Common Names

Juniper Berries
Botanical Name
Juniperus communis
Cypress Family

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What is it?

The dried 'berries' (actually they are soft little 'cones' like those from Pine trees) of Juniper, a tree that if given room can mature to a magnificent 10 meters. Juniper has been highly regarded as a purifying medicine by many cultures; its effects are very powerful.




How has it been used?

The Greeks used Juniper as a purifying herb and the original Olympians believed the berries increased physical stamina in their athletes. The ancient Egyptians used Juniper extensively as a medicine and also to embalm their dead. As recently as world war II French nurses burned Juniper in hospital rooms to fumigate them.

During the middle ages Europeans believed that planting a Juniper beside the door kept witches out but the tree could not provide complete protection, a witch could still enter if she correctly guessed the number of its needles!

By the 17th century Juniper was a popular diuretic (increasing urine flow). Culpeper wrote 'Juniper provokes urine exceedingly; it is so powerful remedy against the dropsy that it cures the disease'.

The Chinese, American Indians, and old European cultures of medicine all highly regarded Juniper as a blood purifying kidney tonic. One of the great European herbalists of the 20th century, R.F. Weiss, prescribed Dandelion in the spring and Juniper in the autumn for chronic arthritis, gout, neuralgia, and rheumatism.


Science on Juniper

~ Juniper contains monoterpenes (which make up most of the essential oil) - alpha- and beta-pinene, sabinene, limonene, terpinen-4-ol, alpha-terpineol, borneol, geraniol, myrcene, camphene, camphor, alpha-eudesmo and many others. It also containes sesquiterpenes - namely beta-caryophyllene, delta-cadinene, farnesol, gamma-elemente, gamma-muurolene, humulene, pregeijerene and many others (Adams, R. P. Systematics of Juniperus section Juniperus based on leaf essential oils and random amplified polymorphic DNAs (RAPDs). Biochem Syst Ecol  7-1-2000;28(6):515-528)

~ Juniper has been shown to have anti-inflammatory effects: A dry 80%-ethanolic extract of juniper, administered orally at 100mg/kg, reduced edema by 60% p<0.001, compared to 45% for indometacin at 5mg/kg p<0.01 (Mascolo N and et al. Biological screening of Italian medicinal plants for anti-inflammatory activity. Phytother Res 1987;1:28-31)

~ The diuretic action of juniper has been attributed to terpinen-4-ol A - the 10% aqueous infusion of juniper exerted significant diuretic activity (+ 43% on day two; +44% on day three; p<0.05), suggesting that the diuretic effect is partly due to the essential oil and partly to hydrophilic constituents (Stanic, G, Samarzija, I, and Blazevic, N. Time-dependent diuretic response with juniper berry preparations. Phytother Res 1998;12:494-497)

Safety of Juniper - mythbusting!

Just about every book or article on Juniper berry carries the caution “do not use Juniper where there is any chance of kidney disease”. Once a caution like that gets into the books then usually nobody thinks to question it and every subsequent author quotes the previous ones.

Fortunately, in the case of Juniper, this caution actually has been questioned. It was traced back to the first time it appeared in print to a man called Potter in 1898. Potter in turn got his information from experiments done at the time with animals using high doses of the isolated essential oil from Juniper.

However a recent toxicological study on rats also using high doses of juniper oil found no damage to their kidneys. The authors determined that the reputation for juniper oil as a renal irritant came from the use of oils containing high levels of pinenes which are known irritants to the urinary tract. Higher levels of these pinenes would result from co-distillation of the needles and the branches and the unripe berries with the ripe berries, a practice that no longer occurs today where only the ripe berries are used.

It was concluded that ripe juniper berries and juniper oil distilled only from the ripe berries can be used entirely safely. I think that, as a strong cleansing medicine it is unwise to use Juniper for extended periods or in excessive doses but this not because it is toxic, but because it is very potent.


Personal experiences

A herb that has the power to invigorate, activate and tonify the kidneys is simply of enormous value and I believe that Juniper berry it is the strongest and best of all of our natural medicines to cleanse and strengthen the kidneys. Given how vital it is to have healthy kidneys this means that Juniper takes on a hugely important role in the health care of many of my patients today. Most people know to associate their liver health with the cleanliness of their blood but less people realise that in their own way the Kidneys are just as crucial to keeping everything clean. Your entire blood supply is filtered through your kidneys every 5 minutes.

The people I most often give Juniper to have become too 'damp' or congested. They typically have a coating on their tongue that suggests their system needs a cleanse or they have symptoms of toxicity such as retention of water, a dull, heavy ache in their bodies or less than healthy looking skin.

I confirm that these findings are indicating a need for cleansing when I do a blood test with my patients that we look at together through a microscope-to-screen relay at over 1000x magnification. Juniper will almost certainly be on the menu when I see blood with a characteristically murky, congested appearance with too many particles of 'debris' in the plasma.

As always dosage is a critical factor to get right with Juniper as it is with all herbs. It's a stimulating herb, too much will not help the body as much as stress it, too little will fail to achieve its potential. In tincture form I will often use around 2-4 mls in a day in divided doses.

Another way I use Juniper comes from Father Sebastian Kneipp, a highly regarded 19th century German Doctor who was visited by people from all over Europe for his treatments. He said “The effect of these juniper berries on the ailing is so marvellous—so miraculous—that the patient then gladly persists with the remainder of the entire treatment" Kneipp recommended gradually building up the dose of Juniper and I have likewise found this to be an excellent method - more detailed instructions here.

I highly recommend anyone who is studying herbal medicine or who wants to understand this plant ally at a much deeper level for their own reasons to follow the old practice of experiential learning by taking a small dose of Juniper tincture or to work over a few of the berries as described in the detailed instructions just above and then, with a quiet and attentive mind, observing for yourself what happens and how it makes you feel. All the history, science and other writings aside, this is probably the best way to truly appreciate the power of this simple plant. I am sure that your body will soon tell you how it experiences the Juniper and the effects will be noticeable for a long time to come... As mentioned earlier, every machine works better when it is clean!

Juniper combines perfectly with Celandine, for a particularly powerful whole body cleanse, with Dandelion for a more gentle blood purification, with Burdock root to help deep set conditions that are affected by toxicity and with Cleavers when there is a great need to cool the body from congestion and inflammation.


Constitutional note

Much of the information here about the traditional uses of Juniper is consistent with the model of thinking whereby one may treat problem A with plant B. There is value in this approach, especially in how it helps us pass on useful knowledge to one another, but it falls short in one vital area; and that is that people are not all cut from the same cloth! Something that works brilliantly for one person may do less for another -- why is this?

The reason is that people vary in their constitutions as to whether they are more hot or cool and at the same time more dry or damp; more info about this here.

There is an old wisdom in treating the person first and the condition second and in this light Juniper can particularly offer its benefits when a cleansing action is needed in the 'cycle of healing' - something that is discussed here and shown in a chart here.

Excerpt from Felter & Lloyd's Kings Dispensatory from 1898

Juniper berries are stimulating, carminative, and diuretic. The berries and have been found efficient in gonorrhoea, gleet, leucorrhoea, cystirrhoea, affections of the skin, scorbutic diseases, etc.

Pyelitis, pyelo-nephritis, and cystitis when chronic, and particularly when in old people, are relieved by juniper. Uncomplicated renal hyperemia is cured by it. The indications are a persistent weight or dragging in the lumbar region.

Eclectic physicians working at the same time as the above quote was published endorsed Juniper strongly as a treatment for eczema and psoriasis and as an aid in the treatment of congestive heart failure.

Please understand that I cannot personally advise you, including on products or dosage, without seeing you in my clinic but ideas on how you might find a good herbalist in your area are here.
This living 'book' is my labour of love so, wherever you are, I wish you peace & good health!



© 2011 R.J.Whelan Ltd