Juniper berries have traditionally been used to “detoxify” the body and promote healthy digestion and skin health, among many other things. And the results are definitely not all anecdotal. There are a large number of studies that reflect the incredible antioxidant and antibacterial potential of juniper berries. (Probably that’s why doctors used to disinfect medical equipment with them.) Whether you’re researching the benefits of new essential oils or just want to understand how to benefit from juniper berries, I know you’ll be excited to learn more.
What are Juniper Berries?
Juniper berries are not berries at all. They are female seed cones that come from juniper plants – a type of conifer (Pinophyta), which is a cone or tree plant. Juniper plants vary in appearance and can grow low and wide like a bush or tall like a tree. Their united and fleshy scales make them look like a berry, hence their name. In addition to its slightly misleading name, these berries are also not a berry that is usually eaten with breakfast, such as blueberries (although they are similar in size). Instead, juniper berries are often used as bitter spices. In fact, they give gin its distinctive flavor. Juniper berries are officially the only spice that comes from a conifer. One of the main uses of these berries is in the essential oil of juniper berries. Known in folk medicine and some modern research as a natural antiseptic and antioxidant, juniper berry essential oil is a popular therapeutic oil. It is also one of the essential oils that the FDA approves for limited internal use.
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 used)
- Juniperus drupacea
- Juniperus deppeana
- Juniperus phoenicea
- Juniperus chinensis
- Juniperus excelsa
- Juniperus oxycedrus
- Juniperus californica
Because they are not consumed like traditional berries, there is not much information about the caloric or vitamin content of the berries. However, only a little spice can add the bitter taste of citrus you are looking to add to any dish. Long before they were used in food, the Greeks used juniper berries as medicine and stimulants for Olympic athletes. The Romans used them as a less expensive pepper substitute. It is good that the juniper berry has been around for so long, because scientists are beginning to discover how beneficial it can be as a natural remedy for various problems.
9 Benefits of Juniper Berries:
1. Relieves Oxidative Stress and Help Prevent Diseases:
- An important benefit of juniper berries are the antioxidants they contain. Antioxidants help your body prevent and fight disease because they relieve oxidative stress caused by too many free radicals in your system.
- Juniper berries contain polyphenolic compounds known as bioflavonoids or flavonoids. These compounds are what give fruits and vegetables (and some other foods) their antioxidant load. In particular, these berries have 87 different antioxidant compounds, according to a chemical evaluation.
- These compounds appear to occur more frequently in ripe berries than in immature varieties.
- Perhaps most significant is that the activity of three extremely important antioxidants in the body is stimulated by juniper berries: superoxide dismutase (SOD), catalase and glutathione peroxidase.
- Problems with SOD are related to ALS, Down syndrome, cancer and lung problems. Both catalase and SOD protect against peroxide damage within the body, while glutathione peroxidase does the same and is associated with help to prevent and treat cancer and heart disease.
2. Natural Antiseptic:
- The antibacterial and antifungal qualities of juniper berries have stood the test of time – which is one of the reasons why juniper berry essential oil is often suggested as a natural household cleaning agent. These berries have convincing effects on many strains of bacteria and fungi. In fact, at least one study suggested that they could be part of the treatment for respiratory and skin infections.
- Juniper berry essential oil powerfully destroys the candida fungus, which causes an infection responsible for a huge list of side effects.
- It has also been found that this essential oil eliminates bacteria and reduces inflammation in the mouth as efficiently as chlorhexidine, a common dental drug, but without toxic side effects.
- Some evidence suggests that juniper berry essential oil can also potentially kill bacteria that are resistant to common antibiotics.
- An extract of Juniperus drupacea berries from Turkey showed significant antibacterial activity in laboratory tests against several cells, including Gram-positive bacteria, Staphylococcus aureus.
- Staphylococcal infections cause skin infections and problems such as boils, and can sometimes lead to serious complications such as pneumonia, cellulitis or bone infection.
- Research has shown that another possible use of juniper berries could be as an antioxidant in food and beverages. In addition, an ethanol extract from these berries has shown a significant antibacterial impact against Aspergillus niger, a black mold commonly found in broken foods.
3. Improves Skin Conditions:
- A simple Google search reveals that one of the most common uses of juniper berries, specifically in the form of essential oil, is to treat skin problems such as rashes or eczema. The antioxidants they contain are probably one of the main reasons why this can be effective.
- In an examination of how animal wounds healed when treated with juniper berry essential oil, researchers discovered that two juniper berry cultivars “showed remarkable wound healing and anti-inflammatory activities.” This suggests that the ancient use of juniper berries as a skin healer has its roots in scientific facts.
- From a laboratory study in South Korea, it also seems possible that juniper extract can help treat skin pigmentation disorders such as vitiligo.
- Juniper berry essential oil has also been used for some time to reduce the appearance of cellulite, a harmless cosmetic problem that involves fatty deposits that are often found in the thighs, hips and buttocks.
4. It Can Help Improve Digestion:
- Juniper berries have long been considered a digestive aid in folk medicine, but few studies have examined these effects in depth.
- However, a study involving dairy cows found that feeding subjects with essential oil of juniper berries resulted in better digestive behavior.
- Because they work as diuretics, juniper berries can help relieve bloating in some cases.
5. Help to Sleep Peacefully:
- Many natural health professionals recommend juniper berry essential oil as a relaxant and believe it has a positive impact on brain chemistry, encouraging rest.
- A study by the Mie University School of Medicine in Japan investigated the effects of a therapeutic fragrance, including juniper berry essential oil, as well as sandalwood, rose and orris, on insomniacs who are currently taking medications for disorder.
- Twenty-six of the 29 participants were able to decrease their medication and achieve a restful sleep after spreading the fragrance overnight, and 12 people discontinued their medication completely at the end of the study.
6. May Be Useful Against Certain Types of Cancer:
- Many herbs and foods that have significant antioxidant activity are studied for their potential impact on diseases such as cancer. So far, no trial in humans or animals has analyzed the anticancer potential of juniper berry.
- However, in a laboratory, the essential oil or juniper berry extract has been found to cause apoptosis (cell death) in a drug-resistant leukemia strain, HepG2 cells (liver cancer) and p53 cells (neuroblastoma).
7. Good for the Heart:
- Probably also due in part to its antioxidant qualities, juniper berries can help improve heart function. For example, it has been found that juniper berry essential oil reduces high blood pressure in animal studies, related to the antioxidants it contains.
- A similar study stated that the function of juniper berry as a natural diuretic (in its original form or as an essential oil) also contributes to its blood pressure lowering activity.
- A study in rats found that juniper berry extracts might be useful for reducing high triglycerides.
- Juniper berries also work as an anticholinesterase agent.
- This is important for cardiac function because anticholinesterase agents (natural or pharmaceutical) help to accumulate acetylcholine in the nervous system, which in turn can slow down cardiac action, lower blood pressure, increase blood flow and induce contractions of the heart.
- Interestingly, the same agents are also used in some cases to treat digestive obstructions, myasthenia gravis and Alzheimer’s disease. At present, no studies have been conducted to investigate the interaction of juniper berries with these last two conditions.
8. It Can Be Included as Part of a Diabetic Diet Plan:
- Like many of the others, studies that connect juniper berries to the treatment of diabetes have been limited to laboratory and animal tests. The initial results, however, look promising.
- An ethanol extract and a juniper berry tea seem to have the potential to reduce the high level of blood sugar in diabetic rats.
- Juniper essential oil also seems to limit the amount of malondialdehyde produced by animals.
- Although the role of malondialdehyde in diabetes is not fully understood, its concentration is much higher in people with diabetes (and cancer).
9. Can Help Treat Leishmaniasis:
- It is possible that a novel use of juniper berries is the treatment of the parasite that causes leishmaniasis, a disease commonly contracted in tropical regions and in southern Europe.
- Laboratory tests showed very powerful results of an extract of juniper berries against the parasite.
How to Find and Use Juniper Berries in the Kitchen?
- Many health food stores sell juniper berries in the spice section. These spicy and rich berries can be bought dried or fresh and whole or crushed. Many sources suggest that they flavor meat dishes particularly well.
- To get the spiciest taste, try to crush the fresh berries before using them in a sauce or marinade. You can also try to toast them, but excessive cooking will make the bitterness and berries not edible.
- As I mentioned, juniper berry essential oil is also a popular way to get the benefits of juniper berries. As always, be sure to buy only food grade essential oil, 100 percent from reputable sellers.
- Although juniper berries are generally safe for most people, some precautions and medicinal interactions must be considered.
- First, pregnant women should never consume juniper berries in their entirety or in the form of essential oil, as it could cause harm to the fetus or force uterine contractions. Juniper is also not recommended for those with poor renal function.
- It is possible to develop an allergic reaction to juniper berries, which could manifest with skin problems (such as a rash) or respiratory problems. If you experience any of these 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. Berries appear to inhibit an enzyme metabolizing medication in the human body known as CYP3A4. This enzyme metabolizes approximately half of the drugs in the pharmaceutical market, while the other half of the drugs actually inhibit the enzyme.
- There is a fairly extensive list of medications that could result in toxicity when taken together with juniper berries. If you are taking any medication, you should first check with your doctor before using juniper berries or juniper berry essential oil.
- Juniper berries are the aromatic cones of conifers that are traditionally used in many German recipes and to make juniper essential oil.
- Because they have a large amount of antioxidants, these berries have a long list of health benefits.
- Eating juniper berries can help prevent serious diseases, kill bacteria, improve skin appearance, treat insomnia and even kill the parasite that causes leishmaniasis.
- Juniper berries are also a valuable addition to the diet for people at risk of heart disease, diabetes and cancer.
- When buying juniper berries (or their oil), be sure to buy only from reputable sellers.
- If you are pregnant or have decreased renal function, you should not consume juniper berries.
- People taking medications should check with their doctor before eating juniper berries or using the essential oil, as it can interact negatively with the CYP3A4 enzyme-activated medications.