COMMON JUNIPER (Juniperus communis) – HOLLY WOOD

Common juniper - brin

At the top of the list of the most commonly used plants in Slovene folk medicine were juniper, which was used in the treatment of over one hundred conditions. It has been hailed as long as folk medicine has existed. Also known as brinje, every part of the plant was used: berries, branches, and wood. Juniper berries were eaten fresh, dried, crushed, or soaked in spirits or oil; they were made into balms and compotes, and these preparations were used to treat asthma, migraines, rheumatism, and disorders of the bile ducts, liver, and stomach. Chewing juniper berries was regarded as the best treatment for all kinds of infection and, in the Middle Ages, even for plague. The berries, when soaked in spirits, were also thought to be an excellent cure for diarrhoea. Crushed green juniper berries were applied to the forehead to treat headaches or cooked in fat to produce a balm for the treatment of scabies, rashes, swelling, and ulcers. The smoke of juniper berries or fresh sprigs of juniper was inhaled to combat toothache and respiratory diseases. As with human medicine, the most popular method of healing in folk veterinary medicine was with medicinal plants. Young sprigs of juniper were mixed into horse feed to combat goitre. A berry decoction was used to treat intestinal cramps and as a diuretic. Intestinal cramps in horses were also treated with bread soaked in juniper spirits. Juniper berries were combined with lard to make an ointment for the treatment of skin infections, eczema, and swelling; when crushed and mixed with butter, they were added to animal feed to combat loss of appetite. During outbreaks of animal plague, barns and stables were cleansed several times a day with juniper smoke.

Another common method of magical healing was the use of juniper smoke which was believed to cleanse farm buildings of evil spirits, curses, and demons.

This belief in the protective properties of smoke and fire has been retained to the present day. The ritual burning of plants was also used to bless homes on particular days of the year or in advance of field work as a request for divine favour, good luck, and a good yield.

Plants were indispensable at the end of a person’s life, as well. In the past, juniper was burnt by sickbeds in the belief that its protective power would turn away the spells and curses responsible for the illness. All over Slovenia, it was customary to use a juniper branch to sprinkle water on a dead person’s body, in order to keep away the devil preying on the deceased’s soul. In folk traditions, juniper was an especially magical plant that offered protection from all sorts of evil spirits. Juniper, considered a holy wood in the past, also had to be placed on the fire to chase witches and evil spirits away, and to cleanse the air of unclean forces and curses.

More about healing and magical plants in Slovene tradition you can read in book SACRED PLANTS IN FOLK MEDICINE & RITUALS – ETHNOBOTANY OF SLOVENIA by Vlasta Mlakar