The Juniperus is an aromatic evergreen shrub of the Cupressaceae family. It grows in parts of Europe, North America and other temperate countries. During the middle ages it was widely believed that the burning of the juniper branches would scare off evil spirits. Today it is the berries, which are round in shape and a deep purple color, that are known to contain beneficial properties.
The juniper berry is famously known to provide the flavoring of gin, and it is this which gives gin its distinctive taste. The Dutch word for juniper is jenever and the name ‘gin’ derives from this. Gin originates from Holland and was primarily consumed for its medicinal value, and in particular as a diuretic. However, it has since been established that there is not enough of the juniper berry within gin to give it any health benefit.
Within herbal medicine juniper berries have long been favored as a beneficial diuretic, they are also known to contain antiseptic properties, and are thought to be a useful tool in the stimulation of menstruation. Widely used as a remedy to treat bladder and urinary tract infections, juniper berries have proved particularly valuable in the treatment of cystitis.
As an anti-inflammatory juniper berries can provide relief for a number of arthritic conditions, and they are thought to be effective in the treatment of a variety of digestive disorders.
The oil of juniper is a favorable steam inhalant; it helps to unblock sinuses and to ease a number of adverse respiratory conditions.
This fruit is packed with vitamin C, potassium and fiber. It contains small amounts of iron, magnesium, calcium, copper and zinc. However, the berries are not palatable, they are extremely bitter, and therefore when they are included as a recipe ingredient it is usually in a very small amount. The earthy flavors of juniper berries are especially compatible to wild game recipes.
Although it is beneficial in small amounts, a large dose of juniper can be detrimental to health and may give rise to toxicity. When applied topically it is known to cause skin irritations.
Juniper should not be taken in conjunction with the drug lithium as the combination is likely to lead to dehydration.
As it is known to stimulate uterine contractions, juniper should never be consumed during pregnancy. It is this action that can lead to a miscarriage.
Conflicting evidence surrounds the impact of juniper berries on the kidneys. Herbalists believe juniper gives a soothing effect, and therefore provides relief in a number of negative symptoms. However, some consider that juniper should not be consumed by those suffering with renal disorders. A number of studies have indicated that rather than ease an adverse condition, juniper is likely to cause irritation.
Although juniper berries undoubtedly do have beneficial effects on health, contradictory evidence pertains to certain issues. Research studies into the positive and the detrimental effects of juniper, remain inconclusive.