The name juniper berry is confusing, as people sometimes mistake it for a berry or fruit. Rather it is a small cone that develops in shrubs belonging to the juniper genus. The reason why it is called juniper berry is that unlike other cones, it is fleshy with the scales joined together to give the appearance of a berry. Juniper berries are found mostly across North America and Europe. Juniper has a resinous, piney and tart taste and is also used to flavor gin. In addition to being used as a spice in cooking, they have been used since ancient times for medical purposes as well.
Nutritional value of Juniper
Although used mostly as a spice, juniper has unique nutritional value that makes it extremely beneficial for your health. It contains several nutrients including vitamins, minerals, volatile oils, fiber, protein, flavonoids and resin. Juniper is a good source of vitamins like vitamin B and vitamin C. It also contains numerous important minerals like calcium, chromium, copper, iron, limonene, magnesium, phosphorous, and potassium. Juniper berries are well known for their essential oils or volatile oils that are rich in flavonoid glycosides, resin, sugar, tar, tannins, and terpenes. It is these oils that contribute to the bitter taste and resinous smell of juniper.
Health Benefits of Juniper
Juniper is associated with several medicinal properties and health benefits that go above and beyond what we expect of a simple spice. Some of the benefits of juniper are listed below.
Juniper improves digestion
Juniper is known to ease digestive problems and aid in proper digestion. It stimulates the production of saliva, stomach acids and enzymes that are helpful in digestion. The increased production of these elements helps in breaking down the food easily and in making the process of digestion easy and smooth. Juniper has also been found to increase your appetite and relieve digestive discomforts such as bloating, belching, heartburn and cramps.
Juniper is an excellent diuretic
Juniper has been found to be helpful in relieving symptoms of water retention because of its diuretic properties. Diuretics are substances that promote the increased production of urine. Excess water retention is usually caused by the excess intake of sodium or due to injury and inflammation. The diuretic property of Juniper makes it useful in treating water retention in your body. Juniper is also helpful in preventing infections of the urinary tract by flushing out the bacteria and harmful toxins in your urinary system.
Juniper for diabetics
Juniper has been known to lower blood glucose levels and hence is a good choice for people suffering from diabetes. A study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology in the January 2011 issue, revealed that when diabetic rats were fed with juniper berries and leaves for 10 days, there was a steady decrease in blood sugar levels in these animals over the period of 10 days. According to another study published in the January 2008 issue of the same journal, when a single dose of juniper berry extract was fed to diabetic rats, a steady decrease in blood glucose was noted in 9 hours. Researchers have also found that juniper helps in decreasing the glycemic levels by increasing the production of glucose induced insulin.
Juniper berries improve kidney health
Juniper has long been used as a natural remedy to promote the health and functioning of kidneys. It has powerful antimicrobial properties that are effecting in treating infections of the bladder, urinary tract and kidneys. Juniper has certain compounds that have diuretic properties, which helps in removing excess water from your body and in preventing problems of water retention. Juniper also helps in detoxifying your body by flushing out the toxins and wastes produced in your body. It has also been found that juniper helps in reducing the levels of uric acid in your urinary tract, thereby helping to reduce the risks of developing kidney stones.
Juniper has anti-inflammatory effects
Juniper has been proven to have anti-inflammatory properties, which makes it an excellent remedy for treating conditions like arthritis, gout, muscle pain and joint pain. Most of the joint related problems usually occur due to excess retention of fluid around these joints. Juniper being an excellent diuretic can help in relieving the pressure caused as a result of water retention by stimulating the production of excess urine. The anti-inflammatory effects of juniper help in reducing inflammation and swelling.
Juniper essential oil in aromatherapy
The essential oil obtained from juniper berry has a unique and incomparable purifying and cleansing action that makes it ideal for many therapeutic uses. This oil is used effectively in massage oils, ointments, and baths as a remedy for getting relief from arthritic pain, hemorrhoids, varicose veins, water retention, and bladder infection. Conditions like bronchial spasms, infections and congestions can be relieved by the inhalation of steam containing juniper berry essential oil. Massaging this essential oil is found to be most effective for treating conditions like arthritis and gout as it stimulates blood circulation. The oil is also be used widely in both baths and warm compresses. The analgesic effect of juniper oil makes it helpful in relieving muscular pains and aches. Juniper oil has also been found to be effective in strengthening your emotional health and in relieving conditions like stress, anxiety and depression.
Juniper berries for weight loss
Juniper, being an excellent diuretic, helps in preventing water retention by increasing the frequency of urination. It also helps in getting rid of excess water from your body by increasing perspiration. This not only cleanses your body, but also helps in losing weight.
Juniper for toothache
Juniper berries have astringent properties. The essential oils obtained from the juniper berries helps in strengthening your gums and in treating toothache.
Skin care benefits of juniper
Juniper berry has many properties that make it highly beneficial for your skin. The anti-bacterial and antiseptic properties of juniper help in fighting off bacteria that may cause acne and prevent infection. The anti-inflammatory properties help in reducing swelling and redness associated with skin infections. It is also helpful in treating other skin disorders like eczema, dermatitis, and psoriasis. Massaging juniper berries essential oil into your skin is helpful in increasing blood circulation, toning your skin and in treating cellulite. Juniper has powerful antioxidants that can combat the harmful free radicals and prevent the oxidation damage to your cells. This helps in preventing the signs of aging like wrinkles, fine lines and dark spots. Juniper berry oil is an excellent moisturizer that is helpful for people with dry skin.
Juniper oil for healthy hair
For people struggling with scalp and hair problems, the oil from juniper berries is a godsend. The essential oil of juniper helps in promoting the health of your scalp and in moisturizing your hair. A scalp tonic can be prepared by blending the essentials oils of juniper berries, cedar wood and rosemary with olive oil. This tonic is to be massaged well into your scalp and hair. After massaging, wrap your hair with a warm towel and wash with shampoo after 2 hours. Make sure to wash off all traces of oil. While the scalp tonic is effective in moisturizing your scalp and hair, massaging help in improving blood circulation, promoting hair growth and scalp health. The antimicrobial properties of juniper help in preventing dandruff and other fungal infections.
Side effects and contraindications of juniper
When taken for a short period of time, Juniper is found to be safe for most people. However, long-term use is likely to cause conditions like seizures, kidney problems, and other severe side effects. In fact, it is advised not to use juniper for more than 4 weeks. People who are allergic to juniper may experience allergic reactions such as rash, itching, redness, burning, swelling and difficulty breathing. Pregnant ladies or those who are trying to get pregnant should avoid the use of juniper as it may cause miscarriage or may have a negative impact on fertility. Juniper has been found to lower blood sugar levels in animals. Since it is not known whether it will cause similar effects in human beings, it is best for people with diabetes to avoid juniper.
People with intestinal and abdominal disorders should be cautious while using juniper as it may sometimes worsen the condition. Juniper may affect the blood pressure levels and hence using it along with anti-hypertensive medications may make it difficult to manage the blood pressure. Avoid using juniper on skin wounds because it may cause irritation over the area. People who are experiencing kidney or bladder problems should avoid juniper because the diuretic properties of juniper berries can lead to irritation of the kidneys and bladder.
Natural remedies are becoming increasingly popular nowadays as they are inexpensive and associated with fewer side effects. Juniper berries, while once thought of as flavoring agent in the production of gin has proved to possess many health benefits and medicinal properties. Therefore, incorporating this wonderful spice in your daily diet can help in reducing your risk of diseases and also in improving your overall health and well being.Image Credits: health benefits of juniper