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JUNIPER-Utah juniper, desert juniper (Juniperus monosperma)

Juniperus monosperma

Taxonomy: Pinophyta (gymnosperms); Cupressaceae (Cypress family)

Common names: One-seed Juniper, Cherrystone Juniper, Redberry Juniper, New Mexico Cedar, West Texas Juniper, Sabina

By Ambrose Kinlicheeny Jr. (Bridges Program, Summer 2000)

  Juniperus monosperma (Engelmann) Sargent, is one of many species in the Juniperus genus that are simply referred to as juniper. One-seeded juniper is a plant that has prospered throughout much of the southwestern United States. This juniper covers one-fourth of the state of New Mexico alone (Hraber, 1990). Moreover it serves many uses including a variety of medical applications.

 Medical usage of juniper most often refers to Juniperus communis, which grows at a higher elevation, but Juniperus monosperma was used in lower, dryer regions. Uses for one-seed juniper are often shared with Juniperus osteosperma, which also grows in abundance in many of the same woodlands.



One-seed juniper can rise as high as 25 feet and its trunk can grow to a diameter of 1 to 1 ½ feet. (Epple, 1995) One distinct characteristic of this plant is that it has many limbs rising from the trunk at ground level. Branches full of dark green scale-like leaves hide the limbs. The fruit of this plant are bluish-green berries that are between 6 to 10 cm. wide.



Juniperus monosperma grows in elevations between 3,000 and 7,000 feet throughout the southwestern United States and northern Mexico in pinyon-juniper woodlands, which tend to occupy plateaus, foothills and plains. (Epple, 1995).


Juniper is a slow growing plant. Berries reach maturity in one year.


One-seed juniper is a home to mistletoe named Phoradendron juniperinum Engelm, which is a parasite that only grows on the juniper species. (USDA, 1999)


 Cultural Aspects

Juniperus monosperma has great cultural significance to many people. It is worn or held in many traditional ceremonies by medicine men of various tribes. The leaves are burned to purify the air of the area where any ceremony or blessing will take place. Participants are also asked to purify themselves with smoke of the plant.

 Medicinal Uses

Native Americans used the fruit as a diuretic and the cones were used as a laxative, emetic in diarrhea. Also bark was rubbed on spider bites, the gum used for tooth cavities and the leaves were used for pains after childbirth. (Hocking, 1997) This plant has chemicals that suggest it will help the body fight against arthritis, asthma, congestion, cough, hepatitis, and stiffness. (Dr. Duke’s Phytochemical and Ethnobotanical Databases.)


The leaves are cleaned, broken to smaller fragment, and stored for future uses. The leaves are cleaned and burned, and the ashes are kept in powdered form in a container for uses in cooking. The leaves or berries are ground and made into paste.

Making of a smudge stick
 Juniper, sage, and string were used. Juniper and sage limbs were broken to appropriate size.  The limbs were gathered in a bundle.  The stems were wrapped together with the string
 The string was wrapped upward.  Seven times was preferred.  The bundle was cross wrapped seven times.  The bottom was wrapped again and tied off

Non-medicinal Uses

This juniper was used in basket and textile making. It also served as firewood and building material to many residents to its area. The ashes of this plant are mixed with corn in preparation of many Native foods like cornmeal, cornbread, mush, pancakes, dumplings, tamales and a Navajo tea. The juniper ash contained significant amounts of calcium, iron, and magnesium. (Christensen et al, 1998)

Active Ingredients


Dr. Duke’s Phytochemical and Ethnobotanical Databases.
Hocking Ph.D., George Macdonald. A dictionary of Natural Products. Plexus Publishing, Inc: 1997.
Epple, Annie Orth. A Field Guide to the Plants of Arizona. Photos by Lewis E. Epple. Lew Ann Publishers: 1995.
Kearny T.H., and Peebles R.H., et al. Arizona Flora. University of California Press, Berkeley, CA, 1960.
Moore, Michael. Medicinal Plants of the Desert and Canyon West. Museum of New Mexico Press, Santa Fe, NM, 1989
Michael Moore SW School of Botanical Medicine

American Indian Ethnobotany Databases. Kay, M.A.
Healing with Plants in the American and Mexican West. University of Arizona Press, Tucson, AZ, 1996.


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Updated February 13, 2008

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