Juniper (Juniperus species)

Juniper (Cedar) branches and berriesJunipers, sometimes called cedars, are trees or shrubs that vary in size and shape from columnar trees to low spreading shrubs with long trailing branches.

Juniper needle-like leavesMany junipers having two types of leaves on the tree.  The trees may have very small, hard, needle-like leaves or scale-like leaves that are densely crowded around the branches. Seedlings and the twigs of older trees have needle-like leaves while the leaves on mature plants are tiny, overlapping and scale-like.  Some trees though, may have all scale-like leaves with no needle-like leaves.  Each leaf is less than 1.2 centimeters (1/3 inch) long.

Juniper need-like leave (left) and scale-like leaves (right)The female seed cones are a berry like structure covered with fleshy, fruit-like scales.  The berries may be red-brown or orange but in most cases are blue.

All species have a distinct aroma resembling the well-known cedar. The berrylike cones are usually blue and covered with a whitish wax.

Where to Find: Look for junipers in open, dry, sunny areas throughout North America and northern Europe. Some species are found in southeastern Europe, across Asia to Japan, and in the mountains of North Africa.

Juniper berries on treeEdible Parts: The berries and twigs are edible but may be bitter and have a strong taste. Eat the berries raw or roast the seeds to use as a coffee substitute. Use dried and crushed berries as a seasoning for meat or as a spice (juniper berries are the primary flavoring in gin). Gather young twigs to make a tea.

Note: Many plants may be called cedars but are not related to junipers and may be harmful. Always look for the berrylike structures, needle leaves, and resinous, fragrant sap to be sure the plant you have is a juniper.

Other Uses: Native Americans use juniper berries as a female contraceptive.  Some cultures are used as a urinary tract disinfectant or as a herbal remedy for diabetes.

Juniper tree in the wild

Low, creeping Juniper shrubs

Juniper berries and needle-like leaf branch

Juniper trees

Old Juniper tree

Clusters of Juniper berries

Juniper cones and seeds

Juniper tree

Drawing of Juniper tree and its components

Color drawing of Juniper tree and its components

Color drawing of Juniper tree and its components