Juniper Berry (Juniperus communis)
Juniper berries actually aren’t berries at all. They are female seed cones that come juniper plants — a type of conifer (Pinophyta), which is a cone-bearing plant or tree. Juniper plants vary in appearance and can grow low and wide like a shrub or tall like a tree. Their uniquely fleshy, merged scales make them look like a berry, thus the name.
In addition to their slightly misleading name, juniper berries are also not a berry you would generally eat with breakfast, like blueberries (even though they’re similar in size). Instead, juniper berries are often used as a bitter spice. In fact, they give gin its distinctive flavor. Juniper berries are officially the only spice to come from a conifer tree.
One of the major uses of these berries is in juniper berry essential oil. Known in folk medicine and some modern research as a natural antiseptic and antioxidant, the essential oil of juniper berries is a popular therapeutic oil. It’s also one of the essential oils the FDA approves for limited internal use.
Juniper is used for digestion problems including upset stomach, intestinal gas (flatulence), heartburn, bloating, and loss of appetite, as well as gastrointestinal (GI) infections and intestinal worms. It is also used for urinary tract infections (UTIs) and kidney and bladder stones. Other uses include treating snakebite, diabetes, and cancer.
There are many species of juniper berries; however, keep in mind that at least one is toxic. Edible juniper varieties include:
- Juniperus communis (the most commonly used)
- Juniperus drupacea
- Juniperus deppeana
- Juniperus phoenicea
- Juniperus chinensis
- Juniperus excelsa
- Juniperus oxycedrus
- Juniperus californica
JUNIPER ESSENTIAL OIL USES
Colds, flu, acne, cellulitis, gout, hemorrhoids, obesity, rheumatism, toxin build-up. [Julia Lawless, The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Essential Oils (Rockport, MA: Element Books, 1995), 58-61.]
The essential oil of juniper is obtained through steam distillation of the needles, wood and powdered fruits of juniper, bearing the scientific name Juniperus communis.
Major Constituents: a-Pinene, Sabinene, B-Myrcene, Terpinene-4-ol, (+)-Limonene, B-Pinene, Gamma-Terpinene, Delta-3-Carene, a-Terpinene. See Essential Oil Safety for more complete list of constituents. [H. Schilcher, D. Emmrich, C. Koehler. Gas Chromatographischer Verleich von Atherischen Wacholderolen und Deren Toxikologische Bewertung. (Pharmazeutische Zeitung 138, 1993), 85-91. Source cited in Robert Tisserand and Rodney Young, Essential Oil Safety (Second Edition. United Kingdom: Churchill Livingstone Elsevier, 2014), 314.]
Blending: Juniper essential oil blends well with the essential oils of Bergamot, Cedar Wood, Cypress, Grapefruit, Geranium, Lavandin, Lavender, Lavandin, Lime, Lemon, Lemongrass, and Vetiver.
BENEFITS OF JUNIPER BERRIES
- Relieve Oxidative Stress and Prevent Disease: juniper berries are full of antioxidants that help your body prevent and fight disease by relieving oxidative stress caused by too many free radicals in your system. They contain 87 different distinct bioflavonoids.
- Natural Antiseptic: strong antibacterial and antifungal qualities. Powerfully destroys black mold (aspergillus), candida and staphylococcus, kills antibiotic resistant strains, and eliminates bacteria and reduces inflammation in the mouth without toxic side effects.
- Improves Skin Conditions: juniper berries, specifically in essential oil form, is to treat skin issues like rash or eczema. The antioxidants they contain are probably one major reason this can be effective. Helps treat skin pigmentation disorders like vitiligo. The essential oil of juniper berries has also been used for some time to reduce the appearance of cellulite, a harmless cosmetic issue involving fatty deposits that are often found on the thighs, hips and buttocks.
- Helps Improve Digestion: Juniper berries have long been considered a digestive aid in folk medicine, but few studies have examined these effects at length. Because they function as diuretics, juniper berries can help relieve bloating in some cases.
- Aids in Restful Sleep: juniper berry essential oil as a relaxant and has a positive impact on brain chemistry, encouraging rest.
- Effective Against Cancer: juniper berry essential oil or extract has been found to cause apoptosis (cell death) in a drug-resistant strain of leukemia, HepG2 (liver cancer) cells and p53 (neuroblastoma) cells.
- Good for Heart Health: due in part to its antioxidant qualities, juniper berries can help to improve heart function. For example, juniper berry essential oil has been found to reduce high blood pressure in animal studies, related to the antioxidants it contains. A similar study stated juniper berry’s function as a natural diuretic (in its original or essential oil form) also contributes to its blood pressure-lowering activity. Juniper berries also function as an “anticholinesterase agent.” This is important for heart function because anticholinesterase agents (natural or pharmaceutical) help to build up acetylcholine in the nervous system, which in turn can slow heart action, lower blood pressure, increase blood flow and induce contractions of the heart.
- Should Be Part of Diabetic Diet Plan: An ethanol extract and a tea of juniper berries seem to have the potential to reduce high blood sugar in diabetic rats. Juniper berry essential oil also seems to limit the amount of malondialdehyde produced by animal bodies. Although malondialdehyde’s role in diabetes isn’t understood entirely, its concentration is much higher in people with diabetes (and cancer).
- Relieves Pain: is numbing when applying to painful joints and muscles to relieve pain and inflammation.
- Fights Arthritis: Juniper essential oil promotes and improves blood circulation. It also helps in the removal of toxins like uric acid from the body. Both of these properties help fight ailments like rheumatism, arthritis, gout, and renal calculi, all of which are related to improper circulation and the accumulation of toxins in the body. This essential oil also relieves swelling.
- Relieves Cramps: Juniper essential oil is also effective in nearly all forms of cramps, whether it is muscular, intestinal, respiratory or any other area. It relaxes muscle cramps and helps cure spasmodic cholera as well. Being an antispasmodic, it helps cure many other problems related to cramps or spasms.
- Improves Breathing: reduces inflammation in respiratory tissues and improves breathing.
- Relieves Stress and Improves Emotions: is calming and helps to ease stress without imparting the sedative effects that clary sage and the chamomiles are known for. Spiritually, Juniper Berry Essential Oil used in a room mist, diffuser or candle burner cleanses and purifies the air. It is a good choice for use during prayer or meditation.
- Insect Repellent: like citronella oil, the scent of juniper may naturally repel bugs like mosquitoes according to scientific research. Spray it on your clothes, mix it with a carrier oil and massage into your skin, or diffuse it indoors and outdoors to purify the air and help prevent bug bites. You can even include it in your own homemade bug spray.
- Might Reduce Cellulite: You can also use juniper oil as a cellulite remedy. It may help to reduce the appearance of cellulite thanks to active components like alpha-pinene, sabinene and juniperene. Add 100 percent therapeutic grade juniper berry essential oil to grapefruit cellulite cream to decrease cellulite.
- Promotes Sweating: A sudorific substance is an agent which can bring about heavy sweating or perspiration. This is nothing to get annoyed at. The occasional perspiration makes you feel lighter and healthier and helps in the removal of toxins, excess salt, and water through sweat. This cleans the skin pores and openings of sweat and sebum glands, which prevents acne and other skin diseases.
- Healing Tonic: Have you ever heard of health tonics? Have you had any? Juniper oil is also considered a tonic, because it tones up everything, including the muscles, tissues, skin, and various other systems inside the body. This includes the respiratory, circulatory, nervous, digestive, and excretory systems. This tonic effect helps retain youth for a long time and maintains proper health for all your years.
- Speeds Up Healing Process: If a diluted solution of this oil is applied on wounds or blended with a skin cream and applied, it helps your wounds heal faster and keeps them protected from infections. This oil is equally beneficial in healing internal wounds, cuts, and ulcers.
- Other Benefits: It disinfects air and helps cure kidney stones, inflammation, urinary tract infections, acne, eczema, other skin diseases, dandruff, and enlargement of the prostate gland.
USES OF JUNIPER BERRY OIL
The fresh and calming aroma of juniper berry oil is widely renowned for relieving stress and anxiety. When diffused, it can also cleanse and purify the air. If you want to use juniper berry oil to get its healing and calming effects, try these methods:
- Vapor therapy. Use a burner or vaporizer to diffuse the oil, which helps relieve emotional issues, such as addiction, nervous tension and hangovers.
- Massage oil or added to bath water. This works well for pain relief, such as for arthritis, pain in passing urine, swollen joints, gout and muscle fatigue.
- Add to lotions and creams. Try this for skin-related problems, such as oily skin, acne, dermatitis, psoriasis and weeping eczema.
- Use in a compress. Ideal for eczema, arthritis and general infections.
Juniper Berry Tea: by adding 1 cup of boiling water to 1 tablespoon of juniper berries, covering, and allowing the berries to steep for 20 minutes. The usual dosage is 1 cup twice a day. However, juniper is said to work better as a treatment for bladder infections when combined with other herbs. Combination products should be taken according to label instructions.
Juniper Berry Oil: made by steam distilling the berries. However, you can make your own infused berry oil at home. Here’s a step-by-step procedure from Lisa Lise:9
- Put juniper berries in a clean and sterilized jar. Fill at least three-quarters of the container.
- Fill the jar with your oil of choice. Choose a safe oil, such as olive oil or coconut oil.
- Close the lid tightly and place the jar in a cool and dark place. Give it a good shake every day for four to six weeks.
Note: Check the jar regularly for any unpleasant smell, which may indicate bacterial growth. If it smells strange, throw it out and make a fresh batch.
Juniper, juniper berry, and juniper extract are LIKELY SAFE when consumed in normal food amounts.
Juniper is POSSIBLY SAFE for most adults when taken by mouth in medicinal amounts short-term, when inhaled appropriately as a vapor, or when applied to the skin in small areas. Using juniper on the skin can cause some side effects including irritation, burning, redness, and swelling. Avoid using it on large skin wounds.
Taking juniper by mouth long-term or in a high dose is LIKELY UNSAFE as it can cause kidney problems, seizures, and other serious side effects.
First, pregnant women should never consume juniper berries in whole or essential oil form as it may potentially cause damage to the unborn child or force uterine contractions. Juniper is also not recommended for those with poor kidney function.
It is possible to develop an allergic reaction to juniper berries, which could manifest with skin issues (like a rash) or breathing issues. If you experience any of those conditions after using juniper berries, discontinue use and consult your doctor immediately.
Juniper berries may also interact negatively with certain medications, according to a 2014 study. The berries seem to inhibit a drug metabolizing enzyme in the human body known as CYP3A4. This enzyme metabolizes about half of the drugs on the pharmaceutical market, while the other half of medicines actually inhibit the enzyme.
There is a fairly extensive list of medications that could result in toxicity when taken in conjunction with juniper berries. If you are taking any medications, you should first consult with your doctor before using juniper berries or juniper berry essential oil.
Surgery: Juniper might affect blood sugar levels, making blood sugar control more difficult during and after surgery. Stop using juniper at least 2 weeks before a scheduled surgery.