Juniperus communis, better known as juniper, is an evergreen shrub that grows wildly in parts of Europe, Asia, and North America. The fruits that grow on this shrub are called juniper berries. These berries have a deep blue color and have a very woody, earthy, and spicy aroma. They have a tart flavor and are used as a spice or flavoring agent in cooking.
Let us understand more about juniper berries.
What Is Juniper Berry?
The juniper tree is dioecious, which means that the male flowers and female flowers grow on separate plants. The male juniper plant produces cones that are smaller in size when compared to cones produced by the female juniper plant. These cones from the male plant are inedible as they are little sacks of pollen. On the other hand, the female cones are relatively larger in size and ripen into what you know as juniper berries. These cones, initially green, take about 18 months to ripen and turn into round and oval-shaped juniper berries that are dark blue in color and have a white-ish waxy coating on their skin.
While most varieties of juniper berries are edible, juniperus oxycedrus and juniperus sabina are not safe to be consumed.
Let us look at some of the nutritional facts of juniper berries and how to go about using them.
Nutritional Facts Of Juniper Berries Per 100g (2)
Juniper berries have been used in medicinal applications from ancient times due to their anti-inflammatory, anti-diarrhoeal, and antiseptic properties. They are also highly concentrated with vitamins such as vitamin C, antioxidants such as flavonoids, and compounds such as monoterpenes (1).
Monoterpenes are compounds that are found in the essential oils of many plants, vegetables, and fruits. This compound is known to treat and prevent carcinogenic activities at different stages of cancer. Studies suggest that monoterpenes may help in the prevention and treatment of cancer (3).
The high levels of antioxidants that are present in the juniper berry also make it useful in improving the quality and preserving meats. They improve the quality of meat by giving it a sharp and distinct flavor. (4).
Let us now look at some of the health benefits of juniper berries.
5 Potential Health Benefits of Juniper Berries
Juniper berries have been used in traditional medicine for their astringent and antiseptic properties. Here are a few more potential and emerging health benefits of juniper berries.
1. Highly Rich In Nutrients And Powerful Compounds
Juniper berries are a rich source of vitamin C which is essential for your immunity and improvement of collagen production in the body. Vitamin C also helps in protecting your skin from UV-induced photodamage. It is a good antioxidant that helps in keeping your cells protected from free radicals (5).
These berries are also rich in flavonoids that offer a wide range of health benefits. By incorporating a diet that is rich in flavonoids you may be able to protect yourself from chronic heart diseases. A study was conducted to ascertain the effects of flavonoids on reducing diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular, and brain diseases. It was found that when consumed in its natural form or synthesized from, flavonoids helped reduce some of the symptoms of these diseases. The study also pointed out that further research was required to begin clinically testing the effectiveness of flavonoids in treating these diseases (6).
2. Anti-inflammatory Properties
Juniper berries contain essential oils and antioxidants that give them anti-inflammatory properties. These essential oils have been used for medicinal and flavoring purposes as well. They help in the prevention of oxidation of cells that cause rapid cell damage and also protect the cells from free radicals that cause tissue damage (7).
Juniper berry oil has been used as an ingredient in skincare products and cosmetics due to its anti-inflammatory values. Studies show that juniper berry oil has a therapeutic effect on chronic inflammation and fibrosis (8).
3. Potentially Anti-diabetic
Juniper berries are known to have been used in traditional medicine to treat diabetes. A study was conducted on rats to ascertain the anti-diabetic effect of juniper berry extracts. During the study, rats with diabetes were fed extracts of juniper berry for 21 days and it was found that there was a considerable reduction in their blood glucose levels. The study helped in affirming the anti-diabetic properties present in juniper berry extracts and that it can potentially be used to treat type 2 diabetes (9). However, further trials are required to confirm if they have the same effects on the human body.
4. May Protect Your Heart Health
Juniper berries may improve your heart health by improving your HDL levels and reducing your LDL levels. HDL stands for high-density lipoprotein, which is also called good cholesterol. HDL absorbs excess cholesterol and moves it to your liver. Your liver processes it and flushes it out of your body. It is good to have higher levels of HDL cholesterol as it reduces your risk of heart diseases and stroke. LDL stands for low-density lipoprotein, also known as bad cholesterol. High levels of LDL cholesterol are bad for you as they put you at a greater risk of getting a heart attack or a stroke (10).
In a study conducted on rats induced with diabetes, it was found that oral administration of Chinese juniper berry extracts led to a decrease in triglyceride and cholesterol by 37% and 57% respectively (11). However further research is required to ascertain if consuming juniper berries will have the same effect on the cholesterol and triglyceride levels of human beings.
5. Antibacterial, Antifungal, And Good For Your Gut
The essential oils of juniper berries are also known for having these properties due to the presence of a compound called terpenes. Terpenes also make the essential oils of the juniper berry an effective diuretic. This helps in improving your kidney function and intestinal function (12).
While the potential health benefits of juniper berries sound very alluring, it must be noted that sufficient tests are not available to prove the efficacy of these benefits on human subjects. Hence these are only the potential and emerging benefits of juniper berries.
Juniper berries have a lot of potential benefits, but are they completely safe? Let us take a look at the potential and plausible side effects of juniper berries.
Side Effects Of Eating Juniper Berries
As there is a lack of sufficient research and clinical trials regarding the use of juniper berries, you ought to consume them with caution as there may be potential side effects. Here are a few possible side effects of juniper berries.
- Could Cause Kidney Problems
For most adults, consuming juniper berries orally is relatively safe. However, when consumed in large quantities and over a long period of time, they may be unsafe and cause kidney problems. They may also cause irritation of the gut leading to gastrointestinal issues (4).
- May Be Harmful To People Suffering From Diabetes
Previously in this article, you have read that juniper berries may potentially be anti-diabetic and could be used in the treatment of type 2 diabetes. However, another study found that consuming juniper berry extracts in large quantities and for a long period of time can lead to a severe lowering of blood pressure in people suffering from diabetes (4).
- May Be Dangerous During Pregnancy
A study was conducted to ascertain if the compounds present in juniper berries would cause complications during pregnancy in cows. It was found that juniper berries contain a compound called isocupressic acid which was identified as an abortifacient. The study concluded that this compound present in juniper berries is unsafe during pregnancy and may cause miscarriage (14). Further research is required to prove if the same effects are applicable in the case of human pregnancies.
- May Cause Skin Allergies
The essential oils from juniper berries when used in concentrated form on the skin can cause irritation, rashes, and even blisters. In some adverse cases, it can also cause dermatitis and nasal blisters (4).
Knowing the pros and cons before trying anything is essential as it helps you make informed decisions. Especially in the case of juniper berries, where very little is known about their benefits, side effects, and uses, it becomes that much more important that you know its perks and pitfalls. Since you are now in the know-how, let us look at how you can use juniper berries in their various forms.
How to Use Juniper Berries?
Apart from their medicinal uses, juniper berries are also used in cooking and in a few alcoholic beverages. They have a very strong aroma and flavor that can complement your marinades and meat dishes. For a strong flavor and taste, you can slice the berries in half and add them to your sauce. If you like a mild flavor you can toast the berries, crush them to a coarse powder and then add them to your sauce or marinade. Juniper is an excellent addition when cooking mutton (lamb), wild boar, pork, and venison. The oil extracted from dried juniper berries has been used in the cosmetics industry for its therapeutic benefits (4).
Let us now look at some of the things you need to keep in mind before consuming juniper berries.
Safety Precautions To Be Considered Before Taking Juniper Berries
Juniper berries when orally consumed in small quantities are safe, but you still have to be precautious about consuming them.
- Pregnant women should avoid consuming juniper berries or juniper berry extracts as they may harm the unborn child by forcing the uterus to contract. It should also be avoided by those who have kidney issues as it may damage the kidneys (15).
- Avoid using juniper berry extracts in concentrated forms on your skin as it may cause rashes or in severe cases, blisters dermatitis (4).
In conclusion, juniper berries are an evergreen shrub that is found in Europe, North America, and Asia. Traditionally these berries have been used in ancient medicine to treat various ailments. They have health benefits as well as some side effects. Given how little is known about these berries, consuming them without any prior knowledge or understanding may lead to health issues.
Expert’s Answers For Readers’ Questions
Are juniper berries safe to eat?
Yes, they are safe to eat in moderate quantities. However, if you are diabetic or pregnant you should avoid eating them (14).
What does a juniper berry taste like?
Juniper berries have a pungent taste with citrus and pine undertones.
Is juniper berry used for weight loss?
There is no scientific evidence to prove that juniper berries can aid or are used to aid weight loss.
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- A Phytopharmacological Review On A Medicinal Plant: Juniperus Communis
- Juniper Berries
- Cancer Chemoprevention And Therapy By Monoterpenes.
- Potential of Juniperus Communis L as a nutraceutical in Human and Veterinary Medicine
- The Roles of Vitamin C in Skin Health
- The Antioxidant Activity of Coumarins and Flavonoids
- Chemical Composition and Antioxidant Properties of Juniper Berry (Juniperus communis L.) Essential Oil. Action of the Essential Oil on The Antioxidant Protection of Saccharomyces Cerevisiae Model Organis.
- Anti-Inflammatory Activity of Juniper (Juniperus communis) Berry Essential Oil in Human Dermal Fibroblasts
- Evaluation of Anti-Diabetic and Anti-Hyperlipidemic Potential of Methanolic Extract of Juniperus Communis (L.) In Streptozotocin- Nicotinamide Induced Diabetic Rats.
- LDL and HDL Cholesterol: “Bad” and “Good” Cholesterol
- Comparison Between Ethanolic and Aqueous Extracts From Chinese Juniper Berries For Hypoglycaemic and Hypolipidemic Effects in Alloxan-Induced Diabetic Rats
- Antimicrobial Activity of Juniper Berry Essential Oil (Juniperus Communis L. Cupressaceae)
- Aerobiological and Allergenic Analysis of Cupressaceae Pollen in Granada (Southern Spain)
- Abortifacient Effects of Lodgepole Pine (Pinus Contorta) and Common Juniper (Juniperus Communis) on Cattle
- Abhal (Juniperus communis L.) Beneficial Drug for Urogenital System – A Review