Alligator Juniper (Juniperus deppeana) is a native tree of Arizona that can be found near the Mogollon Rim, the Coconino National Forest, and the Apache Forest between 5,000 – 9,000 feet of elevation. The largest and oldest recorded Alligator Juniper in Arizona is about 2,000 years old (Hulmes, 2014). It does grow in parts of New Mexico, Texas, and even Utah, although is not as plentiful as it is in Arizona.
The tree is aptly named for its bumpy textured bark that resembles the skin of an alligator. It also goes by the name of “Checkerboard” bark. The needles and berries of the tree have a bright, clean, and somewhat lemony scent. The male trees offer small cones that are very well pollinated where the female trees produce small berries that contain anywhere from two to four seeds in the cones (Adams, 2008).
Often Alligator Juniper trees are used in the production of furniture as well as fencing due to their hardness. The distiller that we work with for this precious essential oil initially harvested fallen Alligator Juniper trees from the forest floor, and on occasion, will also get the left-over sawdust from a friend who builds furniture with it.
Historical Use of the Tree
The Zuni tribe in New Mexico has used this tree for various things over the years. The children are said to chew the pitch of the tree as a gum and the berries are eaten raw or steamed (Bruneni, 2013). The Zuni tribe is not the only one to have used this magnificent tree either. The Hopi and others have a rich history and are said to have used it before and after childbirth as well as for stomach remedies and other types of natural medicines(Bruneni, 2013; McHenry, 1934).
In addition to using the tree for medicines, the tree has also been utilized in building homes and for food (McHenry, 1934).
Main Constituents of the Juniper Oil
Alligator Juniper essential oil is rich in α-cedrene (51.46%), thujopsene (8.7%), β-cedrene (6.02%), and cedrene-v6 (5.42%) (Be Kind Botanicals, 2016). Over 82% of this essential oil is sesquiterpenes. Having such a heavy chemistry, this essential oil has a very long shelf life and works well as a fixative or base note in blends.
There are generalizations for the therapeutic activity related to the chemical family sesquiterpenes. These activities include the potential to have an anti-inflammatory, vascular, or anti-viral effect depending on the chemistry (Bowles, 2003).
Alligator Juniper essential oil has the potential to be useful for stimulating circulation, soothing muscle spasms and pains. I have often used it in soothing sore muscles with massage and without massage. It is perfect in the bath after a long day on the feet!
It is also an effective clearing or decongestant during head colds very similar to the actions of Virginia Cedarwood (Wormwood, 2016). In fact, I was able to participate in a distillation a few years ago and I happened to have mild congestion. I noticed during the distillation that my congestion cleared quite a bit just being in the room.
Because it is so rich in sesquiterpenes, it is a very soothing, grounding and calming essential oil that can help put the mind to rest. I enjoy it so much for sleep that I formulated a sleep blend with this essential oil that is quite effective.
The Alligator Juniper essential oil functions in blends as a strong fixative or base note. It has a very long staying power which can help in holding and balancing any bright or top-heavy blend.
The actual aroma of the essential oil is very complex with hints of smoky tones. The initial greeting of this oil is slightly sweet, exotic, and quite fragrant with earthy and leathery tones. It is a round and rich aroma with notes of balsamic and exotic woods that linger for quite a long time even after the fragrance strip has sat for a few hours.
The first time I sat down to work this essential oil using fragrance sticks I found that even after four hours I could still smell the essential oil.
It blends well with Rose, Lavender, Roman Chamomile, Frankincense, Myrrh, Clary Sage, Grapefruit, and Rosemary ct. Cineole to name a few.
As of now, there is no information found within Tisserand & Young’s Essential Oil Safety 2nd Edition regarding the essential oil. However, Alligator Juniper essential oil is very similar in chemistry to that of the Virginia Cedarwood. If we were to assume the Alligator Juniper safety notes are similar to the Virginia Cedarwood information based on the similarity between the chemical composition, it is likely that there are no contraindications for the normal use of it.
That being said, pure essential oils should still be diluted appropriately and used in a safe but balanced manner.
Additional Information about Alligator Juniper Essential Oil
Country of Origin: United States - Arizona
Plant Parts: Trunk Heart Wood
Cultivation Method: Wild Harvested between 6,000 ft and 9,000 ft in the Coconino Forest
Note Classification: Base
Method of Extraction: Steam Distilled
Botanical Family: Cupressaceae
Distillation Date: Spring 2014 Approx.
Shelf Life: 8+ years
More details on this essential oil can be found here.
Hulmes, D. (2014, April 7). The Grandfather Juniper, Juniperus deppeana - 2016 Kuvavõistluse Lisa / Photos that did not qualify - Category - Maavalla Koda. Retrieved from https://www.maavald.ee/en/image-contests/2016-lisa/the-grandfather-juniper-juniperus-deppeana-2510
Bruneni, S. (2013, November 1). Alligator juniper: Juniperus deppeana. Retrieved August 28, 2018, from https://santafebotanicalgarden.org/november-2013/
Jolma, P. (2007). Juniperus deppeana. Retrieved August 28, 2018, from http://jan.ucc.nau.edu/plants-c/bio414/species pages/Juniperus deppeana.htm
McHenry, D. (1934, April). Indian Uses of Juniper in the Grand Canyon. Retrieved August 28, 2018, from http://npshistory.com/nature_notes/grca/vol9-1c.htm
Adams, R. P. (2008, December). JUNIPERUS OF CANADA AND THE UNITED STATES: TAXONOMY, KEY AND DISTRIBUTION[PDF]. Gruver, TX: Phytologia.
Alligator Juniper GC-MS - Be Kind Botanicals [PDF]. (2016). Buckeye, AZ: Be Kind Botanicals.
Bowles, E. J. (2004). The chemistry of aromatherapeutic oils (3rd ed.). Crows Nest, N.S.W.: Allen & Unwin.
Tisserand, R., Young, R., & Williamson, E. M. (2014). Essential oil safety: A guide for health care professionals (2nd ed.). Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone/Elsevier.
Wormwood, V. A. (2016). The complete book of essential oils and aromatherapy: Over 800 natural, nontoxic, and fragrant recipes to create health, beauty, and safe home and work environments. Novato, CA: New World Library.
Other Articles Not Used That Have More Information:
Earl, R., & Bash, D. (1996). Response of Alligator Juniper (Juniperus deppeana Pinaceae) to Historic Environmental Variability in South Central New Mexico. The Southwestern Naturalist,41(3), 227-238. Retrieved August 28, 2018, from https://www.jstor.org/stable/30055118.
Wasowski, S. (2015, November 11). Plant Database: Juniperus deppeana. Retrieved August 28, 2018, from https://www.wildflower.org/plants/result.php?id_plant=jude2
Adams, R. (1984). Analyses of the volatile leaf oils of Juniperus deppeana and its infraspecific taxa: Chemosystematic implications [PDF]. Great Britain: Biochemical Systems & Ecology. http://www.juniperus.org/uploads/2/2/6/3/22639912/54-1984bse1223.pdf