A practical guide for nutritional and traditional health care.
This variety of juniper is a small evergreen plant that is indigenous to the northern hemisphere. The plant forms an excellent groundcover wherever it is grown. This variety is distinctive as it is used as the main flavoring agent in a common alcoholic drink called gin. The fragrant ‘berries', which are really cones of this evergreen variety, produced by the plant also possess therapeutic properties and are used as herbal remedies for different conditions. In fact, the juniper berries have been used by herbal medicine practitioners for over three centuries or even longer. There was time when druggists used gin in the similar manner as they now use the juniper berries for the treatment of kidney diseases. However, in recent times, ingestion of golden raisins marinated in gin has become a popular home remedy for treatment of arthritis.
Conventionally juniper berries have been used by herbalists as a diuretic to stimulate urination as well as for the treatment of different kidney and bladder ailments. The diuretic action of the juniper berry is attributed to its essential oil, especially terpinene-4-ol, which is said to accelerate the filtration activity of the kidneys. When the extracts of juniper berries are used in a water base, such as an herbal tea prepared with them, they are not likely to augment urination. However, during experiments conducted on rats, such water-based extracts have been found to reduce blood pressure by as much as 27 per cent. In fact, quite a few herbal diuretic medications available in Europe contain juniper berry extracts. Incidentally, when the juniper berries or extracts obtained from them are used in large dosages, they may result in the inflammation of the kidneys. Traditionally, juniper berries or extracts obtained from them are also used to stimulate appetite or help in the digestive process. It has been seen that use of juniper berry extracts actually augments peristalsis (the active wave of tightening and relaxation of any tubular muscular system, especially the alimentary canal) as well as intestinal tenor.
Conventionally, the juniper berries were categorized as ‘carminative', which suggested that they are useful in alleviating flatulence (producing gas in the alimentary canal). However, this use as well as the property of juniper berries have not been researched vigilantly or enough. People in Sweden have been traditionally using extracts from juniper berries externally to heal lesions and agitated joints. In addition, the juniper tar has been often used in combination with tars of other herbs for the treatment of psoriasis of the scalp. Studies in test tubes have demonstrated that juniper berries have the aptitude to slow down the synthesis of prostaglandin that influences the contraction of the muscles lining many internal organs. This validates that the conventional use of juniper berry extracts in relieving arthritis pain is backed scientifically. In addition, the juniper berry extract also slows down the platelet-activating factor or PAF that would put off clotting of blood. However, as far as herbal medication is concerned, this has never been among the traditional uses of juniper berries. Moreover, extracts obtained from juniper berries also possess antioxidant properties and studies conducted on animals have indicated that they are also helpful in reducing blood sugar in diabetes. However, no study has been conducted on humans thus far to validate this virtue of juniper berries.
As discussed earlier, juniper berries and the volatile oil extracted from them were held in high esteem in folk medicine for several centuries for their usefulness in healing several kidney and bladder conditions. In addition, juniper berry extract possesses carminative properties and, hence, have been prescribed for treating conditions like indigestion and flatulence. It has also been used habitually to pep up appetite and this is possibly why the berry is used in culinary to add essence to several delicacies, such as sauerkraut. Usually, juniper berries are taken in the form of an herbal tea prepared by boiling dried juniper berry powder with other herbs for the treatment of rheumatism. Often, the ripened berries are also consumed fresh. Chemical analysis of the essential oil enclosed by juniper berries have validated that it contains as many as 105 elements and scientists have been able to identify 77 of them thus far. When the juniper berries with approximately 70 per cent alcohol provides volatile or highly unsteady oil. This volatile oil is considered to be a productive preparation that is theoretically known as a ‘spirit' and is recommended for topical as well as internal use to treat the above mentioned medical conditions.
The diuretic property of juniper berry is actually attributed to the volatile oil enclosed by it. Precisely speaking, an element called terpinen-4-ol, which forms about 1.37 per cent of the oil by weight. Terpinen-4-ol is said to augment the speed of glomerular filtration by the kidneys. Nevertheless, taking juniper berries or extracts obtained from them in large amounts may result in inflammation of the kidney. Thus, people already enduring kidney problems may experience serious side effects even if they take them in the usual remedial dosages. Even pregnant ladies, women planning to become pregnant and nursing mothers should not consume juniper berries or extracts obtained from them since it is not only likely to augment intestinal movements, but also invigorate the tightening of the uterus, often leading to unwanted abortions. Although extracts from juniper berry is used to add essence to a number of alcoholic beverages, especially gin, their presence is virtually insignificant, never more than 0.006 per cent. Hence, those who consume alcoholic beverages containing it should not be worried about any therapeutic effects or side effects when taking these drinks, especially if they are consuming the alcoholic beverages containing juniper berry extract in reasonable amounts.
Juniper berries or medications prepared with extracts obtained from them are no longer prescribed by herbal medicine practitioners for the treatment of kidney diseases and the reasons for this are many. First, using juniper berries or their extracts not only cause a local irritation in the kidneys to augment the flow of urine. Second, the use of this herb is unsafe for use by pregnant women, as it may result in contraction of the uterus as well as sometimes cause forced abortion. Third, the diuretic use of juniper berry or its extracts is likely to be harmful when the internal organs are already irritated. In addition, use of this herb is also harmful for diabetic patients, as it has the potential to adversely influence the intensity of glucose in the blood stream.
Herbal medicine practitioners in Europe recommend restricted use of this herb, for about a month's duration, unless it is extremely essential and done under the direct administration of a physician. Although a number herbal medications that are safer as well as effectual compared to juniper berry or medications prepared with its extract are available in the market, herbal medicine practitioners still prefer to use juniper, especially for its diuretic properties that promote urine flow. In actual fact, an all-inclusive assessment of the therapeutic use of the herb done in recent times, has disputed that using juniper berries or their extracts for treating kidney problems is harmful for the kidney when taken in curative dosages. The review has raised apprehensions that the adverse affects of using medications prepared with juniper berry extract could be owing to the fact that often these products are contaminated by mixing turpentine oil with the herbal remedy. This suggests that further studies are essential regarding the benefits and harms of using this very old herbal medication.
Fruit, essential oil, cade oil.
Juniper berry possesses stimulant, diuretic as well as potent antiseptic properties, especially when it acts in the urinary tract. The berries as well as medications prepared with their extract are extremely effective for the treatment of cystitis (inflammation of the urinary bladder). While the herbal medication is useful in alleviating fluid withholding, but needs to be kept away from by anyone who is already suffering from any kidney ailment. Juniper actually has a balmy and settling effect on the digestive system. In addition, this herb also alleviates pain in the abdomen and bowels, while promoting the functioning of the stomach. Juniper berries have demonstrated positive results in the treatment of lung disorders as an effective expectorant and decongestant. Either used internally or topically, medications prepared with juniper berry extract are effective in treating medical conditions, such as gout, rheumatism as well as persistent arthritis. When watered down juniper essential oil is used topically, it provides a somewhat warming result on the skin and is believed to help in getting rid of the waste products from the tissues lying beneath the skin. In addition, juniper berry and medications prepared with its extract encourages menstruation as well as augments the menstrual flow.
Other medical uses
Pounded juniper berries, whether fresh or dried, are superb for marinating meats or conserving them to be served cold. In fact, the aroma as well as the resinous essence of juniper berries contributes to the delight of beef, goose, pork, pickled fish, wild game, casseroles, pate, stuffing, gravies and even energetic vegetable delicacies like sauerkraut.
Juniper berries as well as the roots of the plant may be used to prepare brown and purple coloring agents (dyes).
Habitat and cultivation
The juniper plants are native to Europe and south-western regions of Asia found all along the stretch lying till the Himalayas. In addition, juniper is also found in North America where it is cultivated from along the southern coastal regions to the mountainous and the highlands in more northward locations. The fruits or berries of the juniper are collected during autumn when they are fully ripened.
Juniper plants grow in nature on dry and rocky soil. The plant thrives best in open spaces and where there is plenty of sunlight. If you desire to grow relatively taller shrubs of this variety, plant them in places having an excellent drainage system. The plants are able to endure a pH range between 4.5 and 7.5. It is essential to trim the juniper plants so that they do not turn out to be shaggy or unkempt. However, while trimming the plants, adopt caution not to cut any old wood of the shrubs.
The juniper plants can be grown without much effort and they thrive even in hot and arid soils as well as soils containing little nutrients. The plants are able to thrive in almost all types of soils provided there is a good drainage system. Juniper plants have a preference for neutral or somewhat alkaline soils, but also grow well in chalky soils or limestone dumps. In addition, the juniper also grows well in heavy loam soils and thrives in not to dense forest lands. However, they have an aversion to heavy shade as well as too much of water. Plants that are mature or established are able to endure drought conditions well. This species of juniper plants are not only small, but even develop extremely slowly - growing as little as only a few centimeters annually. Juniper plants are resistant to honey fungus, but are at times invaded by a fungus called rust that often bears chainlike or stalked spores on hawthorn (Crataegus app.).
Every part of the juniper plant is extremely fragrant and is actually a polymorphic species (a plant having more than one adult form). As discussed earlier, the juniper berries have been used in culinary as well as therapeutic purposes for several centuries. Juniper is usually cultivated as decorative plants and in herbal gardens. In fact, the species has an assortment of cultivars that have extensively dissimilar patterns. The juniper berries take relatively longer periods, around two to three years, to become fully mature on the plant. Usually, the fruits or berries ripen during autumn.
The juniper plants are dioecious by nature having male and female organs in separate plants and if seeds are required one need to grow the male and female plants nearby as it would facilitate pollination. Although it is possible to propagate juniper from its seeds, usually sown during the fall, the seeds take exceptionally longer periods to germinate. Hence, it is much easy to grow the plant of this species from cuttings. The cuttings need to be planted either during the fall or spring.
If you are propagating juniper by its seeds, then the seeds will require a stage of cold stratification. The germination process of juniper seeds is extremely sluggish basically owing to the hard seed covering. Hence, the cold stratification period should be followed by a warm phase and subsequently another period of cold stratification. Each of these cold and warm processes should continue for two to three months at a stretch. In addition, if the seeds are drenched in boiling water for about three to six minutes, it will facilitate the germination process. It is best to sow the juniper seeds in a cold frame soon after they are ripened. While some of the seeds sowed will possibly germinate during the next spring, the remaining will usually take another year to germinate.
Alternately, the seeds may be collected when they are still green - at a stage when the embryo of the seeds has been completely formed, but the seed covering has not toughened. When these seeds are sown in a cold stratification, they germinate relatively faster. When the seedlings have grown sufficiently enough, they should be picked up separately and planted in individual pots till they have grown large enough to be handled. Once they have grown to the desired height, prick them and plant them in their permanent positions outdoors during the early part of summer. If the juniper seeds are stored in a dried condition, they continue to be feasible for germination for quite a few years.
While propagating juniper from cuttings, ensure that the cuttings are from mature wood of the shrub and be approximately 5 cm to 10 cm long having a heel (the base of a cutting or tuber removed from a plant for use in the propagation). The cuttings should be preferably done during September and October and put in a cold frame. After new shoots emerge and grow sufficiently, plant them in their permanent positions outdoors during the next autumn. The layering should be undertaken in September or October and it usually takes about a year for the new plants to grow.
Chemical analysis of juniper berries have validated that they enclose one per cent to two percent of a volatile oil that comprises over 60 compounds, such as sabinene, myrcene, cineole, alpha-pinene and beta-pinene. In addition, juniper berries also include tannins, resin, sugar, diterpenes and vitamin C. The juniper berries also enclose invert sugar to the extent of around 30 per cent and little quantities of flavoniods, catechins as well as leucoanthocyanidins.
Juniper berries may be taken in the form of a tea and also in combination with other diuretic and anti-microbial (having the capacity of destroying or inhibiting the growth of microorganisms) herbs. In addition, the herb may be taken in the form of tincture, tablet or capsule. To prepare an herbal tea with juniper berries, add one tablespoon of dried and powdered berries to 250 ml or one cup of boiling water and let it precipitate for about 20 minutes in a firmly covered pot. Normally, one cup of the tea can be taken twice daily - once in the morning and then at night. If you are taking the medication in tincture form, use 1 ml or 2 ml of it thrice daily. Capsules containing extracts of the juniper berries may be taken in dosage of 1 gm or 2 gm thrice every day.
Side effects and cautions
Caution should be exercised with using juniper berries, because a number of species of juniper bear berries that are not fit for culinary purpose. For instance, extensively grown decorative evergreen yew trees and shrubs, also belonging to genus Taxus, may often be mistaken for juniper and berries produced by these trees and shrubs enclose seeds that may prove to be fatally toxic. Although the juniper plants are very widespread, you should avoid consuming juniper berries if you are unable to identify the plants.
In addition, be careful never to use the oil extracted from juniper berries to add flavor to food items since the oil obtained from a number of species of juniper is exceptionally poisonous. At the same time, it is not advisable to undertake self-medication with juniper as it may result in adverse side effects. Practicing self-medication with juniper may be dangerous, keep away from it. Nevertheless, herbal medicine practitioners have used juniper as a diuretic to promote urination. In addition the herb has also been used to treat pre-menstrual syndrome. However, using juniper for this purpose is never advisable as this may result in the inflammation of the kidneys and bladder.
As the juniper berries possess diuretic properties, people enduring kidney ailments should not consume them. Even people who are suffering from diabetes should be cautious while consuming juniper berries as they have the potential to raise the glucose level in the bloodstream. Pregnant women should avoid juniper berries as they may result in contraction of the uterine and in some exceptional cases may even lead to forced abortion.
A number of people may develop contact dermatitis (inflammation of the skin caused by an allergic reaction to contact with vegetables, animals or chemical substances) while touching or holding the juniper berries. Thus, it is advisable to wear gloves while harvesting the juniper berries. This is also essential as the leaves of the juniper plants are somewhat itchy.
Juniper berries as well as the essential oils extracted from them have several therapeutic uses. Medications prepared with the herb can be taken internally as well as used topically to treat different conditions. While infusion and tincture is prepared with the berries, the essential oil is used to prepare lotions and massage oils. In addition, ointments and hair rinse is prepared with cade oil obtained from juniper berries. The dried juniper berries should only be crushed well before use for they lose their essence soon after coming in contact with air.
Collection and harvesting
Juniper berries should be collected only during the end of summer when they have ripened fully. After picking the mature berries they should be spread out sparsely on a tray and left in the sun to dry. Alternately, the ripened berries may also be kept in a shady location where there is plenty of air for dehydration. Once the berries have dried and shrunk, they are stored in hermetically sealed containers for use when necessary. In order to avail the utmost essence from the dried juniper berries, they need to be used within a year's time from when they are harvested.
Boil all the plants in the water for 7 minutes. Infuse 30 minutes and strain. Drink all the liquid in 3 servings, before meals, and extend the cure from 7 to 21 days to pass kidney stones, and to relieve all types of water retention and rheumatism.
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