Health Benefits Of Juniper Berries

What are juniper berries? 

Juniper berries, with their rich history and diverse uses, have captivated the attention of cultures around the world for centuries. These small, blue-black berries come from juniper plants known as Juniperus communis and offer a range of health benefits, culinary delights, and medicinal properties. Juniper berries come from evergreen shrubs or trees that belong to the cypress family. Native to different regions across the globe, such as Europe, North America, and Asia, juniper berries and extracts have played a significant role in traditional medicine, cuisine, and even gin. 

In this comprehensive guide, we will delve into the fascinating world of juniper berries and juniper extracts, exploring their health benefits, nutritional value, various uses, potential side effects, and more.

Health benefits of juniper berries

Juniper berries are full of healthy compounds that give us a range of health benefits.

Antioxidant properties 

Juniper berries are rich in antioxidants, which are compounds that help protect our bodies from harmful free radicals.1 Free radicals are unstable molecules that can damage our cells and contribute to various health problems, including chronic diseases such as heart disease and cancer.

Anti inflammatory properties

Juniper berries contain compounds with anti-inflammatory effects.1 Inflammation is a natural response of the body to injury or infection, but chronic inflammation can lead to various diseases, such as arthritis, diabetes, and heart disease. 

Improving digestion

Traditionally, juniper berries have been used as a digestive tonic. They may aid digestion by stimulating the production of digestive enzymes and promoting the secretion of gastric juices.2 Additionally, the aromatic compounds found in juniper berries may help soothe gastrointestinal discomfort (stomach ache) and support overall digestive health.

Urinary tract infection treatment

Juniper berries possess antimicrobial properties that can help combat urinary tract infections (UTIs). UTIs are caused by bacterial overgrowth in the urinary system and can lead to discomfort and complications. Juniper berries, with their natural antimicrobial activity, have been traditionally used to alleviate UTI symptoms.3

Skin health benefits

The antibacterial properties of juniper berries may help combat acne-causing bacteria and promote clearer skin.4 Additionally, juniper berries contain antioxidants that can help protect the skin against damage caused by free radicals and environmental factors. 

Arthritis management

For individuals suffering from arthritis, juniper berries may provide some relief. Their anti-inflammatory and analgesic (pain-relieving) properties can help reduce inflammation and alleviate joint pain associated with arthritis. While they are not a cure, incorporating juniper berries as part of an arthritis management plan may offer a natural approach to symptom relief. 

Blood sugar control

Research suggests that certain compounds present in juniper berries may help regulate blood sugar levels.5 While human studies are still needed, incorporating juniper berries into a balanced diet, along with other healthy lifestyle choices, may assist in managing blood sugar levels. Juniper berries could be especially beneficial for individuals with diabetes or prediabetes.

Respiratory health benefits

Juniper products, especially juniper tea, have been used to support respiratory health. Their medicinal properties can help relieve congestion and coughs associated with respiratory infections. Additionally, juniper berries' antimicrobial activity may help fight off pathogens and support a healthy respiratory system. 

Weight management

Juniper berries offer several health benefits that can aid in weight management.6 Their diuretic properties help reduce water retention, which can contribute to temporary weight loss and a slimmer appearance. By increasing urine production, juniper berries assist in flushing out excess fluids and toxins from the body. Additionally, these berries promote better digestion and enhance the production of digestive enzymes, which can optimise nutrient absorption and metabolism. Improved digestion can reduce bloating, gas, and indigestion, promoting a healthier digestive system. Furthermore, juniper berries contain antioxidant compounds that help neutralise harmful free radicals, supporting overall health and potentially aiding in weight loss efforts.

Mental well being

Juniper berries offer several health benefits that can positively impact mental well-being. One notable aspect is their aromatic properties. The scent of juniper berries has been used in aromatherapy for its uplifting and calming effects on the mind and emotions. Inhaling the aroma of juniper berries can help reduce stress and anxiety, and promote relaxation. Furthermore, the aroma of juniper berries may have a positive impact on mood. It can help uplift the spirits, alleviate feelings of sadness or fatigue, and enhance overall mental clarity. 

Juniper berries also possess potential adaptogenic properties, meaning they may help the body adapt to and cope with stressors more effectively. By modulating the stress response, they may support a more balanced and resilient mental state.

Nutritional facts

When it comes to nutrition, juniper berries offer several important components for a healthy diet. They are low in calories, with approximately 5.8 calories per tablespoon, and contain minimal amounts of fat. These berries are rich in dietary fibre, providing around 2 grams per tablespoon. Fibre is crucial for digestive health, as it aids in regulating bowel movements and promoting a feeling of fullness, which can be beneficial for weight management.

In terms of vitamins and minerals, juniper berries offer an array of essential nutrients. They are particularly high in vitamin C, which is crucial for immune function, as it supports the production of white blood cells and acts as an antioxidant, protecting the body against harmful free radicals.1 

When it comes to minerals, juniper berries are a good source of potassium, providing approximately 70 milligrams per tablespoon. Potassium plays a vital role in maintaining healthy blood pressure levels and supporting proper muscle and nerve function.

Apart from these essential nutrients, juniper berries also contain natural compounds called polyphenols. Polyphenols are plant compounds that have been studied for their potential health benefits. They possess antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, which may contribute to reducing inflammation in the body and protecting against chronic disease.8

Culinary uses of juniper berries

Flavouring in food

The distinct taste and fragrance of juniper berries are a result of their unique chemical composition. While they are too strong to consume on their own, juniper berries are renowned for being used as a spice for savoury dishes, particularly meats. Their robust flavour complements game meats such as venison, wild boar, and rabbit.

Flavouring in beverages 

Juniper berries are mostly mixed in spirits, particularly gin, with the flavour of the berries being its key component. Through the process of distillation, the essential oils and aromatic compounds present in juniper berries infuse the spirit, resulting in a refreshing drink.

Side effects and other concerns

There are a few side effects to be aware of before using juniper berries medicinally or as flavouring. In particular, be cautious when using juniper berry essential oil as it is highly concentrated and potent. It should be diluted appropriately before application. Side effects may include:

  • Allergies — some individuals may be allergic to juniper berries. Allergic reactions can range from mild symptoms including itching and skin rashes to more severe reactions such as difficulty breathing or anaphylaxis
  • Gastrointestinal effects — consuming large amounts of juniper berries or using them in concentrated forms, such as essential oil or juniper berry tea, may cause gastrointestinal disturbances such as stomach upset, nausea, or diarrhoea in sensitive individuals1
  • Diuretic effects — the diuretic properties of juniper berries can increase urine production. While this can be beneficial for certain individuals, such as those with UTIs, it is important to exercise caution. Excessive diuretic effects may impact fluid and electrolyte balance, so it is advisable to consult with a healthcare professional before using juniper berries as a diuretic 
  • Interactions — juniper berries may interact with certain medications, including diuretics, antidiabetic medications, and medications metabolised by the liver.9 These interactions can affect drug effectiveness or increase the risk of side effects
  • Uterine contractions during pregnancy — people who are pregnant or breastfeeding should exercise caution when consuming juniper berries. Juniper berries have been traditionally used to induce menstruation and should be avoided during pregnancy as they may have uterine-stimulating effects. Additionally, the safety of juniper berry consumption during breastfeeding has not been well-established, so it is advisable to consult with a healthcare professional first

Summary

Juniper berries are small yet mighty fruits that pack a punch in terms of flavour and health benefits. From their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties to their potential in aiding digestion, supporting urinary tract health, and promoting skin health, juniper berries offer a wide range of advantages. However, it is important to use them in moderation and consult with a healthcare professional to ensure they are suitable for your specific needs.

Juniper berries have a long history of traditional use and offer a host of potential health benefits. Whether used in cooking, herbal remedies, or skincare products, these berries bring a unique flavour and therapeutic potential to the table. As with any natural remedy, it is crucial to approach juniper berries with awareness, moderation, and personalised guidance.

References

  1. Raina R, Verma PK, Peshin R, Kour H. Potential of Juniperus communis L as a nutraceutical in human and veterinary medicine. Heliyon [Internet]. 2019 Aug 31 [cited 2023 Jun 5];5(8):e02376. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6726717/ 
  2. Inci H, Ozdemir G, Sengul AY, Sogut B, Nursoy H, Sengul T. Using juniper berry (juniperus communis) as a supplement in Japanese quail diets. R Bras Zootec [Internet]. 2016 May [cited 2023 Jun 5];45:230–5. Available from: https://www.scielo.br/j/rbz/a/T9NHGFMf8vshCnDscDTPPqz/ 
  3. Fazly Bazzaz BS, Darvishi Fork S, Ahmadi R, Khameneh B. Deep insights into urinary tract infections and effective natural remedies. African Journal of Urology [Internet]. 2021 Jan 7 [cited 2023 Jun 5];27(1):6. Available from: https://doi.org/10.1186/s12301-020-00111-z 
  4. Han X, Parker TL. Anti-inflammatory activity of Juniper (juniperus communis) berry essential oil in human dermal fibroblasts. Benavente C, editor. Cogent Medicine [Internet]. 2017 Jan 1 [cited 2023 Jun 5];4(1):1306200. Available from: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/2331205X.2017.1306200 
  5. Banerjee S, Singh H, Chatterjee T. Evaluation of anti-diabetic and anti-hyperlipidemic potential of methanolic extract of juniperus communis (L.) in streptozotocin- nicotinamide induced diabetic rats. International journal of pharma and bio sciences [Internet]. 2013 [cited 2023 Jun 5]; Available from: https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/EVALUATION-OF-ANTI-DIABETIC-AND-ANTI-HYPERLIPIDEMIC-Banerjee-Singh/591b8382f9fe1889761c611443365ab3099a5c9f 
  6. Medina FS de, Gámez MJ, Jiménez I, Jiménez J, Osuna JI, Zarzuelo A. Hypoglycemic activity of juniper “berries”. Planta Med [Internet]. 1994 Jun [cited 2023 Jun 5];60(3):197–200. Available from: http://www.thieme-connect.de/DOI/DOI?10.1055/s-2006-959457 
  7. Park JS. Effects of juniper essential oil on the activity of autonomic nervous system. BSL [Internet]. 2017 Sep 30 [cited 2023 Aug 24];23(3):286–9. Available from: http://www.bslonline.org/journal/view.html?doi=10.15616/BSL.2017.23.3.286
  8. Tang J, Dunshea FR, Suleria HAR. Lc-esi-qtof/ms characterization of phenolic compounds from medicinal plants (Hops and juniper berries) and their antioxidant activity. Foods [Internet]. 2019 Dec 20 [cited 2023 Aug 25];9(1):7. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7023254/ 
  9. Neafsey PJ. Self-medication practices that alter the efficacy of selected cardiac medications: Home Healthcare Nurse: The Journal for the Home Care and Hospice Professional [Internet]. 2004 Feb [cited 2023 Aug 25];22(2):88–98. Available from: http://journals.lww.com/00004045-200402000-00007 
This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

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Dr. Lewis Spencer

Doctor of Philosophy - PhD, Biomedical Sciences, General, University of Derby

Lewis is a PhD graduate, where his research focus was on obesity and diabetes treatment with GLP-1 Receptor Agonists. He also has 6 years' experience as an Associate Lecturer in Sport and Exercise Physiology and Research Methods. He is now working as a Health Information Specialist.

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