What are Juniper Berries?
Juniper berries are both a food and an herb. They have been used for medicinal purposes and to flavor food for hundreds of years and can also be made into an essential oil.
You can forage these valuable berries during the winter if you have a nearby source or buy them dried from an herbal supplier.
Either way, here's a look at the top benefits and uses of juniper berries, plus how to include them in your diet and herbal "medicine chest".
All About Juniper Berries
Juniper berries come from evergreen juniper trees, which (confusingly) can also go by the name of cedar trees-- eastern red cedar, for example.
There are numerous varieties of juniper native to North America, Europe, and Asia that produce edible berries, but the two most common types used for herbal preparations are Juniperus communis and Juniperus virginiana.
The purple-blue berries that appear on juniper trees are typically harvested in autumn and winter, although they aren't technically berries at all. Instead, what we call "berries" are the fused seed cones of the tree, which look very similar to a berry.
Juniper berries are classified as a spice and have a strong resinous flavor, so it's best to use them sparingly in recipes to avoid overwhelming your taste buds.
The berries have been used medicinally at least as far back as 1500 BC, and the whole tree has been viewed by many cultures as a protective plant that wards off evil, demons, and witches.
If you have juniper trees growing on your property, you can forage the berries yourself when they are ripe.
However, be very sure of your tree identification before you harvest, since some juniper species-- especially ornamental varieties-- have toxic berries. Also, harvest the berries with restraint because they are an important food for wildlife.
What are the Benefits of Juniper Berries?
Juniper berries are rich in bitter compounds that support healthy digestion and have traditionally been used for a wide range of digestive ailments, including gas, heartburn, loss of appetite, and tapeworms.
By stimulating the production of bile and digestive enzymes, juniper berries also support your liver and help with the digestion and assimilation of nutrients. They are typically taken in tea or tincture form for all kinds of indigestion.
Kidney & Urinary Tract Support
One of the most traditional uses of juniper berries is as a diuretic to promote kidney and bladder health.
Diuretics work by increasing the flow of urine, which encourages your kidneys to flush out toxins and excess fluid. This includes flushing out uric acid and crystals that may form kidney stones or contribute to problems like gout and arthritis.
By stimulating kidney function, juniper berries also support your urinary tract and have even been used for urinary tract infections.
You can try juniper for yourself in an herbal formula like these Kidney Bladder capsules.
Relief for Sore & Stiff Muscles
Juniper berries are often used for their anti-inflammatory effects to ease stiffness and pain, whether that soreness comes from a strenuous workout or a condition like arthritis.
In this case, the berries are most frequently used topically rather than consumed.
They can be used in the form of juniper essential oil (diluted in a carrier oil), or the berries can be infused to make an herbal oil and used as is or made into an ointment.
You can also crush the whole or dried berries and use them alongside bath salts (and perhaps pine needles) to make a muscle-soothing herbal bath.
Years ago, preparations made from juniper berries were used as disinfectants because of the antiseptic properties of juniper. This also makes them beneficial for certain skin conditions, including acne, especially when used as an essential oil.
Some modern studies have found that juniper essential oil specifically fights Candida as well as multiple strains of Gram-positive and Gram-negative bacteria. Not bad for a "berry"! (1)
Calming & Purifying Essential Oil
There are multiple uses of juniper berries in the form of an essential oil, which has a woody, spicy, and resinous aroma. As mentioned earlier, you can dilute the essential oil in a carrier oil and use it for massage or diffuse it for an uplifting fragrance.
Overall, juniper berry essential oil is calming and grounding. It can help you to relax and also benefits focus and meditation practice.
When diffused, juniper oil purifies the air. It can also be used on skin to cleanse, detoxify, and clear congestion that may be contributing to acne and other skin issues.
Juniper berries have a very strong flavor, so a little goes a long way, but they have been used to flavor food and drink for centuries.
The most notable example of this is gin, which is an alcoholic drink that derives most of its flavor from juniper berries. They were also once a traditional addition to sauerkraut because of their digestive benefits.
At home, you can try using the berries sparingly in sauces and marinades, add them to homemade sauerkraut, or slip a few in dessert recipes. They go particularly well with wild game meat like venison.
How to Use Juniper Berries for Healt?
Juniper berries are commonly taken as a tea, tincture, or in capsules. They can also be crushed and infused into oil for topical preparations or used to make an herbal bath tea.
For a simple tea recipe, use about a teaspoon of dried juniper berries, crush them lightly, and simmer in water for 15-20 minutes. Depending on how much you like the flavor, you may want to add other herbs or spices like cinnamon or citrus peel.
Juniper essential oil can be diffused, diluted and applied to your skin, or added to bath salts. You can use it alone or in a blend like this Rapid Relief Synergy blend or this Brain Aid Synergy blend.
What are the side effect of Juniper Berries?
There are few precautions for juniper berries in general, but they should not be taken during pregnancy because they may stimulate muscle contractions. Consult a qualified herbalist before taking them while breastfeeding.
In addition, the berries may not be the best choice for those with poor kidney function or kidney disease because of their diuretic effect. They may also interact with certain medications.
Discover the Many Uses of Juniper Berries
Juniper berries are something of a hidden gem in the herbal world. They can be foraged or found at an herbal supplier and have numerous benefits for digestion, muscle relief, and more.
Try them for a uniquely flavored herbal tea or tincture or use them in a topical preparation to soothe muscles and calm tension.
Disclaimer: This post is for informational purposes only. It does not constitute medical advice and should not be substituted for medical advice. Please consult your health care provider, herbalist, midwife, or naturopathic physician before taking herbs, supplements, etc. Here's the link to our full disclaimer.