Common juniper

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Common juniper
Common juniper (Juniperus communis) in the Lüneburg Heath

Common juniper ( Juniperus communis ) in the Lüneburg Heath

Order : Conifers (Coniferales)
Family : Cypress family (Cupressaceae)
Subfamily : Cupressoideae
Genre : Juniper ( Juniperus )
Section : Juniperus
Type : Common juniper
Scientific name
Juniperus communis

The common juniper ( Juniperus communis ), also heather juniper (common names : Machandelbaum, Kranewittbaum, Reckholder, Weihrauchbaum, Feuerbaum), is a plant species that belongs to the genus juniper from the family of the cypress family (Cupressaceae).

Common names

Since the common juniper is widespread and very characteristic, it has a variety of names in the dialects, some of which refer to its use, properties or location. A selection of these names: Queckholter (Middle High German), Quickholder, Reckholder (older also Reckholter, Alemannic), Kranawitterstrauch, Krammetsbaum, Grammelstaude, Kaddig, Kranewitt, Kronabit, Machandel, Machandelboom, Machandelbaum, Jochandel, Räucherstrauch, Wachandel, Wachteltererstrauch (Middle German High Elbe wëcholtër ), tree of fire.


On Christmas days, twigs were tied over the stable doors to keep druids and witches away. The common juniper, which is also used medicinally, was the tree of the year 2002.

Common juniper ( Juniperus communis ), illustration from Koehler 1887
Common juniper ( Juniperus communis ), drawing
Male flowers of the heather juniper


Cut through a juniper trunk

The common juniper grows as an upright to creeping shrub or small tree that reaches heights of up to 12 meters, up to a maximum of 18.5 meters and a trunk diameter of 0.9 meters and forms a deep root system. It can live up to 600 years. The trunk has a gray to reddish brown bark . The juniper usually forms a narrow, conical to oval crown. The needle-shaped leaves are attached to the branch with a hinge. The needles, arranged in threes in whorls , are piercingly pointed and 1 to 2 centimeters long. Their top has light stomatal strips and wax strips.

The common juniper is dioecious separately sexed ( dioecious ), rarely monoecious ( monoecious ). Male specimens can be recognized by their yellowish flowers during the flowering period from April to June. The cones have a stem and are created in autumn. Female cones consist of three cone scales. Each seed scale has only one ovule . The ovules are only accessible from above. The seed scales later grow together with the cover scales and become fleshy. It takes 3 years to develop into a ripe berry-shaped cone. In the first year after pollination the cone is still green, in the third year it finally becomes black-brown, bluish frosted (wax layer). The woody seeds are 4 to 5 mm in size with a bone-hard shell.

Unlike most other conifers, it forms only two cotyledons ( cotyledons off).

The chromosome number of the species is 2n = 22.


The heather juniper has a ringed bark. The needles are sharply pointed (protection against eating, condensation point for rainwater, adaptation to drought). He is deep-rooted with root fungus .

He is windblown of the "immobile type". The pollen is blown out of the cover scales. A micropylar droplet is used for pollination , which catches the pollen that is spread by the wind. Two to three months pass between pollination and fertilization . It takes 1 year to form an embryo. The seeds ripen in the winter of the 2nd year.

Flowering time is from April to May.

Digestive spread by field thrushes (also: Krammetsvögel ), blackbirds and black grouse takes place. The seeds , protected by a solid shell, are later excreted.


The common juniper is the most widespread conifers, at least if you include the subspecies or varieties . The distribution area of ​​the common juniper extends in the biogeographical region of the Holarctic from North America through South Greenland, North Africa, Europe, the Middle East, North Asia and Central Asia to East Asia. It can even be found in the northernmost outskirts of South Asia and, with its seven varieties, colonizes habitats up to 4,050 m.

Compared to other woody plants, the common juniper is very weak in competition, so that it is displaced to dry, sandy, stony locations or bog areas. In open spaces, on sandy soils or dry pastures, however, the common juniper can be very dominant. The populations in Germany are mostly secondary to pasture use, since the juniper is not bitten by cattle (for example Lüneburg Heath or Swabian Alb ), if one follows the argumentation of the so-called mega herbivore hypothesis , however, this simulates natural processes.

You can find the heather juniper quite often on sunny poor pastures, on rocks and in sparse forests. It prefers dry, mostly base-rich, often calcareous soils. He is a light plant.


Dwarf juniper ( Juniperus communis var. Saxatilis )

The common juniper ( Juniperus communis ) is listed within the genus Juniperus in the Juniperus section of the same name . Sometimes the section is referred to as a subgenus. With regard to the determination of the species / subspecies or variety properties, scientific discussions are still in part ongoing. Here the views of RP Adams are essentially followed, who distinguishes seven varieties including the nominate form:

  • Juniperus communis L. var. Communis is distributed from West Asian Iran via the Caucasian regions to Russian Siberia . This variety can also be found in almost all European countries.
  • Juniperus communis var. Charlottensis R.P. Adams occurs from southeast Alaska to Vancouver Island .
  • Canadian juniper ( Juniperus communis var. Depressa Pursh ) is sometimes referred to as the subspecies Juniperus communis subsp. depressa (Pursh) Franco seen. This variety is common in North America, namely in all of Canada and in over 30 states of the USA. They are found at altitudes from 0 to 2,800 meters.
  • Juniperus communis var. Jackii Rehder is a North American variety.
  • Juniperus communis var. Kelleyi R.P.Adams : You only comes in Idaho before.
  • Juniperus communis var. Megistocarpa Fernald & H.St.John is only found in the Canadian provinces of Québec , Nova Scotia and Newfoundland at altitudes between 0 and 500 meters.
  • Juniperus communis var. Nipponica (Maxim.) EHWilson : It occurs from Kamchatka to Korea and to the Japanese islands of Hokkaidō and Honshū .
  • Alpine juniper , also called dwarf juniper ( Juniperus communis var. Saxatilis Pall. ): It has an extremely wide distribution area from Europe to Western Asia, northern Asia in Siberia and the Russian Far East, over the Caucasus region, Central Asia in the Far East Asia with Mongolia and China to the northernmost areas of the Indian subcontinent. It is also found in western regions of North America and in Greenland .

According to Euro + Med, three subspecies can be distinguished:

  • Juniperus communis L. subsp. communis
  • Juniperus communis subsp. hemisphaerica (C. Presl) Nyman (Syn .: Juniperus hemisphaerica C. Presl ): It occurs in North Africa, West, South, Southeast Europe and the Near East.
  • Alpine juniper ( Juniperus communis subsp. Nana Syme , Syn .: Juniperus communis var. Saxatilis Pall. , Juniperus nana Willd. )

Hazards and protective measures

Juniperus communis is listed on the Red List of Threatened Species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature ( IUCN ), but is designated as “Least Concern”.

The common juniper Juniperus communis s. str., Juniperus communis subsp. nana listed as a synonym for the alpine juniper or dwarf juniper Juniperus communis var. saxatilis and designated as not endangered (LC).

With the Fauna-Flora-Habitat Directive No. 92/43 / EEC in the updated version of January 1, 2007 of the European Union (FFH-RL) Appendix 1, protected area designations are required for the following habitat types to which juniper species belong:

  • Mediterranean coastal dunes with juniper species Juniperus spp. - The protection of these habitats is required as a priority
  • Formations of the common juniper Juniperus communis on limestone heaths and lawns
  • Tree-shaped hardwood bushes (Matorrals) with juniper species Juniperus spp.
  • Endemic forests with juniper species Juniperus spp. - The protection of these habitats is seen as a priority.

On the North American continent, the USA lists the juniper species Juniperus communis L. in general and Juniperus communis L. var. Depressa as endangered species that need to be protected.

Importance as a fodder plant (selection)

The caterpillars of the following butterfly species depend on the plant as a food source.


Several varieties have been bred for use as ornamental plants, some of which are listed below:

  • 'Compressa': This upright dwarf form grows up to 75 centimeters high and has silvery needles. It is suitable for rock gardens.
  • 'Depressa aurea': This dwarf form becomes about 60 centimeters high and up to 2 meters wide; their needles are bronze colored.
  • 'Hibernica': This shape becomes 3 to 4.5 meters high; it initially grows columnar, later increasingly wider and somewhat conical.
  • 'Hornibrookii': The form, which grows as a prostrate shrub, is hardly higher than 25 centimeters, but up to 1 meter wide. It has gray-green needles.



The common juniper is a heartwood tree . The relatively wide sapwood has a light yellowish color. The heartwood is reddish brown in color. The mean bulk density is 0.55 g / cm³. The wood is highly weather-resistant and gives off a pleasant scent. Since it is usually only available in small dimensions, it is used for the production of small furniture, for turning and carving.

The common juniper is often used as an ornamental shrub in cemeteries, for example. There are numerous garden forms for use as an ornamental shrub, which differ from one another in terms of height, shape and the color of the needles.

Ripe berry-shaped cones on the branch


Juniper branches (and sometimes berries) are traditionally used in Scandinavia to flavor and preserve beer.


  • Spice : Juniper berries (Baccae juniperi, also called crane white berries) are an important spice in many European cuisines, especially in the Alpine countries, where they are found in abundance. It is the only example of a spice from the coniferous group , and also one of the few spices from a temperate to cool climate, although the best qualities come from southern Europe. Juniper is widely used in traditional Central European cuisine, e.g. B. for the specialty sauerkraut . For this purpose, freshly harvested cabbage ( white cabbage ) is subjected to lactic acid fermentation together with spices (juniper, caraway and optionally some bay leaves) and thus preserved. The main area of ​​application of juniper is, however, meat dishes; it is especially indispensable for game . It goes well with pepper, marjoram and bay leaves or fruits. Juniper berries, which are actually cones , should be crushed immediately before use.
  • Juniper schnapps : Fermented or as an extract, the fruits provide juniper schnapps (e.g. Bergila, Borovička , Genever , Genièvre, Gin , Köhm, Kranewitter, Krambambuli , Péquet, Steinhäger ).


The common juniper is considered to be slightly poisonous, it is irritating to the skin.

Main active ingredients: 0.2–2% essential oil with 1.7% alpha- pinene, 4-8% terpineol , 9% sabinene , myrcene and numerous other components of the essential oil in small quantities.

Unripe fruits contain up to 2.9% essential oil of a different composition. There also seem to be significant differences between the oils from annual and triennial fruits.

Pharmacological effect: In the event of an overdose, the kidneys are irritated. Berries and Juniperus preparations must not be taken during pregnancy, as they have antifertile properties.

In addition to kidney pain, there may also be an urge to urinate, an increase in diuresis, a violet odor in the urine, an accelerated heart rate and breathing, and rarely cramps.

According to the information from the poisoning advice center, Berlin could experience slight gastroenteritic symptoms when taking in fruits and needles.

Effects on the skin / mucous membrane: External exposure can cause inflammation of the skin with blistering. In one case, allergic contact eczema and allergic asthma due to occupational handling of juniper berry oil were observed.

The various Juniperus species produce large amounts of pollen , which, however, are of minor importance from an allergological point of view.

There is also a risk of mixing up or contaminating juniper berries with those of the highly poisonous Sade tree ( Juniperus sabina ). In the past, for example, juniper berries contaminated with sad tree berries were repeatedly used to flavor gin , which is why juniper berries, at least in Spain, are regularly examined by the state.

Medicinal use

Medicinal drugs are:

  • The dried, ripe berry cones.
  • The essential oil of the berry cones.
  • The dried branches and roots.

Active ingredients are: In the berry cones: essential oil with terpinen-4-ol as the main component, plus pinene , sabinene , myrcene and other monoterpenes , sesquiterpenes such as caryiophylls ; Flavonoids , catechin tannins, invert sugar .

In wood: essential oil mainly with sesquiterpenes such as thujopses , cardines and tropolones , unusual diterpenes such as sufiol , xanthoperol ; Ligans including podophyllotoxin , catechin tannins.

The juniper oil ( Oleum iuniperi ) is derived from juniper (from the vile juniper) by distillation essential oil.

Applications: Juniper berries and their essential oil have a diuretic effect. They are used for flushing therapy for infections of the lower urinary tract, especially in folk medicine for rheumatic diseases and as a "blood cleansing and degreasing agent".

The use of juniper berries as a purge agent is documented as early as the Middle Ages and from 1350 on in German-language texts.

There are different judgments as to whether the effect should be caused by irritation and the associated increased blood flow to the kidney tissue, or whether prolonged use or too high a dose could be associated with damage to the kidney tissue.

For internal pharmaceutical use, it is therefore requested that oils be preferred which are rich in the terpene alcohol terpinen-4-ol and at the same time low in pinene, which irritates the kidneys, in order to minimize the risk.

For self-medication, it is currently only recommended to use it, limited to a few weeks, for digestive problems with slight cramps in the gastrointestinal area, for a feeling of fullness, belching and heartburn. Chewing some berries is said to get rid of bad breath.

Due to its skin-irritating properties, the essential oil is also used in rubs and bath additives against rheumatic complaints.

Attention: Juniper preparations are contraindicated in kidney disease and during pregnancy !




  • Olaf Schmidt (Red.) Among others: Contributions to the juniper . (= Reports from the Bavarian State Institute for Forests and Forestry, No. 41). Published by the Bavarian State Institute for Forests and Forestry (LWF). LWF, Freising 2003.
  • Gundolf Keil, Hans Reinecke: The “kranewittber” tract of “Doctor Hubertus”. Investigations into the late medieval pharmacology of Baccae Juniperi. In: Sudhoff's archive. Volume 57, 1973, pp. 361-415.
  • Gerd Haerkötter, Marlene Haerkötter: All about the juniper. Cooking - healing - magic. Book 6, Eichborn, Frankfurt am Main 1987, ISBN 3-8218-1305-9 .
  • Christopher J. Earle, January 14, 2011: Juniperus communis on The Gymnosperm Database . (Section description and systatics)
  • Heiko Bellmann : The new Kosmos butterfly guide. Butterflies, caterpillars and forage plants. 2nd Edition. Franckh-Kosmos, Stuttgart 2009, ISBN 978-3-440-11965-5 .
  • Oskar Sebald, Siegmund Seybold, Georg Philippi (Hrsg.): The fern and flowering plants of Baden-Württemberg. Volume 1: General Part, Special Part (Pteridophyta, Spermatophyta): Lycopodiaceae to Plumbaginaceae. 2nd, supplemented edition. Eugen Ulmer, Stuttgart 1993, ISBN 3-8001-3322-9 .
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  • Christine Boot: Van Jeneverbestraktat dead Recept. In: “gelêrter der arzeniê, ouch apotêker”. Contributions to the history of science. Festschrift for the 70th birthday of Willem F. Daems. Edited by Gundolf Keil, Horst Wellm Verlag, Pattensen / Hanover, now at Königshausen & Neumann, Würzburg, 1982 (= Würzburg medical-historical research. Volume 24), ISBN 3-921456-35-5 , pp. 533-542.

Individual evidence

  1. Heinrich Marzell . Dictionary of German plant names . Volume II, Leipzig 1972.
  2. Dieter Lehmann: Two medical prescription books of the 15th century from the Upper Rhine. Part I: Text and Glossary. Horst Wellm, Pattensen / Han. 1985, now at Königshausen & Neumann, Würzburg (= Würzburg medical-historical research , 34), ISBN 3-921456-63-0 , pp. 238 and 292.
  3. See for example Sabine Kurschat-Fellinger: Kranewitt. Investigations into the old German translations of the Nordic juniper berry tract (= Medieval miracle drug tracts, III). (Medical dissertation Würzburg) Pattensen / Hanover (now at Königshausen & Neumann, Würzburg) 1983 (= Würzburg medical historical research. Volume 20).
  4. ^ Erich Oberdorfer : Plant-sociological excursion flora for Germany and neighboring areas . 8th edition. Stuttgart, Verlag Eugen Ulmer, 2001, p. 96 f. ISBN 3-8001-3131-5
  5. Germplasm Resources Information Network (GRIN): Taxon: Juniperus communis L. var. Communis. In: GRIN Taxonomy for Plants. United States Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service, accessed May 30, 2010 .
  6. a b c d Rafaël Govaerts (Ed.): Juniperus. In: World Checklist of Selected Plant Families (WCSP) - The Board of Trustees of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew . Retrieved March 25, 2019.
  7. Germplasm Resources Information Network (GRIN): Taxon: Juniperus communis L. var. Nipponica. In: GRIN Taxonomy for Plants. United States Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service, accessed May 30, 2010 .
  8. Germplasm Resources Information Network (GRIN): Taxon: Juniperus communis L. var. Saxatilis. In: GRIN Taxonomy for Plants. United States Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service, accessed May 30, 2010 .
  9. ^ Raab-Straube, E. von (2014): Gymnospermae. - In: Euro + Med Plantbase - the information resource for Euro-Mediterranean plant diversity. Data sheet Juniperus communis
  10. Juniperus communis in the endangered Red List species the IUCN 2013. Posted by: A. Farjon, 2011. Accessed July 17, 2020th
  11. Red list of endangered species in Switzerland: ferns and flowering plants. In: Federal Office for the Environment FOEN. 2002, accessed on May 31, 2010 (introductory introduction under advanced search for Juniperus).
  12. ↑ Council Directive 92/43 / EEC of May 21, 1992 on the conservation of natural habitats and wild animals and plants (Habitats Directive) in the consolidated version of January 1, 2007 (PDF; 200 kB) , Appendix I, p 18 In: Official Journal of the European Union . L 206 of July 22, 1992, p. 7.
  13. Plants Database: Plants Threatened & Endangered & Protected: Juniperus. In: NRCS Natural Resources Conceration Service. USDA United States Department of Agriculture, accessed May 31, 2010 .
  14. Gordon Cheers (Ed.): Botanica: The ABC of plants. 10,000 species in text and images . Könemann Verlagsgesellschaft, 2003, ISBN 3-8331-1600-5 .
  15. ^ Lars Marius: Brewing with Kveik June 22, 2014
  16. Gernot Katzer: Gernot Katzer's spice pages . Retrieved on: December 2, 2012.
  17. ^ R. Casares: Juniperus sabina . In: Eurotox Symposium Hazards (Eurotox) held in Brussels on June 3-6, 1964, The chronic toxicity of naturally occurring substances. In: Food and Cosmetics Toxicology . tape 2 , 1964, p. 680 , doi : 10.1016 / S0015-6264 (64) 80419-3 .
  18. ^ Gundolf Keil, Hans Reinecke: The "kranewittber" tract of "Doctor Hubertus". Investigations into the late medieval pharmacology of Baccae Juniperi. In: Sudhoff's archive. Volume 57, 1973, pp. 361-415, here: pp. 407 f.
  19. Gundolf Keil : 'Kranewittbeer Tract'. In: Werner E. Gerabek , Bernhard D. Haage, Gundolf Keil, Wolfgang Wegner (eds.): Enzyklopädie Medizingeschichte. De Gruyter, Berlin / New York 2005, ISBN 3-11-015714-4 , p. 789.

Web links

Commons : Common Juniper  - Collection of images, videos, and audio files

Distribution map for Central Europe:

Distribution in the northern hemisphere: