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Juniper - Juniperus communis

Botanical Name: Juniperus communis, Pinaceae family

Common names: Juniper.

Plant description

Juniper is a small evergreen shrub, usually prostate or up to a meter tall, but in some species (e.g. J. scopulorum) can attain the height of a small tree. J. communis is thickly branched, forming in small clumps or mats up to 3 m in diameter. The branch and stem bark is thin, reddish-brown and scaling, the needle-shaped leaves attaching to the stem or branches in threes. Each needle is quite stiff and sharp at the end, whitish above and dark green below. Juniper is generally dioecious, with pollen and cones appearing on different shrubs. The fleshy berry-like cones mature in the second year, turning from a hard, indistinct green cone to a bluish-black, fleshy berry containing 3 angular, bony seeds.

Habitat, ecology and distribution

Juniper is the only circumpolar conifer in the northern hemisphere, and so is found in North America and Eurasia, as its species name communis (common) implies. It is found widespread and fairly common, at low to high elevations, generally in open, sunny well-drained habits, on rocky outcrops and slopes, in dry forests extending into the northern tundra. Juniper however does occur however in moist places as well, found around the edges of bogs and in cold, moist forests. It occurs is a wide variety of soils, including acidic and calcareous sands, loams, or marls.

Part used

mature cones or ‘berries’


According to Sir James George Frazer, author of the neopagan text The Golden Bough, the Celtic peoples once burned dried Juniper as incense to purify their homes in preparation for Beltane. This practice of regarding Juniper as a protective and purifying remedy against negative influences is found all over the northern world. The Hunza shamans of the Hindukush mountain range in northern Pakistan used to burn Juniper boughs to call down the faeries from the high mountain tops. This is a similar practice to some Tibetan Bon practices, which have since been adapted by Tibetan Buddhists, where Juniper is ritually in monasteries, burnt in three meter high incense burners called sangkangs, wafting its smoke all over the village. Moore also mentions that the Tewa Indians use Juniper as a protective talisman (1979, 94), and Willard says that some practitioners chew Juniper berries while visiting with sick patients to protect themselves (1992, 169). Juniper was considered by Culpepper to be a solar plant, with drying and warming properties, “…being a most admirable counter-poison, and as great a resister of the pestilence” (1653). The “perfection” of a Juniper wine is attributed to the Count de Morret, son of Henry IVof France, although it was most likely used originally as a flavoring for the nauseating principles of crude wine and beer of ancient peoples. Juniper was later used in the 17th century by the Dutch, who distilled it and marketed a Juniper-flavoured alcohol as a restorative tonic, which has since become known as the popular liquor called gin. The name “gin” is itself abbreviation from the French genièvre (Juniper). Oleum Cadinu, or oil of cade, is made in France from the dry distillation of the wood of J. ocycedrus, and is used as a topical agent in eczema and other skin conditions.


Juniper contains over 60 different volatile compounds that account for its highly aromatic smell, comprising upwards of 1.5% of the fruit. Most of these compounds are terpenes such as pinene, camphene, myrcene and sabiene, but include sesquiterpenes such as cadinene and caryophyllene, as well as a various assortment of [wp>alcohols]], [wp>esters]] and [wp>alkanes]]. The leaves are stated to contain a similar spectrum of volatile compounds as the leaves. The leaf oils of J. oxycedrus have been determined to be composed were mainly of alpha-pinene (40-57%) and manoyl oxide (5-10%). The berries however, also contain a variety of other interesting compounds including [wp>flavonoids]] such as [wp>quercitin]] and [wp>isoquercitin]], [wp>proanthocyanidins]], [wp>gallocatechin]] and [wp>epicatechin]], as well as [wp>ascorbic acid]], sugars, a lignan (desoxypodophyllotoxin), an [wp>omega 3]] [wp>fatty acid]] (5,11,14-eicosatrienoic acid), diterpenes (3 alpha-hinokiol [3] and 3 alpha-hydroxymannol), and resins (Newall et al 1996, 176; Evans 1989, 445; Salido et al 2002; Wang et al 2002).

Medical Research

Diabetes: The administration of a decoction of Juniper berries equal to 125 mg/kg in streptozotocin-diabetic rats for 24 days resulted in a significant reduction both in blood glucose levels and in the mortality index, as well as the prevention of the loss of body weight. The net effect was observed to be an increase in peripheral glucose consumption, and a potentiation of glucose-induced insulin secretion (Sanchez de Medina et al 1994).

Inflammation and pain: A methanol and dichloromethanol extract of the leaves and stems of Juniperus oxycedrus demonstrated analgesic and antiinflammatory in chemical stimulation and carrageenin-induced edema in experimental rats. The extract also demonstrated a low toxicity in acute toxicity tests (Moreno et al 1998).

Hepatitis and inflammation: Juniper berry oil is rich in 5,11,14-eicosatrienoic acid, a polyunsaturated fatty acid similar to one found in fish oil, yet less prone to peroxidation. The effects of a diet containing juniper berry oil on hepatic reperfusion injury in a low-flow, reflow reperfusion model were investigated in rats fed semisynthetic diet containing either juniper berry oil, fish oil, or corn oil for 14 to 16 days. Livers were initially perfused at low-flow rates to induce pericentral hypoxia followed by a 40-minute reperfusion period. Peak lactate dehydrogenase (LDH) release during reflow, which is an indicator of cell injury and death, averaged 44 U/g/h in the corn oil group and 32 U/g/h in the fish oil group, but was only 21 U/g/h as a result of juniper berry oil treatment. Malondialdehyde (MDA), an end-product of lipid peroxidation, reached a maximum value of 62 nmol/g/h in the corn oil group, but only reached 43 nmol/g/h and 34 nmol/g/h in the fish oil and juniper berry oil groups, respectively. Both juniper berry oil and fish oil treatment improved rates of bile flow from 25 microL/g/h (corn oil) to 36 and 38 microL/g/h, respectively. Importantly, juniper berry oil reduced cell death in pericentral regions of the liver lobule by 75%. Trypan blue distribution time, an indicator of the hepatic microcirculation, was reduced by approximately 25% with fish oil and over 50% by juniper berry oil diets compared with corn oil controls. The rates of entry of fluorescein-dextran, a dye confined to the vascular space, were increased 1.8- and 2.6-fold, and rates of outflow were increased 4.4- and 4.3-fold by fish oil and juniper berry oil, respectively, also reflecting improved microcirculation. Juniper berry oil also blunted increases in intracellular calcium and release of prostaglandin E2 (PGE2) by cultured Kupffer cells stimulated by endotoxin. These results are consistent with the hypothesis that feeding a diet containing juniper berry oil reduces reperfusion injury by inhibiting activation of Kupffer cells, thus reducing vasoactive eicosanoid release and improving the hepatic microcirculation in livers undergoing oxidant stress” (Jones et al 1998).

Antimicrobial: Chloroform, acetone and methanol extracts of leaves, resins, barks, cones and fruits Juniperus oxycedrus were investigated by the disc diffusion method, tested against Bacillus megaterium, Bacillus subtilis, Bacillus cereus, Escherichia coli, Klebsiella pneumoniae, Enterobacter aerogenes, Staphylococcus aureus, Mycobacterium smegmatis, Proteus vulgaris, Listeria monocytogenes, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Candida albicans, Candida tropicalis and Penicillium italicum. The results showed that Juniper has an inhibitory property against every organism in the study except from E. coli and the pathogenic fungi (Digrak et al 1999). An essential oil from Western Juniper (Juniperus occidentalis) demonstrated significant antimicrobial activity against anaerobic bacteria and yeast, including Fusobacterium necrophorum, Clostridium perfringens, Actinomyces bovis and Candida albicans in standardized broth assay. The major chemical components of western Juniper oil were determined to be cedrol and alpha- and beta-cedrene, the latter two of which were considered to be largely responsible for the antimicrobial effects (Johnston et al 2001).

Antioxidant: The essential oil of Juniperus procera was found to exhibit potent scavenging activities, acting as a nonspecific donor for hydrogen atoms or electrons assessed by a diphenylpicrylhydrazyl assay. The oil was also found to be effective as a hydroxyl radical scavenging agents when assessed by a deoxyribose degradation assay. In an in vitro assay for non-enzymatic lipid peroxidation in liposomes, the oil of J. procera displayed antioxidant activities (Burits et al 2001).

Antitumor: Two diterpenes (3 alpha-hinokiol (3) and 3 alpha-hydroxymannol) isolated from Juniperus przewalskii exhibited effective antitumor activities in cervical carcinoma (HeLa) and human ovarian carcinoma (HO-8910) cell lines (Wang et al 2002).

Toxicity: In a study that examined the potential toxicity of the oils and tar of J. communis and J. virginiana and J. oxycedrus, each was shown to be non-irritating in animals, and were neither a sensitizer or phototoxic. Acute studies using animals showed little toxicity of the oil or tar (Int J Toxicol Suppl 2001).

Herbal action: diuretic, antilithic, stimulant, antiseptic, hepatic carminative, antirheumatic

Indications: chronic cystitis, chronic urethritis, kidney stones, edema, ascites, arthritis, rheumatism, sciatica, eczema, psoriasis, skin infections, dyspepsia, intestinal colic

Contraindications and cautions: acute cystitis, pregnancy (Cook 1869; Willard 1992, 169); gastric or intestinal inflammation, acute joint inflammation (topically); may cause irritation if used in large doses or for an extended period of time.

Medicinal uses: Cook considered Juniper berries to be a mild stimulant and relaxant, primarily influencing the kidneys and bladder, best utilized in symptoms of renal congestion, such as in aching back, urinary catarrh, and kidney stones (1869). Both Cook and Culpepper mention its virtues in edema, and combined with equal parts of watermelon seed, was used as an infusion by Professor King in “…several cases of ascites occurring in children” (Felter and Lloyd 1893). The berries are most often used as an adjunct to other diuretic formulas, used to treat chronic cystitis, pyelitis, and nephritis as well as leucorrhoea and sexually transmitted diseases such as gonorrhea. Felter and Lloyd state that “uncomplicated renal hyperemia is cured” by Juniper (1893). Juniper is contraindicated in acute inflammation of the urinary tract, evidenced by Culpepper’s classification of Juniper berry as warming in the third degree (1653). It is also reputed to be an excellent remedy for the skin, used internally as a diuretic and bitter stimulant to the kidneys and liver, and applied topically in eczema, herpes, psoriasis and parasitic skin diseases. As a uterine stimulant Juniper is a mild remedy, used in the suppression of menses and anxiety (Cook 1869). In the treatment of gout, arthritis and rheumatism Juniper exerts its influence by promoting the elimination of wastes via the liver and kidneys. Culpepper mentions its virtues in the treatment of cough, shortness of breath and consumption, an activity that can also be obtained by using the an infusion in a sweat, or by infusing the volatile oil in proximity to the patient. Moore states that a few of the berries eaten before a meal are an effective bitter tonic (1979, 94), and Culpepper mentions its efficacy as a carminative in intestinal colic (1653). Culpepper also mentions that Juniper strengthens the mind and optic nerves, improving memory and vision (1653), an activity that is perhaps due to the proanthocyanidins and flavonol components. The berries are also stated to be effective in hemorrhoids and parasitic infections. The stimulant properties of Juniper may also reflect an antispasmodic activity, mentioned by Culpepper in the treatment of palsy and “falling-sickness” (1653). Prepared as a salve or liniment Juniper is an effective and pleasant smelling counterirritant, useful in simple rheumatism and arthritis.

Pharmacy and dosage:

• Fresh Plant Tincture: fresh cones, 1:2, 95% alcohol, 20-60 gtt, 1-3 mL • Dry Plant Tincture: recently dried, crushed cones, 1:5, 50% alcohol, 1-3 mL • Decoction: recently dried, crushed cones, 1:20, 30-90 mL • Powder: recently dried, crushed cones 500-3000 mg • Medicated oil: fresh cones, recently dried crushed cones, 1:7, apply liberally

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juniperus_communis.txt · Last modified: 2018/02/26 18:12 (external edit)