It was such a pleasure to sit down with herbalist and teacher, Nicole Telkes, to discuss juniper (Juniperus spp.)! In some bioregions, this plant is hated as a pest in the landscape and a source of misery to seasonal-allergy sufferers. But juniper is full of medicinal gifts! For instance, juniper:
► Supports the kidneys and urinary tract
► Warms cold, cramping muscles and can soothe the pain of osteoarthritis
► Can help to clear fungal infections
► and more
Juniper also gives us aromatic, beautifully-colored and -grained wood and provides habitat and food for a multitude of animals.
There’s a lot to enjoy and appreciate about juniper!
By the end of this episode, you’ll know:
► Why it’s important to question and observe the role of plants in their environment… and to critically evaluate what you’re going to do with plants before you harvest a single leaf
► Two types of infections it’s really smart to talk with your doctor about before self-treating
► Who needs to be cautious about working with juniper (and why)
► The surprising role of passivity in herbalism
► How to make a juniper infused herbal oil you can massage into sore muscles or cold joints…or just enjoy as an after-bath oil that will leave you smelling delicious (be sure to download your recipe card!)
For those who don’t already know Nicole, she is an award-winning practicing herbalist and RH(AHG). She has a background in botanical studies, plant conservation work, community activism, and herbal first-aid clinics. She wrote the books Medicinal Plants of Texas and Herbcraft: The Complete Guide to 21st Century Holistic Western Herbalism. She lives between Seattle and Austin, supervising over 250 medicinal plants and themed gardens at Bastyr University and is the founder and lead instructor at the Wildflower School of Botanical Medicine. She is best known for her work freeing fire cider.
I’m so happy to share our conversation with you today!
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Rosalee de la Forêt:
Hello and welcome to the Herbs with Rosalee Podcast, a show exploring how herbs heal as medicine, as food and through nature connection. I’m your host, Rosalee de la Forêt. I created this channel to share trusted herbal wisdom so that you can get the best results when relying on herbs for your health. I love offering up practical knowledge to help you dive deeper into the world of medicinal plants and seasonal living.
Each episode of the Herbs with Rosalee Podcast is shared on YouTube, as well as your favorite podcast app. Also, to get my best herbal tips as well as fun bonuses, be sure to sign up for my weekly herbal newsletter at the bottom of this page. Okay, grab your cup of tea and let’s dive in.
You can easily tell that Nicole is an herbal teacher who’s been doing this a long time. She shares so much with us in this interview from the wisdom of bioregional herbalism and ecology, to the many gifts of juniper.
Nicole is an award-winning practicing herbalist and a registered herbalist with the American Herbalists Guild. She has a background in botanical studies, plant conservation work, community activism and herbal first-aid clinics. She wrote the books Medicinal Plants of Texas and Herbcraft: The Complete Guide to 21st Century Holistic Western Herbalism. She lives between Seattle and Austin, supervising over 250 medicinal plants and themed gardens at Bastyr University, and is the founder and lead instructor at the Wildflower School of Botanical Medicine. She’s best known for her work freeing fire cider. You can visit Nicole at wildflowerherbschool.com.
Welcome to the show, Nicole.
Thank you so much, Rosalee. It’s great to be here.
Rosalee de la Forêt:
It’s really great to connect with you again and I just want to start by telling you thank you so much for your work with freeing fire cider.
Thank you for saying thank you. We were so excited that we finished everything right before the pandemic hit or else we might have been in federal court for another couple of years. That was a exciting journey that came to a close and we have that book that tells people all about it if they want to know more.
Rosalee de la Forêt:
The book you’re referring to is the fire cider book that Rosemary Gladstar oversaw and has a lot of community contributions including myself in it. It’s a wonderful community book overall. I felt like when I read—reading that book I got all the herbal sparkles. It just felt so good to hear about people practicing with fire cider and what herbalism means and all of that from just all over, so that was a really fun contribution.
What’s really great about that lawsuit is that we were able to set a precedent in the entire cottage industry practice, not just herbalism but anybody who has a small business that’s trying to use generic names of things. They’ve actually cited that case in a couple of different lawsuits now to be able to keep people making generic things that are part of the people’s history, whether it be herbalism or other cultural practices or foods like chicken soup.
Rosalee de la Forêt:
Maybe some people—I’m sure a lot of people know all about fire cider and the controversy around that. For those who don’t, is there a quick explanation you can give of what happened? You kind of gave the result here, but what was this all about?
Absolutely thanks for asking too. I think the easiest way to describe the journey of five years in a nutshell, is that myself and two other sisters of mine that are herbalists—sisters by another mother—that was Mary Blue and Katheryn Langelier. We were sued by a company for making a product called “fire cider.” The company had said that they were the originators of this term and that they held a trademark for it, so we needed to stop making our fire cider. We proved in a court of law, in federal court, that we actually have been making and selling fire cider for much longer since even before they were a company.
According to all our research, Rosemary Gladstar is the first person to have come up with the recipe and copyrighted it back in the early ‘80s in some books she wrote. You’ll probably come across it in old herb books because it’s just a very popular remedy that most herbalists make in one form or another and most herb schools teach. It lit a fiery controversy as thousands of us were making and preparing it, and many hundreds of us selling it. It became a team effort to help free fire cider. Me and my other two cohorts, the Fire Cider 3, went through federal court. We’re really lucky to get a pro bono trial after getting sued where we’re able to get through the whole thing with just some contributions from the herbal community to keep us going. All of us together won and now we can move on and get into more things in the herbalism. Who knows what’s next? Licensure or something else, but we were able to protect a generic remedy.
Rosalee de la Forêt:
That’s so important because, like you said, so many people--thousands of people were making this, hundreds of people selling it, but you three got chosen. You were the rabble-rousers. You were outspoken, so you got a lot of the heat put on you and a lot of that responsibility. It was no small thing to go through all that, so again, thank you very much.
Well, thanks for diving into that with me. Now, I would love to even back up further and hear about your herbal path, and the things that have come in your life that have led you here to today.
My journey into herbs started as being a community herbalist or community activist, I should say. As an activist, I felt it was very important to protect the planet in one way or another, whether it be animals, plants, people that were marginalized. I was an outspoken advocate in various ways, especially for the herbs. I would go out and do direct actions.
Originally, I thought I was going to be a criminal lawyer getting my friends out of jail, and then I kept meeting these amazing herbalists in the middle of the forests. I had gone to school for studying botany and environmental resource management. I was being groomed to be behind the desk, putting together the last of the preserves for old-growth trees or whatever, instead I went and sat in old-growth trees and stopped their destruction. Out there, I kept meeting these amazing herbalists who knew all the plants, that we will walk around and they would be able to just pop open a book or go point at something and say, “You can use that for this.”
Eventually, I came upon working with Jasmyn Clift, who is an herbalist in BC at the Wild Seed School, and Greta de la Montagne “Grizz” who runs the MASHH Clinic, which is a clinic to get first-aid out to activists and others who are doing direct action work. That’s where I started.
My path isn’t everybody’s because I was a little bit more on the front lines. A lot of what I did was to start with creating first-aid clinics at direct actions. We did a lot off-grid and did a lot of herbal first-aid support around the country in different capacities. I was a radical cheerleading herb medic who would run in to the WTO in Seattle with a little gas mask and go pull people out and give them homeopathic arnica, things like that. I was always running into battle. My family comes from being in the underground army and escaping from World War II and Nazi Germany. I’ve had it in my blood to always be out there and do the right thing, so I ended up doing it as an herb medic or medical support, I should say.
I ended up getting hooked on herbs and before I knew it, I was volunteering at the American Botanical Council (ABC) in Austin looking for a teacher because there weren’t really any at that time. I came upon everybody’s private phone numbers then because there wasn’t really a email that you could reach out to people as easily. It was really—everybody was still calling each other. Believe it or not people used their phones!
So I would call up Rosemary Gladstar or I’d call up Christopher Hobbs or I’d call up all these people that I was interacting with with our various activities at ABC and I’d say, “Who do you think I should study with?” Everybody kept saying, Michael Moore and so I said, okay, I’m off to study with Michael Moore. It’s really interesting hearing how people today when I teach, they’ll be like, “Oh, your classroom is so far away. I have to drive an hour or two to get there,” if they’re studying. Back in the day, not too long ago, if you wanted to go to herb school, there was no way to study online and you would pack up all your stuff, move across country to where that herbalist was and figure it out. That’s what me and several of my cohorts did, is we just ended up being in this—in Bisbee with Michael Moore, and then I continued to study around the country with various herbalists like Margi Flint, Matt Wood, even Paul Bergner and just about everybody you can think of because I was hooked! I’ve been doing that ever since.
It’s funny because people wonder, “Why are you still going on plant walks?” I will always go on plant walks. I will always. I have so much to learn. I feel like there’s going to always be something that piques my interest with everybody who’s speaking about plants as long as it’s from a personal place. If somebody is really using the plants, there’s so much to learn. I don’t know how I’ll ever get past beginner level in this life.
Rosalee de la Forêt:
I feel the same way. It was really great to hear your story, Nicole. I was at the WTO and I also got my start with direct actions and with several radical cheerleaders in Portland and everything.
Rosalee de la Forêt:
I had a different path in that I wasn’t introduced to herbs necessarily through that the way you were. I got disillusioned, actually, because I spent a lot of time yelling at people on street corners because I didn’t understand why people didn’t care about these major issues affecting people and planet and places. But then I went to a wilderness school and got connected with the plants and watched people transform because once they began—created this relationship with the plants and place, then they started to care. I just watched that transformation happen and I was like, “That is way more effective than yelling at people before they go into the GAP store about sweatshops or whatever I was doing.
There’s a place for everything though.
Rosalee de la Forêt:
There is a place definitely. I 100% respect civil disobedience and direct actions. They are definitely necessary. Just for my soul, it wasn’t like I was leading towards burnout. I had to head to the forest. Thank you for that introduction and that story. Another highlight, of course, is hearing about how you called people on the phone. I just… Imagine that.
And they answered. Not just that I called, but they answered.
Rosalee de la Forêt:
That’s very good distinction there.
And one thing to say—this just makes me think—is that anyone who spent any time in wilderness by themselves, I think whenever you’re having a question as to what you’re doing here and why, I always tell people to go out into nature because that experience that I had out in being in the old-growth and sitting up in the trees, it forever changed my—if there was any question about what I should be doing with the rest of my life, I knew then that no matter what I was going to fight to protect the plants and the wilderness for the rest of my life because it was just getting mowed down everywhere around us. I encourage folks if they’re ever questioning why— “Why am I doing?” “What am I doing?” just go out to a wild place and sit there by yourself. Give it a couple of days out in the middle of nowhere.
Rosalee de la Forêt:
Thank you. Very, very good advice. The plant you’ve chosen for us today is juniper, which is first time it’s been on the show, and I’m excited to hear from you about juniper. We can start with why you chose this plant out of all the plants.
If you saw how I was responding to this, I was saying, “Oh, my gosh. I’m having such a hard time choosing. Do I choose this or that?” In the end, I really like to talk about plants that some people love to hate. In Central Texas, specifically, juniper is a plant that a lot of people tend to have a lot of issues with. I want to talk about the idea of weed crafting and celebrating our weedy medicines and how to approach them and how them being a problem—in permaculture, we always talk about turning problem areas into solutions, or things that are looked at as a problem into a solution. I look at invasive and weedy plants and how can we turn them into solutions. It’s not invasive and weedy everywhere, but in the bioregion that I called home for a very long time, it is definitely considered a weed even though it’s native.
Rosalee de la Forêt:
Correct me if I’m wrong, there’s a lot of allergies that people—there’s allergy season of juniper?
Oh, yeah. In Central Texas where there isn’t really a smooth transition of seasons because it’s subtropical, so it just goes from warm to cool-ish and back again to hot. It is generally about eight to ten months of just hot, is what everybody would consider, but you have this cool-ish time. Right when the cool season starts at about November, December, when the weather starts to dip, a lot of the male cedars because they’re monecious, they have two different houses, so there’s male trees and female trees. They’re cone-producing. This pollen will get spewed out from the cone and that pollen is so prolific that you will see a yellow haze in the air. If you look out on a vista, you will just see this yellow smoky haze. That’s actually the pollen. A lot of people have some horrendous allergies from it. That’s been something that people often times will say as to why they don’t like juniper. That’s one of the reasons.
Rosalee de la Forêt:
Why do you think we should love juniper then?
I’ll say another thing that juniper has in Central Texas, at least—and this is again, I wanted to state bioregionally, each bioregion is going to have its own distribution of juniper species. Juniperus is the genus, but you’ll have virginiana, ashei, communis. There’s all these different species and some of them even only grow in low elevation areas in the West, say 1,000, 2,000 and maybe even 3,000 feet. But in Central Texas you’ll have some species that are just basically blanketing the western half of the state, including some parts of Central Texas.
People had found this love-hate relationship because they’re often given this reputation of sucking up the ground water and we should just cut them all down. They shouldn’t be here. Some ecologists even argue that they are not native to Central Texas and some regions. There’s a lot of ecologists arguing back and forth, but what I found interesting from living on land and what you’ll find a good herbalist is very good at observing both people and plants. Some people choose to be more botanically-driven and some people more human-driven at being keen observers.
I have this botanical sanctuary and when you walk it, you’ll see that the junipers have fallen in some places from drought. I was always taught that the old junipers have really long taproots and they’re just sucking up all this water. On the property that I was stewarding or am stewarding, when the cedar falls over, it has a very shallow root system, so then I started wondering is it really the scourge of this area? What is going on here? There’s a lot of questions about whether or not it’s a protective plant in various ways for not just holding soil in place.
In the Desert Southwest and through Central Texas, we get really, really hot, hot, hot summers, so you get these shrubby little trees that are junipers. They’re evergreens and so they provide this little habitat for endangered birds and just birds in general, and other critters to go and hide in. Ecologically, we also wonder about—or a lot of us will wonder about are they a problem? Or are they really helpful? How can we, again, turn these problem areas into solutions too?
When I think about wildcrafting—and I wanted to bring it up too because a lot of people—there’s a new—not new, but there’s been a push for foraging for the past decade or so. This big—I’ve always been asked by different foraging groups to either be on podcast or symposiums or all of these things. Let’s forage, let’s forage. I personally feel that the time is over for wide-scale foraging. I do not teach it anymore. I do not think it is a sustainable practice for thousands and thousands of people to be learning something on the internet briefly and then walking out into nature and grabbing what they wish when they feel like it. I’ve even seen people write that it’s more sustainable because it’s less of a carbon footprint, but I tend to disagree with that because unless it’s done with a bigger vision, you don’t know about your own personal impact in an area. Since I come to this from this training of being in a college is I’m looking at a bigger, bigger picture of my impact in the wild.
To me, loving juniper isn’t just going out and harvesting it for medicine, but it’s questioning its role in the environment and how to protect it, and if we do need to clear out some juniper from an area, then how do we clear it out to help the older ones survive. Maybe we have to clear out the younger ones and if we clear out the younger ones, then maybe we use them for medicine. That’s where to me ecology and herbalism come together.
Something I’ve been coining--“weedcrafting,” which is going out and foraging the weeds. If juniper is a weed in your area and people are going to clear it out then for sure, that and whatever other weeds people are deciding to clear out of land could possibly be a great solution for creating wild medicine that isn’t just somebody walking out into a park and deciding to grab something. Because I’ve seen that happen quite a bit where in some bioregions, nettles is very prolific. It’s weed. You could look at nettles. It’s a weedy plant like juniper in some regions.
I still have a really big—I take issue with people walking into parks and just taking nettles out of the park without thinking about its role and what it’s doing in that park, and that we’re not supposed to be taking anything from parks. That’s the law so that some people can just enjoy the park and not just see people pulling stuff out. Whether it’s junipers or any other plant, I think it’s important to really think about—critically think about, which our government has kind of erased from our school system, is critical thinking skills. I think really critically evaluating your—what you’re doing with plants before you touch them and why is it essential to consider before you ever reach for a juniper leaf.
For me, if somebody is clearing their land and they say, “Hey, I’m about to uproot a bunch of juniper,” then I call my students. I call people. I say, “Who needs juniper medicine? This rancher over there is about to uproot a bunch.” I love juniper because it is weedy, and I, who am European, am also weedy and invasive so I don’t think that all of us invasives need to be just eradicated, but we definitely need to be watched and somewhat managed more than plants and people that are of this place.
Juniper, whether or not it is native, is still in some circles a question, in some bioregions, but it is a plant that you can see all over the world. It’s a shrubby tree and it’s—you’ll see that—I say “shrubby tree” because in botanical language, the difference between a tree and a shrub—do you know what it is, Rosalee?
Rosalee de la Forêt:
Is it just the size?
It’s the trunk.
Rosalee de la Forêt:
Officially, a tree has a trunk but a shrub would have multiple trunks. In Texas and other hot regions, we get a bunch of what should be trees that end up being shrubby because they’re trying to protect themselves from the sun and they get stunted and create multiple limbs. It’s like a play on—botanically, there are two different things, but in some bioregions a shrubby tree is definitely something that you will come upon.
Why do I love it? There are so many reasons I love it, but I’m starting with the ecology and the wildcrafting and the foraging aspect just for people to think about before I get into all of its wonderful uses. I think that we all should spend more time reflecting and pondering before running out and jumping on a plant and going, “I found this so therefore, I need to harvest it,” “I just heard about this on this, therefore, I need to make medicine out of it.” Just because the power is knowing that you can do it, but you don’t have to do it just because you know how to do it.
Rosalee de la Forêt:
There’s also this—there’s such a deeper connection and reverence when we’re able to connect to that deeper ecology and be a part of the system and not just taking from the system, so I really appreciate that beautiful lead-in to all off that.
I always say that it’s like a grocery store. You can’t just walk into the grocery store and take whatever you want. Even in a grocery store, you still have to exchange something. In nature, we might not be exchanging money, but we need to exchange something back and really think about what our role is right now as plant people who are plant enthusiasts that want to fall in love with plants, that want to be there for the plants, how do we step up for them in a real, meaningful way right now. That doesn’t mean you have to go climb up in a juniper all the time to stop them from mowing it down, but it does mean that you have to think about what your role is with it.
For me, I think about my personal experience with juniper as a plant, in general, before I think about how I take it internally. I think about when you walk up to a juniper tree—and I hope anyone who has a juniper—sometimes called “cedar.” Let’s start there. It’s called “cedar” a lot of times, but it’s not really a cedar. There’s three plants in opposite sides of North America, Turtle Island, that are called cedar that are different. They have some of the same properties and some of the same energetics, but they’re very different plants with different indications even for use.
Juniper is sometimes called cedar but its Latin name is Juniperus, and then it’ll have a species. Then there’s Cedrus and then there’s also Thuja that are called cedar, but they are not the same plant, so make sure you know what you’re talking about when I’m—or what you’re using when I’m discussing this plant. I am talking about the juniper plant, which is, again, a cone-bearing, monecious and evergreen shrub or tree that will grow all over the Desert Southwest, the West, up into the East Coast too in some places, so you’ll see it everywhere.
If you have a cedar, you might—I want you to walk up to it and just see how you feel. My first feeling when I walked up to a juniper is that of protection. If you look at its spiritual significance, a lot of times juniper was looked at that way in different cultures because it’s also found in different countries and some of those different cultures have used it as a—they’ll burn the leaves and fumigate, and use it to protect from evil spirit, or what we could look at also as pathogens and other things. You’ll find that it was often used as a sort of incense. It definitely has that protective feel.
Often times, when I’m camping, I’ll camp underneath the cedar and you’ll find that it’s got this little area that nothing else grows because it’s very tannic. It has a lot of tannins. It has a lot of essential oils so that makes it really volatile oils. It makes it really hard for other plants to grow underneath it, so it’s a great place to camp. You get this smell of juniper everywhere as you are underneath it. There’s nothing like the smell of it right at sunset if you’re walking along a creek with juniper smell in the air. There’s this beautiful smell that just makes me sigh every time I think of it. It’s something to me that’s very motherly, very protective.
A lot of plants can be for people, so it’s not unlikely that you will hear that from other people for other plants like, “That plant is like a mother.” It’s because the plants take care of us for thousands of years. Our DNA and their DNA—we’re one. We’ve been recycling DNA back and forth. As we breathe out, they breathe in. As they breathe out, we breathe in. There’s this really intimate relationship that we’ve had with the plants. Of course, a lot of us are going to say, “Let’s be around our mom!”
Juniper is this little protective fortress. I feel like it’s stunted a lot of times for plants, animals and people. We can use—if any of the boughs fall on the ground or you have a juniper tree that’s fallen over, then you can take the leaves. We actually wrap them up and make little incense sticks out of them in certain bioregions. We’ll use it to purify an area. That’s the first way that I think of loving juniper--is in its purification. It’s virtues of being purifying and protecting.
It’s often times attributed to the sun. The sun has dominion over it because it an evergreen and really, a lot of evergreens are given that in Greek medicine and Greek astrology, medical astrology. It’s a plant of the sun which is thought of as being brightening and opening and purifying a lot of the plants that are given dominion of the sun. It’s also thought of as being heating and drying because when you take it—have you ever taken it? Do you drink a lot of juniper? How do you feel when you drink it?
Rosalee de la Forêt:
It definitely has that—I mean, the first thing is that pungent aromatics that are very awakening.
Yeah! You drink it, you get this really bright flavor. It’s almost piney, but then there’s this deep, dank feel to it too. And it’s—a lot of aromatics are thought of being warming and drying. This plant, because it’s so—the aromatics are so prolific, you’ll get this heating sensation that will then cause you to sweat a little bit. This is thought of as a diaphoretic when you drink it. It also has a diuretic effect. That heating and warming aromatic will push fluid through the body both through the skin and into the kidneys and that’s where a lot of its medicinal aspects and medicinal componens are really explored through the old texts.
I was really lucky I have a lot of old texts like The Eclectic Materia Medica, here, and King’s Dispensatory. What else do I have here? The Physio-medical Dispensatory. A lot of times the way that the old Eclectic docs described this plant as being both relaxant and stimulating--that’s always so confusing. I’m sure if you had jim mcdonald on here, which I saw, he’s always talking about how can something be both relaxing and stimulating, and then he always says—I love the way that he describes it is— you take your hands and you go like this with your hair, and it’s really stimulating and then you feel relaxed.
I think that was such a great way to describe how something can be both a relaxant and a stimulant at the same time. These plants are stirring things up. It’s a blood mover. It’s warm. It’s getting your blood moving. It’s getting your body to sweat a little bit. It’s getting the fluids moving out and then that causes this relaxing effect as well. Some of the volatile oils are actually thought to also be somewhat relaxing to the ureter and the kidneys as well. A little bit antispasmodic, but it’s really that warming sensation that creates that action in the body. It stimulates and then relaxes. A lot of times you’ll see the old Eclectic docs and physio-medicalist docs have used this for kidney issues, whether it was mucus in the kidneys or some blood in the urine, things like that.
For beginning herbalists, if you have mucus in your urine or blood, you need to go get checked out by a professional first. Please don’t just immediately grab a plant that somebody says might be good for it. There’s always, “What’s good for this?” Well, there could be a lot going on and if you don’t know what’s going on in your kidneys and it’s a significant infection, it can be something that’s life-threatening when it has to do with your kidneys, so it’s really good to get evaluated before you just drink something.
Because a lot of times—to be really clear—you could drink something that has high aromatics like juniper in your drink and you’re like, “Things are getting better. I don’t have an issue anymore,” but if you don’t get rid of it completely, that infection can come back further up in the kidneys. You have to really make sure that you know how to address if it is an infection. While this plant is effective against urinary tract to kidney infections, I think you have to keep that in mind because a lot of us are like, “I don’t need to go to the doctor.”
There are certain times teeth infections and urinary—you just want to get checked out, make sure you know what it is. As far as juniper goes though, I have used it successfully with clients as a clinical practitioner, and treated urinary tract infections, and been able to heal them and resolve them.
You had said you often times like to know what I would combine it with, right? When I think about urinary tract formula that uses juniper, I often times will use the leaf. I don’t really use the berries a lot because they’re almost too strong. They’re volatile oils, but I would say I’m not always a leaf person. I sometimes do have some berries. I like berry glycerite a lot. I like the leaf in tincture form and then I’ll put the juniper together with, say nettles.
Nettles and junipers is nice, but also, I use a plant that’s not often used, called Eysenhardtia. Eysenhardtia texana is a kidneywood, which is Eysenhardtia polystachya, is used a lot in Mexico. If you look in Mexican Materia Medica, Eysenhardtia polystachya is called palo azul and it’s something commonly used for urinary tract issues. We have in the Central Texas plant notice Eysenhardtia texana.
There’s also one growing in Ajo, New Mexico. There were some Desert Southwest herbalists that were also using it for a while for Urinary Tract Infections. The one from Mexico turns blue, and then orange, and then yellow in water, and ours doesn’t do that, unfortunately. I was so excited to see it change colors, but no, it doesn’t do that. I have used juniper in combination with this Eysenhardtia. Of course, because if there’s an infection it’s often inflamed so I like to put things that are mucilaginous in a formula too that will soothe the urinary tract, so that would include anything like licorice. It could be something that I use or even some corn silk or some marshmallow.
Sometimes when I’m building a formula, I think of the actions that I want to see happen, what are they dealing with, what are they complaining about--pain, mucus in the urine, maybe there’s inflammation and spasming, and then I build a formula that’s an action-based formula, but then a clinical herbalist like me would then adjust it to the person’s constitution and then the herbs that are in there, and those herbs’ qualities too.
If somebody was a little hotter or drier, you would then adjust stuff if you are going to give it to them long-term so it didn’t throw them off. Most of these first-aid remedies you don’t need to do long-term. They should be used short-term so you do a lot of it short-term, and then you’re not using it anymore. Those kinds of things for infections, say, are not going to be something that I worry as much about constitution with because we’re just trying to clear out an infection.
There’s reasons that somebody would do herbs instead of drugs, but I won’t get into that. Sometimes you’ll do drugs. Sometimes you’ll do herbs. If you’re doing herbs, you can do a formula with juniper that is effective if you’re seeing the right practitioner to guide you through that.
On your own, I just don’t recommend dealing with kidney or Urinary Tract Infections all by yourself as a newbie. I think that’s a dangerous, dangerous place to go. You can disagree with me though because a lot of herbalists are going to be like, “I can do it. I don’t need you telling me what I can and can’t do.” We all like to do our own thing, so… It’s got a lot of affinity to the urinary tract and kidneys, internally. And then, externally, if we’re ready to go there, unless you want to talk about the internal…
Rosalee de la Forêt:
No, no, let’s go external.
A contraindication to keep in mind is that there’s a lot of controversy over whether or not the oils in juniper are too harsh for the kidneys. I was always taught by my teacher, Michael Moore, that if somebody has weak kidneys, be really careful when giving them juniper because it can irritate greatly. That could be an elder. It could be something who gets—someone who gets recurrent kidney infections maybe that has really weak kidneys. Maybe it’s somebody who has other diseases or chronic infections that are related to the kidneys. You want to be careful about, again, who you’re giving that to. That’s a little contraindication there.
As far as externally, that’s my favorite way of using juniper. I do use juniper internally, but not as much as I use it externally. This is how I’ve gotten people who hate juniper to love juniper because for 15 years, I worked as a bodyworker as well. I got to make my own herbal remedies for my clients. One of the things I would make is a juniper oil. The juniper oil smells so good and it’s a rubefacient. For those of you that don’t know that term “rubefacient,” rubefacient means that it reddens the area. Because I was mentioning that it’s a warming plant, when you put this warming plant on your skin, you’ll see that the oil can cause a little reddening because it’s drying all the blood. It’s a blood mover. It’s getting the circulation going.
In some different heritages—or I should say different types of herbal medicine coming from different parts of the world, for example, in Mexico and some of the countries surrounding Mexico in Central America, juniper has been used as a aches and pains, arthritis remedy a lot. That’s something that I started using it a lot for since it was everywhere. I was a bodyworker. I was like, “Why am I going to buy anything and put essential oils on?
Essential oils--talk about unsustainable. Essential oil industry, not sustainable, not okay to be grabbing anything from there. Sorry, that’s my opinion. I’m going to stick with it. Yes, you can get essential oil of juniper but why would you if it’s growing all around you and people are cutting it down because they don’t like it? The leaves, especially, and/or berries, even the wood. The wood is beautiful. I mean, we’ve cut it up and used it in different projects and it’s got this beautiful red and yellow—it’s a soft wood. You can’t really do much except make it—put it on things to make it look pretty, but smells great. It’s a bug repellant too. It’s one of those things has so many different uses. The leaves and the berries, you can put into an oil and it extracts out all of the volatile oils, extract out into that oil so it’s not necessary to buy essential oil. You can go ahead and use it topically.
What I tend to do is most of these infused oils will be at a 1 to 5 ratio, but if you have sensitive skin and you tend to be somebody who reacts really strongly from plants, then I would recommend even doing it more, like a 1 to 10 or just adding twice as much oil to it so that it doesn’t affect you as strongly. It could be a little alarming if you have sensitive skin and you put something on and it gets bright red. Most people doesn’t do that with, but a few people it can be a little alarming with.
You make this nice herbal oil and then especially in the winters, you can cover yourself up with it. You smell delicious. It gets your blood pumping. It’s really good for cold arthritis, so anybody who tends to have arthritis that’s degenerative from a joint wearing down, then that’s going to be something you can use. I don’t really use it on rheumatoid arthritis because that’s a different type. That’s a hot inflammatory type of arthritis. I like to use it more for cold conditions, cold arthritis, cold muscles that are cold and cramping. Massaging it into the muscles will help you to have a lot of pain relief and relaxation in the body. Sometimes I’ll just do a bath with it. I’ll just stick it into a little bath baggy.
Even in our Vinegar of the Four Thieves when we made it right when COVID started, we put a lot of juniper in there because, again, it’s thought of as this purification to the air. You could do it in a steam to purify the air. You could do it in a bath and then breathe that steam in. Gosh, there are so many things about it I love.
Topically, it’s also antifungal. If you look at old remedies, there was a pomade of juniper made, I think, in the 1800s to the early 1900s. It was specific for fungal infections in most pharmacy shelves. It had an ingredient in there that was a little toxic, so I think they just took it off the shelf. I started making it for fungal infections and it’s very, very effective. You’ll see it immediately. Some fungal infections I’d rather do a spray of the juniper than oil because they can just cause more itchiness depending on the fungal infection, but it’s something to try if you tend to be somebody who has fungal infections or you know somebody with fungal infections. That’s another thing because the aromatics are also going to be antimicrobial. That’s that purification and putting it into the air or the bath or the skin. You’re going to be killing different pathogens that could be affecting you. So many ways to love juniper.
Rosalee de la Forêt:
So many ways. I’m really excited about the juniper infused oil recipe that you shared with us. That was a great tip on making it less strong if necessary. The recipe you gave us is the 1 to 5, and for anyone interested in that recipe, you can download your free juniper infused oil recipe card above this transcript. I’m excited to make some juniper infused oil now because that sounds lovely for so many different reasons.
To be clear too about the—one of the things I practice is bioregional herbalism which means, what can we use in our bioregion rather than go outside and go across the world or across the country to get something. If juniper doesn’t grow in your area, what can we use instead of juniper?
A lot of times you can use a lot of different evergreens interchangeably for these warming oils, especially if it’s just to warm the joints and even to purify the aromatics in several different species of evergreens from pine to cypress, to Thuja plicata to other types of evergreen trees have these warming aromatic oils that especially if you’re—my favorite way to gather these, if you want to be really sustainable that you’re gathering, is after a windstorm.
You’re in the forests. You’re out on a walk and there’s been a big windstorm and there’s been stuff that’s been blown down, that is a really nice way to gather and not be taking from live plants, but doing things with what’s been left to become fire fuel.
Rosalee de la Forêt:
I really love all that you’re bringing in in terms of the ecology. I know it’s just something that’s through and through with you, your book, Herbcraft, here. I love—this is Chapter 1, how you get started here, learning to listen to earth rhythms connecting to cycles and seasons. That’s Chapter 1. The first headline is “How to begin finding your sit spot,” which I also just love so much. My main course, that’s how we start too, is a sit spot because as herbalists, that’s what we’re about. It’s finding our place re-rooted back into the world around us.
I agree. I think that one of the ways to be in balance if we think about everything as the yin and the yang and “what goes up must come down” and all that, is that we’re in a culture that’s “Go, go, go! High, high, high! Burn, burn, burn!” One of the ways to balance yourself is to take yourself out of that culture and say, “Wait a minute. Do I really need to speed forward? Do I really need to ‘burn, burn, burn?’ Do I really have to? Can I not just be more reflective?”
As an herbalist, I think that part of what we teach as a lot of us herbalists who are practical, and using plants and learning about them is we understand that our place in nature doesn’t always have to be active. It can be passive. It can be receiving. It’s much more of a feminine—feminist way of acting with plants is to—is to learn how to be quiet with them and not always be trying to do something to them or use them.
Maybe we just need to be quiet and listen for a change because that’s what nature teaches, I think. Thank you for bringing up that book. That book is actually—goes along with my introductory course. It’s like, “What am I going to do during the pandemic except write a book now because I can’t go out anywhere!” Now, everyone’s like, “When are you going to update stuff?” I’m like, “Next pandemic, I’ll be updating the book.”
Now, I’m back out in the gardens and just spending a lot of time outside with plants because I felt like I did so much for so long on the computer over the past few years. It’s again having that balance. I think that as people listen to this and they’re getting into herbalism, there’s this push. If you look at social media, there’s an allusion that you have this—that you need to work really hard to be seen and that you have to do all this extra to be a good herbalist.
I think it’s all an allusion and that really a lot of us herbalists that are really successful and great, you’re never going to see us on the internet. Some people are—there’s definitely—there’s a small contingent or a contingent, I should say, of people on there, but you can be very successful; successful not just monetarily but just a really good herbalist by just being outside with the plants. You don’t have to feel that you have to do things the way everybody else is doing them.
I really want to have people keep that in mind. You don’t have to make a business off of it. I know there’s a big push right now, “How do you get—how do you build your business off of it? Are you going to be happy building a business off herbalism?” You don’t have to build a business off herbalism.
You can be a successful and amazing herbalist just enjoying the plants and spending time with them. I just also want to put that out there because I see a lot of entrepreneurial this and building your business. We don’t have to make—commodify everything. That was our big push when we went and freed fire ciders – that fire cider doesn’t have to be a commodity. It doesn’t have—the herbal commons is for all of us. It’s for all of us to protect as well, whether it’s the plants or the remedies or each other.
It’s up to us how we’re going to show—how we’re going to bring the future forward as herbalists, how do we want to see this because it’s not license right now to be an herbalist. You don’t have to be licensed. If we’re going to keep it that way then we get to explore how we want to see herbalists be defined right now. We’re really lucky. There’s a lot of countries that you don’t get to do this. You don’t get to be—call yourself an “herbalist” and then just go sit in the wild for a while. You have the license to call yourself. I think we should really celebrate that we get to define how we want to be with the plants right now.
Rosalee de la Forêt:
Even some people will be called to make it their calling in life and make a living from it. I love what you said because I think a tremendous level of success that people can have with herbs is simply inviting the plants into their life, turning to them again and again. That is a big success – being able to grow your own medicine and then use that medicine for a sore throat that is then relieved, then you didn’t have to go buy an artificial syrup at the store. That is a huge success. I really appreciate that you brought that in too. We don’t have to commodify it like you said.
Absolutely! People get overwhelmed these days a lot. A lot of my students will get really overwhelmed about what they should be doing. Are they doing the right thing? I always go tell them to—I tell them to go watch Juliette de Baïracli Levy. The full documentary is on YouTube. You can go watch it for free. She’s this amazing herbalist and she recently passed not that long ago. She was an animal herbalist.
She got sick of people, went and lived on an island in Greece with her dogs and people would come to her, and she would just use one plant at a time. She would do it on really serious things like gangrene! She was amazing, did so much. You can still get her books. She is who really inspires me along with Michael Moore and other people like Rosemary Gladstar who was our cheerleader all through the fire cider trials. She’s basically a fairy incarnate.
I think about them because what really stands out—I think one of the reasons that we all fell in love with people like them is they just gave it all away and it makes it feel so good to receive things that are freely given and not held on to as much. Our society is all about holding things like, “My precious! This is my precious!”
I think that Rosemary, Juliette, Michael, were all people who—are all people who freely gave as much as they could of the plants to other people because they found so much joy in it. I think that’s part of it – letting your joy with plants, whether it’s a weed like juniper or nettles or whatever it is, just bringing your joy out to the world with it so people get excited about it too so they can start to catch the bug that I caught and other people caught and Rosalee and everybody. Once you catch it, you’re hooked! That’s not a bad thing to be hooked to. That’s it.
I will tell you for the rest of my life, I will always let the plants guide me first because as long as I put my faith in the plants, they will never steer me wrong. It could be so many other things going wrong in my life, but as long as I say, “Okay, whatever the plants want I do.” I watch and whatever seems to be the right path with the plants, I follow it and it’s always led me to beautiful places. Just following your heart with everything. That’s something Karyn Sanders always talks about too is making sure and checking in with your heart with herbs.
I think that some of the greats have kept that going with me because the world can get really rough, especially with life. I was talking about that with you earlier. It can sometimes feel a little like, “What? I have to live and all this other stuff is happening? And there’s a pandemic? And then there’s a kid that’s just been born?”
All these things that keep happening, but herbalism, to me—lifestyle herbalism is it helps you stay rooted and balanced while everything goes crazy, because during the pandemic I think that a lot of us were like, “We get to go outside. We’re all by ourselves and take more long walks and slow down? Okay.”
There’s a lot of us that for awhile it was pretty nice and now, as the world is sped back up again, I think it’s—I think some of us are like, “I really like that quiet time,” but I think it’s also good to connect with people again too. That’s the beautiful thing about herbalists is being that bridge between nature, the plants and people, and just keeping the plants flowing back and forth between the wilderness and whatever this is that we’re living in--the matrix.
Rosalee de la Forêt:
Nicole, I’d love to hear how the plants are leading you right now and what projects you have going on.
There’s a lot. I am really excited to explore. Right now, I’m exploring how to bring ecology and herbalism and permaculture all together. I’ve been playing around with some different food forest projects and bringing in some of our Herbalists Without Borders work into food forests and creating community pantries there.
That’s actually something that I’m exploring in different parts of the country. I will be going to a couple of different symposium. I’ll be at the IHS this year, which is really fun to reconnect with people there and teach there. I’m not even sure exactly what I’m going to teach. I have a few things in mind. At the AHG symposium, I’ll be there. In Texas, we still—we’re in our 20th year of the Wildflower Schools.
I’ve been having a lot of fun bringing people into the magic and mysteries of all of the virtues of bioregionalism in Central Texas, and then exploring somewhat in my other home in Seattle. I’m with people there, bringing the magic and mystery of plants to people there. I’m kind of all over the place, but I always have been. I just go wherever the herbs are.
Right now, we are about to go into spring and I’m growing so many plants. It’s going to be so much fun because I’m learning propagation. This year is my year to learn propagation in a big way. As far as that goes, you can learn more when you—my books tell you a lot about that. I have found that I used to sell a lot of products.
People are always like, “Where can I get your products?” It was too hard to do all that, so I’m on hiatus from selling products. I did it for a long time but I just choose to spend time now trying to be in nature with people. This is my year to be away from the “matrix” as I called it and more outdoor activities with people. You might be—if you follow some of my Instagram happenings, then it might show you that I’m doing a plant walk in Austin or I’m doing a plant walk in Seattle or I’m doing a plant walk in the Pacific Northwest somewhere else. Who knows? I’ll be—I’m just popping myself up here and there getting back into a new flow, so to say.
Rosalee de la Forêt:
You’re really getting out there, definitely all across the country!
But I mean, I feel like we’re in a new flow. I used to spend—our teaching has changed where I used to do everything in person and now it’s a hybrid program. We do a lot of things hybrid style, so that allows me to work with people in new ways in person. I’m actually thinking about doing more retreat-focused work with people to just sit with them in nature and work with them that way. We’ll see where it all goes. I feel like this is the transition year for me where I’m just reconnecting with people I haven’t been able to see in a long time. Still teaching. Always teaching, always learning and trying to stay—stay honest with the plants, make sure I’m out there.
Michael Moore said a good herbalist really needs to have dirty fingers, and I’ve been definitely keeping my fingers pretty dirty this year. I feel like I’m—that would be a good way to gauge how I’m doing as an herbalist.
Rosalee de la Forêt:
Absolutely. I look forward to hearing how all of that unfolds. Before we go, I’d love to ask you the last question I’m asking everybody in Season 8, which is, “What has been your most important herbal mistake?”
I think my most important herbal mistake was trying to compare myself to other people what they were doing because we’re never going to do things like other people. I think all that does is cause you stress. I think that—I don’t know if it was a mistake though because I feel like every mistake there’s a reason for it. I don’t know if I’ve ever really made a mistake that way. I’d say that that was a lesson I learned.
I’d say maybe a mistake that I made that really sticks out to me was the time I wildcrafted something and then I didn’t have time to process it. It was this wild plant that I spent all day with and then I didn’t process it in time, and it rotted and I was like, I will never do that again. I will never waste plant medicine again. I think that’s another reason. I bring that up because people are worried about making mistakes and I love that you asked that question because we all make them all the time. It’s better to take that risk and make a mistake like that because that’s how you become a better herbalist. I love that you’re asking that.
I think that—I wouldn’t say the first one was more like a lesson--don’t try to do what other people are doing. Be yourself. The second would be really intentional about what you take from the plant world and what you have time to take from the plant world and what you’re going to do with it.
Rosalee de la Forêt:
Those are two very important mistakes or lessons, so thank you so much for sharing them. Thank you so much for generously spending your time with us and sharing so much wisdom that included juniper and then went so far beyond as well.
Sorry, I get—I get [crosstalk].
Rosalee de la Forêt:
I know. I know people love to hear it also. I really appreciate you sharing it all and just sharing from your heart and truly sharing wisdom. Thank you so much, Nicole.
Rosalee de la Forêt:
Thanks for being here. Don’t forget to download your beautifully illustrated recipe card above this transcript and sign up for my weekly newsletter at the bottom of this page, which is the best way to stay in touch with me. You can also visit Nicole directly at wildflowerherbschool.com.
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Okay, you’ve lasted to the very end of the show which means you get a gold star and this herbal tidbit:
Years ago, my husband and I were travelling through my home state of Utah, and we were camping along the way. One night, we camped in this epic location with the Red Rocks of Southern Utah just towering above us. It was so gorgeous until dusk came, and along with it, a horde of mosquitoes.
Something to know about me is that mosquitoes love me and I don’t like most bug sprays. Of course, I don’t like the toxic ones but even the natural one, citronella, are a bit too much for me, and we didn’t have anything with us anyway but we were surrounded by juniper.
So we carefully harvested some and we started feeding it to the fire and we drenched ourselves in the aromatic smoke that came from the fire and it worked great. So now, we had an epic camping spot that smelled like the medicine of juniper.
Rosalee is an herbalist and author of the bestselling book Alchemy of Herbs: Transform Everyday Ingredients Into Foods & Remedies That Healand co-author of the bestselling book Wild Remedies: How to Forage Healing Foods and Craft Your Own Herbal Medicine. She's a registered herbalist with the American Herbalist Guild and has taught thousands of students through her online courses. Read about how Rosalee went from having a terminal illness to being a bestselling author in her full story here.