JuniperLatin Names: Juniperus communis, Juniperus phoenicia, Juniperus spp.
Other Names: Abhal, Ar-ar (Juniper berry), Sandrus (Juniper resin) – Arabic; Ris, Ar’ar (Juniper berry), Sandrus (Juniper resin) – Persian; Genevrier – French; Enebro – Spanish; Ienupar – Romanian
Taxonomy: Vegetable Kingdom, Coniferae (Cone bearing evergreen family); Cupressaceae (Cypress family).
Part Used: The fruits or berries; the essential oil of the berries, or the wood; the resin.
Basic Qualities: Avicenna says that Juniper berries are Hot in the first degree, and Dry in the second degree. Many physicians regard Juniper berries as being Hot and Dry in the third degree.
Other Qualities: A strong dissolvent property due to its drying nature; also slightly irritant and slightly constricting or astringent in nature. Although Juniper berries have a mild sedative effect due to their ability to relax nervous tension, they are a digestive and metabolic stimulant.
Taste: Pungent and bittersweet; highly aromatic.
Humoral Dynamics: Sanguine – mildly stimulates blood circulation; lowers insulin resistance and improves the regulation of blood sugar; an emmenagogue to stimulate menstruation. Phlegmatic – a mild diuretic that relieves edema and fluid retention by improving fluid metabolism; disperses phlegm congestion due to its drying properties. Choleric – stimulates digestion and stomach function. Melancholic – a mild sedative that relaxes nervous tension; a stomachic and carminative that relieves wind, flatulence and colic in the GI tract.
Tropism: The lungs and respiratory tract; the liver, pancreas and humoral metabolism; the stomach and GI tract; the kidneys, bladder and urinary tract; the uterus and the female reproductive system; the blood and serous fluids.
Constituents and Pharmacology: The chief active constituent of Juniper berries is its volatile essential oil, with resin, sugar, gum, water, lignin, wax and mineral salts also being present. The best time to harvest Juniper berries for extracting their essential oil is right before the full maturation and darkening of the fruit, whereupon the essential oil changes to resin. About 2% of the weight of the dried berries consists of their essential oil. The volatile essential oil is composed of about 50% monoterpenes, like pinene, myrcene and sabinene; steam distillation of the berries yields mono- and sesquiterpenes from the oil. The chemistry of the essential oil of Juniper is extremely complex, and some 23 different compounds have been isolated from it. Juniper berries also contain various organic acids such as formic, acetic and malic acids, in addition to fats and sterols. The essential oil also contains cadinenes and camphene, and a Juniper camphor can be distilled from the volatile essential oil.
Medicinal Properties: Anodyne, antioxidant, antirheumatic, antiseptic, carminative, decongestant, diaphoretic, diuretic, digestive and metabolic stimulant, emmenagogue, stomachic, tonic.
Cautions and Contraindications: Juniper berries and essential oil achieve their diuretic action via a mild irritation of renal tissue, so those with compromised urinary function or chronic irritation or inflammation of the genitourinary passages are often cautioned to avoid Juniper berries, or to take them in combination with other herbs that have a soothing, emollient effect on the genitourinary passages, such as Corn Silk or Marshmallow root. Listen to your body and urinary tract, and if irritation or inflammation is aggravated, discontinue use of Juniper berries. Because Juniper berries are an emmenagogue that increases uterus tone, they should not be taken during pregnancy and lactation. Otherwise, there are no known or clearly documented negative interactions between Juniper berries and other herbs or drugs. Since they are also used in cooking, the whole dried Juniper berries are fairly mild and innocuous in standard doses, but care should be taken not to exceed the recommended dosage of the essential oil, as with all essential oils.
Medicinal Uses: A tea or infusion of the dried Juniper berries is diaphoretic or sweat provoking when taken hot, anodyne and antirheumatic when taken warm, and diuretic when taken cold or at room temperature. The dried powdered Juniper berries are a digestive and metabolic stimulant, a stimulator of the pancreas and blood sugar metabolism in type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome, a stomachic and carminative tonic for the digestive organs, and a cleansing and antiseptic diuretic for urinary tract infections; they also exert an anodyne and antirheumatic action against rheumatism and muscular aches and pains, and stimulate menstruation as an emmenagogue. As a diuretic, Juniper berries are also valuable for treating gout and uric acid buildup, and facilitating the passage of urinary stones and gravel. The essential oil of Juniper is useful for all the above purposes, and can also be inhaled, either directly from the bottle, or via a steam vaporizer to relieve lung congestion. Since Juniper berries are an antiseptic, the fresh or dried berries can either be mashed or powdered and used topically in poultices to cleanse and disinfect wounds.
Other Uses: The essential oil of Juniper is a common ingredient in natural aromatics and perfumery, in herbal sachets and potpourris. Juniper resin can also be burned as incense. Because Juniper berries are a digestive stimulant, they also have culinary uses, mainly in jellies and tapenades used as condiments. The light, stimulating and refreshing nature of Juniper berries is the perfect antidote to improve the digestion of certain heavy meats like beef or lamb. The essential oil of Juniper can also be used as an insect repellent.
Preparation and Dosage: Juniper berries are generally used in standard doses and in equal parts in combination with other herbs in a formula. An infusion of Juniper berries can be prepared by either steeping a heaping tablespoon of the berries in hot or boiling water for five minutes, or lightly simmering them for one to five minutes. Care should be taken not to boil Juniper berries excessively, as this will dissipate the essential oil, which is their primary active constituent. Dried Juniper berries can be powdered and either washed back with water in doses of ½ teaspoonful, or put in capsules, either singly or in combination with other herbs; the standard dose is two gelatin capsules, two to three times per day. Powdered Juniper berries can also be used as an ingredient in medicinal jams or electuraries, mixed with other ingredients like honey. Alcoholic tinctures of Juniper berries can be made by soaking the powdered berries in 80 proof spirits for two weeks, shaking regularly, in a ratio of 2 to 3 heaping tablespoons of the powdered berries per cup of alcohol menstruum. The recommended dose for the essential oil is 3 to 5 drops, taken 2 to 3 times per day.
Herbal Formulation: Juniper berries, with their stimulating, aromatic nature and their pungent and bittersweet taste, are quite a versatile and useful ingredient in a wide variety of herbal formulas. Since they stimulate the stomach and digestion, they are a valuable and common ingredient in digestive formulas, including aperitifs and digestive bitters. They can also be used with other digestive tonics and stimulants in powder formulas and herbal jams, or electuaries. Because Juniper berries are a diuretic and a urinary antiseptic, one of their most common uses is with other diuretic herbs to flush out the kidneys and urinary tract and to treat urinary tract infections, usually as a tea. Juniper berries can also be used in herbal formulas to regulate a woman’s monthly menstrual period, since they are an emmenagogue that stimulates the menstrual flow.
Classic Combinations: With Corn Silk (Zea mais) as a diuretic to treat urinary tract infections; the soothing emollient nature of Corn Silk counterbalances and offsets any potential irritating properties of the Juniper berries. With Buchu (Barosma betulina) as an aromatic duo to treat urinary disorders like urinary colic and disinfect the urinary tract; this duo is also good for treating type 2 diabetes, especially in the initial stages. With Bay Laurel (Laurus nobilis) and Spanish Cinnamon (Cinnamomum zeylanicum) as a warming anodyne to treat cold-induced rheumatic and muscular aches and pains. With Cardamom (Eleteria cardamomum) and Ginger (Zingiber officinale) as a digestive stimulant to treat a sluggish stomach and digestion. With Peppermint (Mentha piperita) and/or other mints in tapenades and condiment jellies to be eaten with heavy meats like lamb to aid in their digestion.
Description: The Juniper tree, in all its species and varieties, is found in abundance in the Eastern Mediterranean, and all over the Mediterranean basin; it is also found in northern Europe, and can be found, in one variety or another, virtually all over the world. It is a botanical relative of the Cypress tree, and is a fragrant, hardy evergreen tree that bears aromatic dark blue berries. Evergreen trees are so full of the Life Force that they never go into a seasonal death or hibernation, like deciduous trees do; for this reason, astrological herbalists like Culpeper consider Pine, Juniper and other evergreen trees to be under the dominion of the Sun, as they stoke or stimulate the vital fires of the body, which govern and regulate digestion, metabolism and circulation. Being so aromatic in nature, the fruits, needles and essential oils of Juniper and other evergreen trees are also strongly antiseptic, focusing their cleansing, disinfectant action principally on the respiratory, digestive and genitourinary tracts.
Being so fragrant and aromatic, the berries, the bark, the resin and the distilled essential oil of the berries all have their uses and applications in natural aromatics and perfumery, as well as in aromatherapy. The resin, and even the resinous bark, of the Juniper tree can be burned as incense, as can the berries as well. Juniper berries have a clean, fresh, Christmas tree –like scent that is used to flavor Gin. The aromatic essential oil of Juniper is extracted from the berries via steam distillation, and the optimum time for essential oil yield for extraction is right before the berries achieve their full darkening and ripening; after this, the essential oil changes to resin. Simmering Juniper berries in a steam inhaler and inhaling the steam is very beneficial for decongesting the lungs and respiratory tract, and facilitating the expectoration of phlegm. The essential oil of Juniper also disinfects the digestive tract, stimulates the stomach and digestion, and relieves bloating, flatulence and colic. The urinary tract is also cleansed and disinfected by Juniper’s essential oil, which has a mild diuretic effect.
Juniper berries have a mild diuretic effect that is produced not so much by a strong provocation of the kidneys and urinary tract as it is by stoking the metabolic fires of the body, especially those of the liver and pancreas. The strengthened and stimulated metabolic fires then improve the circulation and metabolism of the opposite yet complementary element of Water, removing edema and excess fluid buildup via the kidneys and urinary tract. Even though Juniper berries are generally considered to be a mild diuretic, they work by provoking a mild irritation of the kidneys; therefore, many herbalists don’t recommend Juniper berries if one’s basic urinary function is compromised, or if there should be any lingering chronic irritation or inflammation of the genitourinary passages and membranes. Listen to your body, and how it reacts to Juniper; if it aggravates urinary irritation or inflammation, discontinue use. Juniper berries also improve and increase the efficiency of glomerular filtration in the kidneys, and their antiseptic essential oil has a great disinfecting action on the urinary tract. Juniper berries also help the kidneys eliminate accumulations of excess uric acid, so they are valuable in treating gout. Because Juniper berries have the potential to be mildly irritating to the urinary passages, they are often combined with soothing, emollient diuretics like Corn Silk. If additional buffering is desired, then other urinary emollients like Marshmallow or Licorice roots may also be added.
Juniper berries have also attracted a lot of attention from the medical community lately as a metabolic stimulant that may be valuable in treating type 2 diabetes. How do Juniper berries aid in the treatment of type 2 diabetes? First of all, they lower blood sugar and treat the symptoms of hyperglycemia, or high blood sugar, without producing any adverse effects, such as troughs of excessively low blood sugar. Secondly, Juniper berries reduce insulin resistance and enhance the cellular uptake of glucose from the bloodstream. Thirdly, they improve the delayed wound healing that is so common among diabetics. Fourthly, Juniper berries improve digestion, which can often be slow and sluggish in diabetics. Fifthly, Juniper berries have an antioxidant and protective effect on the heart and circulatory system, which protects against the potential cardiovascular complications of diabetes, like heart disease and high blood pressure. Sixthly, they improve kidney function and glomerular filtration, which can often be weak in diabetics, thereby relieving fluid retention and edema. And finally, they encourage the breakdown of peripheral fat deposits in the body, especially cellulite – and obesity and weight gain can be a major aggravating or complicating factor in type 2 diabetes.
Since Juniper berries are loaded with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, and also stimulate the stomach and digestion, they are a common ingredient in herbal condiments, jellies and tapenades. Juniper berries are often combined with Peppermint or other mints in condiment jellies that are eaten with heavy meats like lamb to facilitate their digestion. Juniper berries can also be soaked in red wine, along with other herbal berries like Hawthorn, or with various fruits in an herbal Sangria, to add a distinctive fresh, zesty flavor. Blend in Juniper berries with Olive Oil, fresh Ginger, Horseradish and also a little Garlic to make a zesty tapenade to be served as a condiment with meats. Juniper berries can also be included as an ingredient in beverage herb teas whenever a distinctive evergreen taste and aroma is desired. Juniper berries, as an aromatic and pungent digestive stimulant, are also a common ingredient in digestive bitter formulas, along with bitter tonics like Gentian or Blessed Thistle; they can also be used in digestive liqueurs. Perhaps the simplest way to enjoy Juniper berries is to munch on the dried berries after meals to aid the digestion, or to snack on them throughout the day.
In his Canon of Medicine, Avicenna gives us a lot of interesting uses for Juniper berries. The powder of Juniper, he tells us, is useful topically to help disinfect wounds, and in checking the foul decay of spreading black ulcers. He recommends mixing the powdered dried Juniper berries with honey to make a paste for this purpose; honey itself has a long and ancient history as a disinfectant dressing for wounds, dating all the way back to ancient Egypt. Avicenna also recommends frying Juniper berries with Sesame Oil in a skillet until the berries become black; then using the strained Juniper / Sesame oil as ear drops to help in deafness. Juniper berries, he tells us, are very useful in treating chest pain and coughing – I suppose by drinking a hot infusion of the berries. The Juniper berry, Avicenna tells us, is not merely a diuretic; it is also a urinary relaxant that eases the passage of kidney and bladder stones; a lot of modern herbalists would agree with this observation. Avicenna tells us that Juniper berries are an emmenagogue that not only stimulates menstruation, but also treats hysteria and pains in the uterus; for these reasons, women should not take Juniper berries while they are pregnant or nursing.
Juniper berries were also a key ingredient in a multipurpose medicine, incense and perfume preparation called Kyphi, which Plutarch tells us was used by the Egyptians for just about everything. In addition to Juniper berries, its ingredients included Cinnamon, Bay Laurel, Peppermint, Valerian root, Calamus root, Orris root, Cyperus or Nutgrass root, Galangal, Pine resin, Myrrh, Mastic turpentine, honey, red wine and raisins. I have made some myself, and have burned it as incense; it emits a wonderful fragrance. The Egyptian Kyphi recipe then became the nucleus for a very complex recipe pioneered by the great Greco-Roman physician Galen: Theriac. Its manufacture as a universal antidote for poisons was raised to a high art in Venice, where it became known as Theriac Venizian, or Venice Treacle; this formula, containing over sixty ingredients, made into a medicinal jam or electurary, was an official medicine in many European pharmacopeias until the nineteenth century. Juniper berries, being strongly heating and drying, were also considered in ancient times to be an herb that resists poison, being useful for insect bites and poisoning; the berries and their essential oil are also a good insect repellent.
Related Species: The resin or gum of a closely related species of Cypress tree, Tetraclinis articulata, is indigenous to, and was produced mainly in, the Atlas Mountains of southern Morocco; it is called Sandarac. Although this resin is faintly aromatic, and has uses in aromatics and perfumery, and is burned as incense, being often mixed in with other resins for this purpose, its main use has been as the chief resinous ingredient in varnishes. To make a Sandarac varnish, the melted resin is mixed in with Linseed Oil. Sandarac varnish is hard, lustrous and durable; it was preferred by many photographers for coating and protecting photographs. As an incense, Sandarac burns with a mild, balsam like aroma.
Although it is from a closely related species of Cypress tree, Sandarac and its medicinal uses is included by Avicenna under his entry for Juniper – at least that’s the way it is in Laleh Bakhtiar’s translation of Volume 2 of Avicenna’s Canon of Medicine, but in the Hamdard translation of book 2 of the Canon of Medicine, Sandarac, or Sandarus in Arabic, gets a separate entry. Also, in the Hamdard version, the Latin botanical name of the tree from which Sandarus is produced is different than the above Wikipedia designation: Trachylobium horne mannianum Heyne. Yet it is apparent from the description of the medicinal uses of Sandarac / Sandarus that both Bakhtiar and Hamdard, in their translations, are basically referring to the same resin or medicinal substance.
Avicenna tells us that Sandarac is Hot and Dry in the third degree; it is an astringent and potent hemostatic drug. Wrestlers use it to lose extra weight, become stronger and prevent breathlessness or panting. If you take Sandarac daily with three quarters of its weight in water and Oxymel (honey and apple cider vinegar), it makes the body slim. Its fumes stop catarrh; it also possesses the property of stopping odontalgia and setting the gums properly. It is useful in treating palpitation in a manner similar to the Yellow Amber, and stops bleeding as well as moist natured asthma due to its drying nature. The oral ingestion of Sandarac is useful in treating inflammation of the spleen. Sandarac is also good for treating chronic diarrhea, and its fumes are useful for treating hemorrhoids.
Sources: www.drugs.com - Juniper
Juniper Berries: The Natural Insulin
www.en.wikipedia.org - Sandarac
The Canon of Medicine by Avicenna, translated and compiled by Laleh Bakhtiar, pp. 606 - 610. @2012 by Laleh Bakhtiar, Published by Great Books of the Islamic World, Inc., Distributed by Kazi Publications.
Al Qanun Fi’l Tibb – Book II – English Translation of the Critical Arabic Text, pg. 276. @1998 by Jamia Hamdard, New Delhi, India
A Modern Herbal, Vol. 2 by Mrs. M. Grieve, pp. 452 – 453. @1971 by Dover Publications, Inc., New York, NY USA. First published in 1931 by Harcourt, Brace & Company.
The Little Herb Encyclopedia by Jack Ritchason, ND, Third Edition, pp. 127 – 129. @1995 by Jack Ritchason, published by Woodland Health Books, Pleasant Grove, Utah, USA.
DISCLAIMER: The information in this article is for educational purposes only, for general health maintenance and prevention, and is not intended to diagnose or treat any medical disease or condition. The reader assumes all personal responsibility and liability for the application of the information contained in this article, and is advised to seek the services of a physician or licensed healthcare practitioner should his or her symptoms or condition persist or worsen.