Discover the 8 shocking health benefits of juniper berries.
Have you ever tasted berries that are not berries, berries that are used as spices? Are you still with me? Okay, because I’m talking about the antioxidant-rich, heart-healthy juniper berries.
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 not all anecdotal.
There are a large number of studies that reflect the incredible antioxidant and antibacterial potential of juniper berries. (This is probably why doctors used to disinfect medical equipment with them.)
Whether you are researching the benefits of new essential oils or just want to understand how to benefit from juniper berries, I know you will be excited to learn more.
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 close-knit, fleshy scales make them look like a berry, hence their name.
Aside from their slightly misleading name, juniper berries are also not a berry typically eaten with breakfast, like blueberries (although they are similar in size).
Instead, juniper berries are often used as a bitter spice. They give gin its distinctive flavor. Juniper berries are officially the only spice that comes from a conifer.
One of the main uses for these berries is juniper berry essential oil. 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 drupaceous
• Juniperus deppeana
• Juniperus phoenicea
• Juniperus Chinensis
• Juniperus excelsa
• Juniperus oxycedrus
• Juniperus California
Because they are not consumed like traditional berries, there is not much information on the caloric or vitamin content of juniper berries.
However, just a little of the spice can add the bitter citrus flavor that 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 substitute for pepper.
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.
• An important benefit of juniper berries is the antioxidants they contain. Antioxidants help your body prevent and fight disease by relieving 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, juniper berries have 87 different antioxidant compounds, based on a chemical evaluation.
• These compounds seem to occur more frequently in ripe berries than in immature varieties.
• Perhaps most significantly, 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 helping to prevent and treat cancer and heart disease.
• The antibacterial and antifungal qualities of juniper berries have stood the test of time – which is one reason why juniper berry essential oil is often suggested as a natural cleaning agent for the home.
These berries have convincing effects on many strains of bacteria and fungi. At least one study suggested 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.
• This essential oil has also been found to kill bacteria and reduce 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 drupaceous berries from Turkey showed significant antibacterial activity in laboratory tests against various cells, including the Gram-positive bacterium, Staphylococcus aureus.
• Staph 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 for juniper berries could be as an antioxidant in foods and beverages.
Additionally, an ethanol extract from these berries has shown a significant antibacterial impact against Aspergillus niger, a black mold commonly found in spoiled food.
• A simple Google search reveals that one of the most common uses for juniper berries, specifically in essential oil form, is to treat skin problems such as rashes or eczema. The antioxidants they contain are probably one of the main reasons this can be effective.
• In an examination of how the animals’ wounds healed when treated with juniper berry essential oil, the researchers found that two juniper berry cultivars “exhibited remarkable wound healing and anti-inflammatory activities.” This suggests that the ancient use of juniper berries as a skin healer is rooted in scientific fact.
• From a lab study in South Korea, it also seems possible that juniper extract may help treat skin pigmentation disorders like vitiligo.
• Juniper berry essential oil has also been used for some time to reduce the appearance of cellulite, a harmless cosmetic problem that involves fat deposits often found on the thighs, hips, and buttocks.
• 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 juniper berry essential oil resulted in better digestive performance.
• Because they work as diuretics, juniper berries can help relieve bloating in some cases.
• Juniper berry essential oil is recommended by many natural health professionals as a relaxant and believe it has a positive impact on brain chemistry, promoting rest.
• A study from the Mie University School of Medicine in Japan investigated the effects of a therapeutic fragrance, including essential oil from juniper berries, as well as sandalwood, rose, and orris, on insomniacs currently taking medications for the disorder.
• Twenty-six of the 29 participants were able to decrease their medication and achieve a restful sleep after diffusing the fragrance overnight, and 12 people discontinued their medication completely at the end of the study.
• Many herbs and foods that have significant antioxidant activity are studied for their potential impact on diseases such as cancer.
So far, no human or animal trials have looked at the anticancer potential of the juniper berry.
• However, in a laboratory, juniper berry essential oil or extract has been found to cause apoptosis (cell death) in a drug-resistant strain of leukemia, HepG2 cells (liver cancer), and p53 cells (neuroblastoma).
• Probably also partly due to their antioxidant qualities, juniper berries can help 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 that the function of the juniper berry as a natural diuretic (in its original or essential oil form) also contributes to its blood pressure-lowering activity.
• A study in rats found that juniper berry extracts might help lower high triglycerides.
• Juniper berries also work as an anticholinesterase agent.
• This is important for heart function because anticholinesterase agents (natural or pharmaceutical) help build up acetylcholine in the nervous system, which in turn can slow heart action, lower blood pressure, increase blood flow, and induce heart contractions.
• 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.
• Like many of the others, studies connecting juniper berries to treating diabetes have been limited to laboratory and animal testing. The initial results, however, look promising.
• An ethanol extract and a juniper berry tea appear to have the potential to lower high blood sugar in diabetic rats.
• Juniper essential oil also appears 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).
• It is possible that a novel use for juniper berries is to treat the parasite that causes leishmaniasis, a disease commonly contracted in tropical regions and southern Europe.
• Laboratory tests showed very powerful results of a juniper berry extract against the parasite.
• Many health food stores sell juniper berries in the spice section. These spicy and rich berries can be purchased dried or fresh and whole or crushed. Many sources suggest that they flavor meat dishes particularly well.
• For the spiciest flavor, try mashing the fresh berries before using them in a sauce or marinade. You can also try toasting them, but overcooking will make the bitterness and berries inedible.
• As I mentioned, juniper berry essential oil is also a popular way to reap the benefits of juniper berries. As always, be sure to buy only food-grade essential oil, 100 percent from reputable vendors.
• Although juniper berries are generally safe for most people, there are some precautions and medicinal interactions to consider.
• First of all, pregnant women should never consume juniper berries in whole or in essential oil form, as it could cause harm to the fetus 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 problems (such as a rash) or breathing 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. The berries appear to inhibit an enzyme-metabolizing drug in the human body known as CYP3A4. This enzyme metabolizes about half of the drugs on the pharmaceutical market, while the other half of the drugs 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 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 are high in antioxidants, juniper berries have a long list of health benefits.
• Consuming juniper berries can help prevent serious illness, 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 for 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 kidney 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 negatively interact with medications activated by the CYP3A4 enzyme.