Maybe it’s because of my Germanic heritage but I’ve always loved juniper berries. The best sauerkraut recipes use them as a flavor enhancer and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Juniper berries are also used to flavor gin which I’ve never enjoyed drinking. But my favorite use for them is in magical incense. I have an allergy to pine resin/needles. The resin/needles make my skin break out in little red bumps and the scent causes my sinuses to become congested. That may be too much information but I share this with you because you might be in the same boat!
Luckily, juniper berries can be substituted for pine in many magical workings. While Scott Cunningham warns that they can also cause an allergic reaction, I find they work beautifully and powerfully for me! (He also says that pregnant women should not use them so be forewarned!) Juniper berries have Sun/Fire energy and are used in spells for exorcism (repelling negative energy), protection, healing and love. Since most of my magical work is for healing and protection, they are one of my go-to herbs. They grow plentifully in my area so I harvest them locally which is important to me. I only take what I absolutely need for the coming year since birds will eat them during the winter when other food sources aren’t available.
Juniper berries can be a bit sticky, even when dried, so I only crush them gently with a mortal and pestle when using them in incense blends. They combine wonderfully with rosemary which is another powerful protection/healing herb. I use them in the following incense blend when I want to raise power in a circle as I prepare to do healing and protection magic:
Aries Incense (adapt. from Scott Cunningham)
2 parts Frankincense
1 part Juniper berries
1 part Cedar leaf tips
Historically the use of juniper berries goes back to at least ancient Egyptian times. They were also one of the earliest incenses used by Mediterranean witches. When the Black Death ravaged Europe, juniper was thought to be an effective protector. It was also considered to be a guardian of the veil between the worlds. I couldn’t find any specific use of juniper by Christians (other than they probably used it during the Black Death like everyone else) so if you have any information, please let me know.
But aren’t junipers mentioned in the Bible? Yes, the King James Version of the Bible mentions “junipers” but this is actually a bad translation. The Hebrew word “rotem” or “rothem” is actually a Spanish broom or white broom tree. It is not a juniper in the least and is very abundant in the Sinai desert. The most well known Bible story regarding a broom tree is in 1 Kings 19 where the prophet Elijah throws a pity party for himself, sits under a broom tree, and asks God to take his life. God ignores his request and, instead, sends Elijah an angel who gives him bread and a jar of water! (No juniper trees were involved in the telling of this story or any other Bible story!)
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