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Juniper (Juniperus)

Updated: Jun 15, 2021

When it comes to high elevation trees and shrubs, few compare to the almighty Juniper. In fact, one of the highest tree lines in the world is in Tibet, at 16,000 ft, and is highly comprised of Juniper! People tend to overlook coniferous flora when it comes to gardening and farming, but this particular plant has many valuable uses.

Junipers are found worldwide, and come in many different varieties. They can grow to be tall, skinny trees, large bushes, or small creeping types. Chances are good that you have some growing wild right in your backyard! Unfortunately they can be a bit competitive, and as a result can take over space in the right environment. Wildlife love to graze on Junipers, however, and this will help keep their proliferation in check usually.

The "cones" of the Juniper often resemble small berries, typically blue in color. These are highly versatile and are the most utilized part of the Juniper plant. The berries are the main ingredient in the alcoholic spirit "gin", as well as many other intoxicating beverages worldwide. The berries are very aromatic and thusly have been used as a spice in many cultures. Typically, the spice is paired with gamey meat like rabbit, venison, and pheasant. They can also be steam-distilled to produce an essential oil.

The wood itself can be quite useful as a hardwood, and even gets the common name "cedar" with certain varieties.

The leaves have been used ceremoniously for centuries, by the Native Americans and ancient European civilizations as well. The medicinal properties aren't fully understood, but historically the Juniper has been used to treat everything from epilepsy to diabetes and asthma.

I believe the true purpose for Juniper have yet to be understood in modern times.

It is no doubt that the Juniper plant has a significant place in history. It ought to be studied more, but meanwhile will serve as an important piece of the High Altitude Homestead.

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