Herbfacts
A picture of juniper berries

Herb of the month: Juniper

An evergreen shrub found widely throughout Europe and the Northern hemisphere, juniper (Juniperus communis) bears green berries which take three years to ripen, gradually turning dark blue to black. Best known as a key ingredients in gin, they also have many health benefits.

Medical herbalist Gabriella Clarke introduces you to the health benefits of juniper.

THE HISTORY OF JUNIPER BERRY REMEDIES

Juniper berries were used as both a food and medicine by the ancient Greek and Arabic physicians and more recently in Sweden as a steam inhalant to help manage and treat bronchitis. They were also used to treat wounds, inflammatory conditions and arthritis.

Native Americans used juniper berries as a contraception for women although its effectiveness is somewhat questionable. Meanwhile, In the German Pharmacopoeia the berries are listed as a treatment for digestive complaints such as heartburn, indigestion, bloating and flatulence.

WHAT IS IT USED FOR?

Juniper essential oil can be dropped into hot water and inhaled to help relieve sinus congestion. Its antibacterial action helps to fight respiratory infections such as sinusitis and bronchitis. It was used traditionally to treat TB[i].

As well as respiratory infections, juniper has been shown to help fight urinary tract infections where its antibacterial action teams well with its diuretic effects[ii].

Juniper may be useful in treating bacterial and fungal infections owing to its strong antimicrobial qualities. Foot soaks containing Juniper oil can help athlete’s foot and fungal nail infections.

It may also help treat arthritis: rubbing Juniper cream or ointment over the affected joints can help bring blood to the skin surface to help alleviate pain and inflammation. It also helps to remove uric acid from the body, which can cause gout and kidney stones. It should, however, be avoided if you have reduced renal function or severe kidney disease.

HOW IS IT USED?

Juniper is usually used as an essential oil, which can be inhaled or added to creams. Tablets and tinctures are available but before taking juniper internally, always seek the advice of a medical herbalist.

 WATCHPOINTS

  • Juniper should not be used by people with kidney disease or by women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.
  • High doses may be dangerous so always stick within the manufacturer’s guidelines.

[i] www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0378874109005650

[ii]www.doiserbia.nb.rs/Article.aspx?id=0352-51390704311G&AspxAutoDetectCookieSupport=1