Herb: Desert Juniper

Latin name: Juniperus osteosperma

Synonyms: Juniperus californica utahensis, Juniperus utahensis

Family: Cupressaceae (Cypress Family)

Medicinal use of Desert Juniper:

Desert juniper was widely employed medicinally by a number of native North American Indian tribes who used it to treat a variety of complaints, especially those connected to the bladder and kidneys and to the skin. It is little, if at all, used in modern herbalism. The leaves are antiseptic, blood tonic and laxative. A decoction is used in the treatment of constipation. A poultice of the leaves has been applied to the jaw to treat toothaches and sore and swollen gums. A decoction of the young twigs has been used in the treatment of stomach aches, kidney complaints, haemorrhages, coughs and colds. Fumes from the burning twigs have been inhaled in the treatment of headaches and colds. The branches have been used in a sweat bath to treat rheumatism. A strong decoction has been used as an antiseptic wash on sores. A poultice of the mashed twigs has been used as a dressing on burns and swellings. The seeds are analgesic. They have been eaten in the treatment of headaches. The fruits are analgesic, blood tonic and diuretic. A decoction has been used to relieve the pain of menstrual cramps, to induce urination and to treat kidney complaints, fevers, coughs and colds. Externally, a decoction has been used as a poultice on rheumatic joints.

Description of the plant:


12 m
(39 feet)

Habitat of the herb:

Thin, dry rocky or gravelly soils on mountain slopes and high plains in desert regions between the Rocky mountains and the Sierra Nevada.

Edible parts of Desert Juniper:

Fruit - raw or cooked. A thin flesh, it is sweet but strongly flavoured of resin and has a mealy texture. Used as a flavouring in stews. The fruit can be eaten fresh or it can be dried and ground into a powder then baked into cakes. The cones are about 6 - 18mm in diameter, they take 2 years to mature.

Other uses of the herb:

A wax on the fruit is obtained by simmering the fruit in hot water and skimming off the wax as it rises to the surface. The wax can be used to make aromatic candles. The bark is employed as a tinder and is also made into a slow match. The crushed bark was twisted into a rope, tied at intervals with yucca (Yucca species), and wrapped into a coil. The free end was set on fire and kept smouldering by blowing on it at intervals. Fire could be carried in this fashion for several hours. The bark has been used as a thatching on the roofs of buildings. The dried seeds have been used as beads or as the "rattle" in rattles. An infusion of the plant has been used as a hair wash. The plant has been burnt as an incense and fumigant in the home. Wood - soft, close-grained, slightly fragrant. It is used occasionally for fuel, fencing etc.

Propagation of Desert Juniper:

The seed requires a period of cold stratification. The seed has a hard seedcoat and can be very slow to germinate, requiring a cold period followed by a warm period and then another cold spell, each of 2 - 3 months duration. Soaking the seed for 3 - 6 seconds in boiling water may speed up the germination process. The seed is best sown as soon as it is ripe in a cold frame. Some might germinate in the following spring, though most will take another year. Another possibility is to harvest the seed "green" (when the embryo has fully formed but before the seedcoat has hardened). The seedlings can be potted up into individual pots when they are large enough to handle. Grow on in pots until large enough, then plant out in early summer. When stored dry, the seed can remain viable for several years. Cuttings of mature wood, 5 - 10cm with a heel, September/October in a cold frame. Plant out in the following autumn. Layering in September/October. Takes 12 months.

Cultivation of the herb:

Thin, dry rocky or gravelly soils on mountain slopes and high plains in desert regions between the Rocky mountains and the Sierra Nevada.

Known hazards of Juniperus osteosperma:

None known

Plant information taken from the Plants For A Future.