Juniper





The Juniper shrub (Arkenthos of the ancients), which is widely

distributed about the world, grows not uncommonly in England as a

stiff evergreen conifer on heathy ground, and bears bluish purple

berries. These have a sweet, juicy, and, presently, bitter, brown

pulp, containing three seeds, and they do not ripen until the second

year. The flowers blossom in May and June. Probably the shrub gets

its name from the Celtic jeneprus, rude or rough. Gerard notes

that it grows most commonly very low, like unto our ground

furzes. Gum Sandarach, or Pounce, is the product of this tree.



Medicinally, the berries and the fragrant tops are employed. They

contain juniperin, sugar, resins, wax, fat, formic and acetic acids,

and malates. The fresh tops have a balsamic odour, and a

carminative, bitterish taste. The berries afford a yellow aromatic oil,

which acts on the kidneys, and gives cordial warmth to the stomach.

Forty berries should yield an ounce of the oil. Steeped in alcohol the

berries make a capital ratafia; they are used in several

confections, as well as for flavouring gin, being put into a spirit

more common than the true geneva of Holland. The French obtain

from these berries the Genievre (Anglice geneva), from

which we have taken our English word gin. In France, Savoy, and

Italy, the berries are largely collected, and are sometimes eaten as

such, fifteen or twenty at a time, to stimulate the kidneys; or they

are taken in powder for the same [292] purpose. Being fragrant of

smell, they have a warm, sweet, pungent flavour, which becomes

bitter on further mastication.



Our British Pharmacopoeia orders a spirit of Juniper to be made

for producing the like diuretic action in some forms of dropsy, so as

to carry off the effused fluid by the kidneys. A teaspoonful of this

spirit may be taken, well diluted with water, several times in the

day. Of the essential oil the dose is from two to three drops on

sugar, or with a tablespoonful of milk. These remedies are of service

also in catarrh of the urinary passages; and if applied externally to

painful local swellings, whether rheumatic, or neuralgic, the bruised

berries afford prompt and lasting relief.



An infusion or decoction of the Juniper wood is sometimes given

for the same affections, but less usefully, because the volatile oil

becomes dissipated by the boiling heat. A rob, or inspissated juice

of the berries, is likewise often employed. Gerard said: A decoction

thereof is singular against an old cough. Gin is an ordinary malt

spirit distilled a second time, with the addition of some Juniper

berries. Formerly these berries were added to the malt in grinding,

so that the spirit obtained therefrom was flavoured with the berries

from the first, and surpassed all that could be made by any other

method. At present gin is cheaply manufactured by leaving out the

berries altogether, and giving the spirit a flavour by distilling it

with a proportion of oil of turpentine, which resembles the Juniper

berries in taste; and as this sophistication is less practised in

Holland than elsewhere, it is best to order Hollands, with water,

as a drink for dropsical persons. By the use of Juniper berries Dr.

Mayern cured some patients who were deplorably ill with [293] epilepsy

when all other remedies had failed. Let the patient carry a bag of

these berries about with him, and eat from ten to twenty every

morning for a month or more, whilst fasting. Similarly for flatulent

indigestion the berries may be most usefully given; on the first day,

four berries; on the second, five; on the third, six; on the fourth,

seven; and so on until twelve days, and fifteen berries are reached;

after this the daily dose should be reduced by one berry until only

five are taken in the day; which makes an admirable 'berry-cure.'

The berries are to be well masticated, and the husks may be

afterwards either rejected or swallowed.



Juniper oil, used officinally, is distilled from the full-grown,

unripe, green fruit. The Laplanders almost adore the tree, and they

make a decoction of its ripe berries, when dried, to be drunk as tea,

or coffee; whilst the Swedish peasantry prepare from the fresh berries

a fermented beverage, which they drink cold, and an extract, which

they eat with their bread for breakfast as we do butter.



Simon Pauli assures us these berries have performed wonders in

curing the stone, he having personally treated cases thus, with

incredible success. Schroder knew a nobleman of Germany, who

freed himself from the intolerable symptoms of stone, by a constant

use of these berries. Evelyn called them the Forester's Panacea,

one of the most universal remedies in the world to our crazy

Forester. Astrological botanists advise to pull the berries when the

sun is in Virgo.



We read in an old tract (London, 1682) on The use of Juniper and

Elder berries in our Publick Houses: The simple decoction of

these berries, sweetened with a little sugar candy, will afford liquors

so pleasant to the eye, so grateful to the palate, and so beneficial to

the [294] body, that the wonder is they have not been courted and

ushered into our Publick Houses, so great are the extraordinary

beauty and vertues of these berries. One ounce, well cleansed,

bruised, and mashed, will be enough for almost a pint of water.

When they are boiled together the vessel must be carefully stopt,

and after the boiling is over one tablespoonful of sugar candy must

be put in.



From rifts which occur spontaneously in the bark of the shrubs in

warm countries issues a gum resembling frankincense. This gum, as

Gerard teaches, drieth ulcers which are hollow, and filleth them

with flesh if they be cast thereon. Being mixed with oil of roses, it

healeth chaps of the hands and feet. Bergius said the lignum

(wood) of Juniper is diureticum, sudorificum, mundificans; the

bacca (berry), diuretica, nutriens, diaphoretica. In Germany

the berries are added to sauerkraut for flavouring it.



Virgil thought the odour exhaled by the Juniper tree noxious, and he

speaks of the Juniperis gravis umbra:--



Surgamus! solet esse gravis cantantibus umbra;

Juniperis gravis umbra; nocent et frugibus umbrae.

Eclog. X. v. 75.



But it is more scientific to suppose that the growth of Juniper trees

should be encouraged near dwellings, because of the balsamic and

antiseptic odours which they constantly exhale. The smoke of the

leaves and wood was formerly believed to drive away all infection

and corruption of the aire which bringeth the plague, and such like

contagious diseases.



Sprays of Juniper are frequently strewn over floors of apartments, so

as to give out when trodden down, their agreeable odour which is

supposed to promote [295] sleep. Queen Elizabeth's bedchamber

was sweetened with their fumes. In the French hospitals it is

customary to burn Juniper berries with Rosemary for correcting

vitiated air, and to prevent infection.



On the Continent the Juniper is regarded with much veneration,

because it is thought to have saved the life of the Madonna, and of

the infant Jesus, whom she hid under a Juniper bush when flying

into Egypt from the assassins of Herod.



Virgil alludes to the Juniper as Cedar:--



Disce et odoratam stabulis accendere cedrum.

Georgic.



But learn to burn within your sheltering rooms

Sweet Juniper.



Its powerful odour is thought to defeat the keen scent of the hound;

and a hunted hare when put to extremities will seek a safe retreat

under cover of its branches. Elijah was sheltered from the

persecutions of King Ahab by the Juniper tree; since which time it

has been always regarded as an asylum, and a symbol of succour.



From the wood of the Juniperus oxycoedrus; an empyreumatic oil

resembling liquid pitch, is obtained by dry distillation, this being

named officinally, Huile de cade, or Oleum cadinum, otherwise

Juniper tar. It is found to be most useful as an external stimulant

for curing psoriasis and chronic eczema of the skin. A recognised

ointment is made with this and yellow wax, Unguentum olei

cadini.



In Italy stables are popularly thought to be protected by a sprig of

Juniper from demons and thunderbolts, just as we suppose the

magic horseshoe to be protective to our houses and offices.





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