Monday, March 28, 2011

Juniper Trees... and Allergies

Juniper is a coniferous plant of the cypress family, with more than 50 varieties ranging all the way from the arctic to tropical Africa. This 25- to 50-foot tree is common in the Southwest, where it causes severe allergic reactions in much of the population during late winter and early spring when it is in flower. Juniper berries are actually a modified pine cone, with fleshy scales that merge together to form an outer skin over the seed, giving it a berry-like appearance. The berries start out green, ripening into a blue, purple or nearly black color in 10 to 18 months, depending on the variety. Single trees will typically contain berries at all stages of the ripening process.

While highly toxic, juniper berries are used for medicinal purposes, in cooking, and for other flavorings. Perhaps the best known use of these highly aromatic berries is the use of green berries in the flavoring of gin, which explains the particularly bad hangover that overindulgence in gin produces.

Juniper berries have diuretic, anti-inflammatory and antiseptic properties, and are used medicinally to treat a wide range of ailments, including asthma, arthritis, rheumatism, and to hasten childbirth. A folk tale reported in Rodale’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs mentions more esoteric uses for juniper: “The plant’s pungent aroma has long recommended it for driving away evil spirits and disease. Legend has it that juniper planted beside the front door will keep out witches; the only way for a witch to get past the plant was by correctly counting its needles.”

Several species of butterfly larvae feed exclusively on juniper, including the Juniper Carpet, Juniper Pug and Pine Beauty, though this is little comfort to those who suffer greatly from allergies! ~Aimee

Read about Trans-resveratrol (a potent source of antioxidants, which has recently been found to help reduce, or completely cure the symptoms of juniper allergies).

Visit the Taos Unlimited Plants & Wildlife section to read more about Juniper

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