Juniper berries traditionally have been used to “detoxify” the body and promote healthy digestion and skin health, among many other things.And the results definitely aren’t all anecdotal. There are a large number of studies that reflect the incredible antioxidant and antibacterial potential of juniper berries. (That’s probably why doctors used to sanitize medical equipment with them.)
Juniper berries actually aren’t berries at all. They are female seed cones that come juniper plants — a type of conifer (Pinophyta), which is a cone-bearing plant or tree. Juniper plants vary in appearance and can grow low and wide like a shrub or tall like a tree. Their uniquely fleshy, merged scales make them look like a berry, thus the name.
.In addition to their slightly misleading name, juniper berries are also not a berry you would generally eat with breakfast, like blueberries (even though they’re similar in size). Instead, juniper berries are often used as a bitter spice. In fact, they give gin its distinctive flavor. Juniper berries are officially the only spice to come from a conifer tree.
One of the major uses of these berries is in juniper berry essential oil. Known in folk medicine and some modern research as a natural antiseptic and antioxidant, the essential oil of juniper berries is a popular therapeutic oil. It’s also one of the essential oils the FDA approves for limited internal use.
1. Relieve oxidative stress and help prevent disease
One major benefit of juniper berries is the antioxidants they contain. Antioxidants help your body to prevent and fight disease because they relieve oxidative stress caused by too many free radicals in your system.
Juniper berries contain polyphenolic compounds known as bioflavonoids, or flavonoids. These compounds are what give fruits and vegetables (and a few other foods) their antioxidant loads. In particular, juniper berries have 87 distinct antioxidant compounds, according to one chemical assessment. These compounds seem to occur more often in ripe berries than in unripe varieties.
Perhaps most significantly, the activity of three extremely important antioxidants in the body is encouraged by juniper berries: superoxide dismutase (SOD), catalase and glutathione peroxidase.
Issues with SOD are linked to ALS, Down syndrome, cancers and lung issues. Catalase and SOD both protect against damage from peroxide within the body, while glutathione peroxidase does the same and is associated with helping to prevent and treat cancer and heart disease. 2. Natural antiseptic
The antibacterial and antifungal qualities of juniper berries have stood the test of time — which is one reason that juniper berry essential oil is often suggested as a natural household cleaning agent. These berries have compelling effects on many strains of bacteria and fungi. In fact, at least one study suggested they could be part of treatment for skin and respiratory infections.
Juniper berry essential oil powerfully destroys candida fungus, which causes an infection responsible for a huge laundry list of side effects.
This essential oil has also been found to eliminate bacteria and reduce inflammation in the mouth as efficiently as chlorhexidine, a common dental drug, but without toxic side effects.
Some evidence suggests that juniper berry essential oil can also potentially kill bacteria that are resistant to common antibiotics.
An extract of Juniperus drupacea berries from Turkey showed significant antibacterial activity in lab tests against various cells, including the Gram-positive bacteria, Staphylococcus aureus.Staph infections cause skin infections and issues like boils, and they can sometimes lead to serious complications such as pneumonia, cellulitis or bone infection.
Research has shown that another possible use of juniper berries could be as an antioxidant in foods and beverages. In addition, an ethanol extract of these berries has shown significant antibacterial impact against Aspergillus niger, a black mold commonly found on spoiled food.
May help treat leishmaniasis
It’s possible that one novel use of juniper berries could be the treatment of the parasite that causes leishmaniasis, a disease commonly contracted in tropical regions and southern Europe. Lab tests showed very potent results of an extract of juniper berry against the parasite.
Can be included as part of a diabetic diet plan
Like many of the others, studies connecting juniper berries with treatment for diabetes have been limited to lab and animal testing. The initial results, though, seem promising.
An ethanol extract and a tea of juniper berries seem to have the potential to reduce high blood sugar in diabetic rats.
Juniper berry essential oil also seems to limit the amount of malondialdehyde produced by animal bodies.Although malondialdehyde’s role in diabetes isn’t understood entirely, its concentration is much higher in people with diabetes (and cancer).
May be useful against certain cancers
Many herbs and foods that have significant antioxidant activity are studied for their potential impact on diseases like cancer. So far, no human or animal trials have looked at juniper berry’s anticancer potential.
However, in a lab setting, juniper berry essential oil or extract has been found to cause apoptosis (cell death) in a drug-resistant strain of leukemia, HepG2 (liver cancer) cells and p53 (neuroblastoma) cells. (23, 24)
Aids restful sleep
Many natural health practitioners recommend juniper berry essential oil as a relaxant and believe it has a positive impact on brain chemistry, encouraging rest.
A study from Mie University Graduate School of Medicine in Japan investigated the effects of a therapeutic fragrance, including juniper berry essential oil as well as sandalwood, rose and orris, on insomniacs currently taking medication for the disorder.
Twenty-six of the 29 participants were able to decrease their medication and achieve restful sleep after diffusing the fragrance during the night, and 12 people discontinued their medication entirely by the end of the study.