Juniperus communis. Common Juniper.
The prostrate variety of the common Juniper is so peculiar in its mode of growth, that it has some claims to be considered a distinct species. On comparing it, however, with European specimens, I find the similarity so great, that I do not see sufficient grounds for separating it, especially as there are, in Europe, several varieties in size and mode of growth, which are not recognized as separate species. The variety, which is the only one I have met with in the Northern States, is a large trailing shrub, continually throwing out roots from its branches, and spreading in all directions until it forms beds, which are many rods in circumference. In this way it continues to advance outward, supporting itself by new roots even after the original trunks, at the centre, are dead and decayed. It seldom rises more than two or three feet from the ground.
The genus Juniperus belongs to the class Dioecia, order Monadelphia, and natural order Coniferae of Linnaeus and Jussieu.
It is distinguished by an ovate ament with peltate scales, which, in the barren flowers, are whorled in threes, with from two to four anthers; in the fertile ones opposite. Berry three seeded.
In the common Juniper, the leaves are ternate, spreading, mucronate, larger than the berry.
The Juniper is with us always a shrub, never rising into a tree. The tips of the branches are smooth and angular. The leaves grow in threes and are linear-acerose, sharply mucronate, shining green on their lower surface, but with a broad glaucous line through the centre of the upper. These leaves, however, are always resupinate, and turn their upper surface toward the ground. The barren flowers grow in small axillary aments, with roundish, acute, stipitate scales, inclosing several anthers. The fertile flowers, growing on a separate shrub, have a small, three parted calyx growing to the germ; and three styles. The fruit is a fleshy, roundish, oblong berry, of a dark purplish colour, formed of the germ and confluent calyx, marked with three prominences or vesicles at top, and containing three seeds. It requires two seasons to arrive at maturity from the flower.
The leaves of the Juniper have a strong and rather unpleasant taste, with a little astringency. The peculiar juice of the bark appears to consist of resin and volatile oil. Gum Sandarach, which furnishes the material of pounce, is obtained from the European Juniper, from which it exudes spontaneously through crevices and perforations in the bark. (I've never seen our juniper do that. Gum sandarac is from Tetraclinis articulata. -Henriette.)
The part principally used in medicine is the berries. These have a strong peculiar taste, accompanied with considerable sweetness. When long chewed, they leave an impression of bitterness. The sweetness appears to reside in the pulp, the bitterness in the seeds, or in their immediate investment, and the aromatic flavour in the essential oil. Dr. Lewis observes, that tinctures, made with these berries, differ according as they are prepared with the berries entire or bruised.
When of a good quality these berries yield, in distillation, a large quantity of pungent, volatile oil of a peculiar flavour, the same which it communicates to gin. The medicinal powers, for which this article is employed, may be considered as residing in this oil.
The berries of the Juniper have long been employed for the purposes of a diuretic, particularly in dropsy. Many of the older writers, whose names are of high authority in medicine, have given favorable reports of the operation of this medicine in hydropic cases. It has been used in substance, in infusion, and in various compound medicines. The effects of its most popular preparation, that of an ardent spirit, are too universally known to require particular elucidation. In addition to the specific effect of the essential oil, some physicians have attributed virtues to the rob, or inspissated decoction of the berries. Hoffman found it of great use in debility of the stomach and intestines, particularly in old people. The stronger preparations have been found useful in uterine obstructions, and in paralytic affections of the vesica urinaria.
Linnaeus informs us, in his Flora Lapponica, that a fermented decoction of Juniper berries is used in Sweden as a common drink, but he denies the infusion being substituted for tea and coffee, as some writers have stated, in Lapland. Woodville and others have misquoted him on this point.
The American Juniper berries are considerably inferior to the European in strength and flavour. The best of the latter are said to be from Italy. But of the imported specimens, which I have examined at the druggists' shops in this country, very few possess any remains of the original strength, and much the greater portion of them appear to have undergone at least one distillation, before their exportation from Europe. The best Juniper berries have a strong impregnation of volatile oil, which, having been once tasted, cannot be easily mistaken. Those which have been subjected to distillation are dry and tasteless.
Juniperus communis, Linn.
Smith, Flor. Brit. iii. 1085.
Engl. Bot. t. 1100.
Woodville, ii. t. 95.
Michaux, ii. 245.
Pursh, ii; 646.
Blackwell, t. 187.
Murray, App. Med. i. 54.
Lewis, Disp. 240.
Linnaeus, Flora Lapp. 376
Woodville, ut supra.
American Medical Botany, 1817-1821, was written by Jacob Bigelow, M. D.