Juniper berry: An oxidative stress relaxant, antiseptic, firstname.lastname@example.org
Juniper berry actually isn’t a berry at all. They are female seed cones that come juniper plants — a type of conifer (Pinophyta), which is a cone-bearing plant or tree. Their uniquely fleshy, merged scales make them look like a berry, thus the name.
Benefits of juniper berry
1. Relieve oxidative stress and help prevent disease –
One major benefit of juniper berries is that they contain antioxidants that help the 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 drupaceous 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.
3. Improves skin conditions –
A simple Google search reveals that one of the most common uses for juniper berries, specifically in essential oil form, is to treat skin issues like rash or eczema. The antioxidants they contain are probably one major reason this can be effective. In an examination of how animal wounds healed when treated with juniper berry essential oil, researchers discovered that two cultivars of juniper berries “displayed remarkable wound healing and anti-inflammatory activities.”
This suggests the ancient use of juniper berries as a skin healer has its roots in scientific fact. From a lab study in South Korea, it also seems possible that juniper berry extract might be able to help treat skin pigmentation disorders like vitiligo. The essential oil of juniper berries has also been used for some time to reduce the appearance of cellulite, a harmless cosmetic issue involving fatty deposits that are often found on the thighs, hips, and buttocks.
4. May help improve digestion –
Juniper berries have long been considered a digestive aid in folk medicine, but few studies have examined these effects at length. However, one study involving milk cows found that feeding the subjects juniper berry essential oil did result in improved digestive behavior. Because they function as diuretics, juniper berries can help relieve bloating in some cases.
5. 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.
6. 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.
7. Good for the heart –
Probably also due in part to its antioxidant qualities, juniper berries can help to improve heart function. For example, juniper berry essential oil has been found to reduce high blood pressure in animal studies, related to the antioxidants it contains. A similar study stated juniper berry’s function as a natural diuretic (in its original or essential oil form) also contributes to its blood pressure-lowering activity.
One study in rats found that juniper berry extracts might be useful in lowering high triglycerides. Juniper berries also function as an “anticholinesterase agent.” This is important for heart function because anticholinesterase agents (natural or pharmaceutical) help to build up acetylcholine in the nervous system, which in turn can slow heart action, lower blood pressure, increase blood flow and induce contractions of the heart. Interestingly, the same agents are also used in some cases to treat digestive obstructions, myasthenia gravis and Alzheimer’s disease. At present, no studies have been done to investigate the interaction of juniper berries with the latter two conditions.
8. 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 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. (31) Although malondialdehyde’s role in diabetes isn’t understood entirely, its concentration is much higher in people with diabetes (and cancer).
9. 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.
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.
Adding juniper berries to your diet
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. Juniper berries are officially the only spice to come from a conifer tree. Many health food stores carry juniper berries in the spice section. These spicy, rich berries can be purchased either dried or fresh and whole or crushed. Many sources suggest they flavor meat dishes particularly well. For the most pungent flavor, try crushing fresh berries before using them in a sauce or marinade. You may also try toasting them, but over-cooking will draw out the bitterness and make the berries inedible.
The spicy, aromatic, dark berries of the juniper tree can be used fresh or dried, crushed or whole, to flavor casseroles, marinades, and stuffings and complement pork, rabbit, venison, beef, and duck. They can also be used in sweet dishes such as fruitcake. Juniper berries also provide the main flavoring for gin.
Word of caution
While juniper berries are generally safe for most people, there are some precautions and medicinal interactions to consider.
First, pregnant women should never consume juniper berries in whole or essential oil form as it may potentially cause damage to the unborn child or force uterine contractions. Juniper is also not recommended for those with poor kidney function.
It is possible to develop an allergic reaction to juniper berries, which could manifest with skin issues (like a rash) or breathing issues. If you experience any of those conditions after using juniper berries, discontinue use and consult your doctor immediately.
Juniper berries may also interact negatively with certain medications, according to a 2014 study. The berries seem to inhibit a drug-metabolizing enzyme in the human body known as CYP3A4. This enzyme metabolizes about half of the drugs on the pharmaceutical market, while the other half of medicines actually inhibit the enzyme.
There is a fairly extensive list of medications that could result in toxicity when taken in conjunction with juniper berries. If you are taking any medications, you should first consult with your doctor before using juniper berries or juniper berry essential oil.
Recipe for Gin and tonic cake
3 small limes
45 juniper berries (about 1 tablespoon)
2 large eggs
½ cup vegetable oil
¾ cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
2/3 cup gin, divided
¾ cup tonic water (fresh; not flat)
2 cups powdered sugar (for the glaze; don’t be alarmed — this large amountshrinks)
Line an 8” cake pan with parchment paper; lightly grease paper and sides of the pan. Preheat oven to 350 F. Finely zest limes; set aside zest. Juice limes and measure out ¼ cup juice and, separately, 1 tablespoon juice; set both aside. Using a mortar and pestle or spice grinder, mash 30 of the juniper berries until small flakes are formed; set aside. In a large bowl, beat together eggs, oil, granulated sugar, and vanilla until even and smooth.
Sift over the mixture: flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Mix on low speed, gradually adding 1/4 cup lime juice and 1/3 cup gin. Beat until smooth. Toss in the lime zest and crushed juniper berries, mixing until evenly dispersed. Gently fold in the tonic water with a spatula, then quickly pour into the prepared pan. (If desired, watch the batter bubble, brown, and gloriously raise in your oven! Height will depend on the freshness of baking soda and tonic.) Bake the cake for about 40-45 minutes, first checking the center with a wooden skewer or toothpick at the 35-minute mark; the cake is done when golden brown and no wet batter appears.
Remove cake from oven and let cool in the pan for at least 45 minutes. Loosen sides of the cake with a butter knife, remove parchment, and carefully transfer cake to a wire rack over a baking sheet. While cake cools a bit longer on the rack, place the powdered sugar, remaining tablespoon lime juice, and remaining 1/3 cup gin in a saucepan. Whisk over medium heat for only about 30 seconds; remove from heat while still opaque and keep stirring. (This amount of heating is just enough to activate the thickening power of the corn starch in the powdered sugar. Longer heating turns the sugar into a clear sticky glaze that will remain wet; if this happens, whisk in more powdered sugar immediately, but don’t use too much more; keep the glaze at pouring consistency.)
Working quickly, pour half of the glaze over the cake; it should harden fast. Immediately repeat with the second half of glaze, letting it drip down the sides of the cake. Reserve a bit of glaze in the pan, tossing the remaining 15 juniper berries in it. If glaze in the pan is already too hard, place the pan over low heat momentarily. Using small tongs or baking tweezers (the sugar coating is HOT), quickly place glazed juniper berries evenly around the edges of the cake and a few in the center. (You may notice that I only used 8 around the edges of my cake, but I suggest placing 12+ around the edges so that each slice bears at least one berry.) Lastly, store the cake covered at room temperature (don’t refrigerate); eat within 2 or 3 days.
Recipe for Rhubarb and juniper jam
Prep Time 20 minutes, Cook Time 20 minutes, Total Time 40 minutes, Servings 4 cups, Calories 93 kcal
860 g rhubarb about 8 to 9 stalks, chopped
750 g granulated sugar 3 3/4 cups
1.5 tsp juniper berries about 40 of them or 4 g, roughly chopped
Have 4- or 5-250 mL jars and lids sterilized beforehand? Keep the jars in a low heat oven and the lids in a small saucepan of simmering water.
Combine all the ingredients in a large, deep pot. Cook the jam on medium-high to first dissolve the sugar and then boil.
Skim the jam to remove foam as needed with a metal spoon. The jam will bubble up high in the pot and then eventually settle again. Continue cooking the jam until it reaches about 220ºF (the jam setting point).
Divide the jam among the jars, leaving a 1/4 inch headspace. Remove air bubbles, wipe the rims clean, then cover with the lids, fingertight. If any of the jars aren’t filled full, don’t seal them. Instead, you can cover them and enjoy them right away, storing them in the fridge.
Seal the closed jars according to the manufacturer’s recommendations. Let sit 24 hours undisturbed before storing them in the pantry.
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