and carminatives. Salves made from the plant have been used by certain cultures to heal wounds and treat eczema, and juniper's extracts are supposedly good for kidney health.
One of the uses particular to Scandinavian cultures is the use of juniper in brewing. When used in this manner, the berries or wood extracts are often infused into the mash. When the time comes to sparge the mash, the twigs of the juniper are traditionally used as a filter, and thus some of the additional character of the wood becomes infused in the beer. The Finish specialty Sahti is one of the more well-known of the specialties to use juniper in such a manner. While Juniperus virginiana is native to North America and is not classified by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) as a food source, it can also be used in the same manner by American brewers.