encyclopedia

Juniper Berry

Scientific Names:
Juniperus communis L. [Fam. Cupressaceae]

Forms:
Juniper berry tea or tincture; fresh whole or dried powdered juniper berries

Traditional Usage:

– Aches (externally)

– Antifertility

– Antinflammatory

– Antioxidant

– Antiseptic

– Antiviral

– Bone and Joint Conditions

– Bronchitis

– Cellular Regeneration

– Cleansing

– Colic

– Coughs

– Detoxification

– Diuretic

– Digestive Disorders

– Edema

– Eicosanoid Balance

– Flatulence

– Flu

– Gas

– Gastrointestinal Disorders

– Intestinal Infections

– Heartburn

– Herpes

– Hormone Imbalance

– Hyperglycemia

– Immuno-inflammation

– Menstrual Disorders

– Microcirculation Disorders

– Sores (externally)

– Urinary Tract Problems

– Vascular Disorders

– Viral Infections

– Water Retention

Overview:
Juniper berries, Juniperus communis L. [Fam. Cupressaceae], are rich in a pleasant tasting essential oil recognized for its digestive properties. Juniper berry tea is listed in the German Pharmacopoeia as a treatment for dyspeptic complaints including gas, heartburn, indigestion and flatulence. It is noted by German authorities that the tea is also a powerful diuretic and urinary antiseptic. The diuretic action is thought to be largely due to the tea’s content of terpinen-4-ol, a non-irritating terpene. However, other terpenes present in the essential oil do irritate the kidneys and are considered toxic in large amounts or under certain circumstances. The tea is therefore not recommended for prolonged use. Several studies have shown potent activity of the berries and tea against hyperglycemia. Other studies show vascular strengthening properties for the tea, especially for enhancing microcirculation and preventing liver damage. Recent studies have found that the berries contain compounds that help to foster proper hormone and eicosanoid balances, similar to fish oil and EPA supplements, which may explain why the berries were used traditionally against menstrual disorders. This also explains the antinflammatory and anti-PAF (Platelet Activating Factor or blood platelet stickiness) activity of the tea thought to act through the inhibition of prostaglandin biosynthesis. The berries also contain antiviral compounds including deoxypodophyllotoxin that inhibit a number of different viruses including flu and herpes virus. Podophyllotoxin is also a potent inhibitor of abnormal growths. Traditionally, according to Foster and Duke (1990), juniper berries and their tea were also used against urinary tract and intestinal infections, colic, coughs, stomachaches, colds and bronchitis. The tea was also used externally as an antiseptic and/or soother on sores, aches, pains, snakebites and abnormal growths. The berries also contain antifertility compounds that prevent implantation in about 60-70% of cases (based on animal studies) and are contraindicated during pregnancy.

Active Ingredients:
Juniper berries contain: Between 0.5-2.0% essential oil with more than 70 isolated components including, largely, monoterpenes such as 16.5-80% alpha and beta pinene; 0.2-50% sabinene; 1-12% limonene; up to 5% terpinene-4-ol, alpha terpineol; borneol, geraniol, etc.; and sesquiterpenes; phenols and esters; approximately 30% invert sugar (glucose and fructose); 3-5% catechol tannins, flavonoids and proanthocyanidins; deoxypodophyllotoxin.

Suggested Amount:
Unless otherwise prescribed, 2-10 grams (1-3 teaspoonfuls) of crushed juniper berries are made into a tea by pouring boiling water over them (ca. 150-450ml) and steeping for 10 minutes and passing this through a tea strainer while still hot. A cup of the freshly prepared tea is drunk 3 to 4 times a day for no longer than four weeks. This dosage corresponds to 20-100mg of essential oil.

Drug Interactions:
None known

Contraindications:
Juniper berries stimulate smooth muscle contractions and are contraindicated during pregnancy. Due to their irritating effect on kidney tissues, juniper berries are contraindicated in cases of inflammatory disorders of the kidneys.

Side Effects:
As with any diuretic, it is recommended to drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration. Long term use or overdose may result in gastrointestinal upset and kidney damage. Symptoms include kidney pain, increased urge to urinate, painful urination, and the presence of blood, protein and albumin in the urine.

References:

Chavali SR, Weeks CE, Zhong WW, Forse RA. 1998. Increased production of TNF-alpha and decreased levels of dienoic eicosanoids, IL-6 and IL-10 in mice fed menhaden oil and juniper oil diets in response to an intraperitoneal lethal dose of LPS. Prostaglandins Leukot Essent Fatty Acids 1998 Aug; 59(2): 89-93.

Duke, J. 1997: The Green Pharmacy, The Ultimate Compendium of Natural Remedies from the World’s Foremost Authority on Healing and Herbs. pp. 53; 545. Rodale Press.

Jones SM, Zhong Z, Enomoto N, Schemmer P, Thurman RG. 1998. Dietary juniper berry oil minimizes hepatic reperfusion injury in the rat. Hepatology 1998 Oct; 28(4): 1042-1050.

Sanchez de Medina F, Gamez MJ, Jimenez I, Jimenez J, Osuna JI, Zarzuelo A. 1994. Hypoglycemic activity of juniper “berries”. Planta Med 1994 Jun; 60(3): 197-200.

Wichtl M (ed). 1994. Juniperi fructus – Juniper berry. In Herbal Drugs and Phyto-pharmaceuticals. (English translation by Norman Grainger Bisset). CRC Press, Stuttgart, pp. 283-285.