In Dutch, juniper is called "geniver," from which came the name "gin." But juniper is not only good for making martinis. Its berries (actually not berries at all, but a portion of the cone) were used by the Zuni Indians to assist in childbirth, by British herbalists to treat congestive heart failure and stimulate menstruation, and by American nineteenth-century herbalists to treat congestive heart failure, gonorrhea, and urinary tract infections.
Contemporary herbalists primarily use juniper as a diuretic ("water pill") component of herbal formulas designed to treat bladder infections. A typical combination might include goldenrod, dandelion, uva ursi, parsley, cleavers, and buchu. The volatile oils of juniper reportedly increase the rate of kidney filtration,1 thereby increasing urine flow and perhaps helping to "wash out" offending bacteria. However, there is no direct scientific evidence that juniper is effective for bladder infections. Only a double-blind placebo-controlled study can prove a treatment effective, and none have been reported with juniper
Recently, gin-soaked raisins have been touted as an arthritis treatment. This is probably just a fad, but some weak evidence suggests that juniper may possess anti-inflammatory properties.2 Also, in test tube studies, certain constituents of juniper have been found to inhibit the herpes virus.3 However, it is a long way from such studies to the conclusion that juniper is helpful for herpes infections.
You can make juniper tea by adding 1 cup of boiling water to 1 tablespoon of juniper berries, covering, and allowing the berries to steep for 20 minutes. The usual dosage is 1 cup twice a day. However, juniper is said to work better as a treatment for bladder infections when combined with other herbs. Combination products should be taken according to label instructions.
Warning: Bladder infections can go on to become kidney infections. For this reason, seek medical supervision if your symptoms don't resolve in a few days, or if you develop intense low back pain, fever, chills, or other signs of serious infection.
Although juniper is regarded as safe and is widely used in foods, we don't recommend taking it during pregnancy. (We also recommend not drinking gin.) Remember, juniper was used historically to stimulate menstruation and childbirth. It has also been shown to cause miscarriages in rats.4
Individuals taking the medication lithium should use herbal diuretics such as juniper only under the supervision of a physician, as being dehydrated when taking this medication can be dangerous.5
Some texts warn that juniper oil may be a kidney irritant, but there is no real evidence that this is the case.6 Nonetheless, people with serious kidney disease probably shouldn't take juniper. Safety for young children, nursing women, or those with severe liver disease has also not been established.
If you are taking lithium, do not use juniper except under the supervision of a physician.
1. Newall C, Anderson LA, Phillipson JD. Herbal Medicines: A Guide for Health-Care Professionals. London, England: Pharmaceutical Press; 1996:176.
2. Mascolo N, Autore G, Capasso F, et al. Biological screening of Italian medicinal plants for anti-inflammatory activity. Phytother Res. 1987;1:28–31.
3. Markkanen T, Makinen ML, Nikoskelainen J, et al. Antiherpetic agent from juniper tree ( Juniperus communis), its purification, identification, and testing in primary human amnion cell cultures. Drugs Exp Clin Res. 1981;7:691–697.
4. Agrawal OP, Bharadwaj S, Mathur R. Antifertility effects of fruits of Juniperuscommunis. Planta Med. 1980;(suppl):98–101.
5. Pyevich D, Bogenschutz MP. Herbal diuretics and lithium toxicity [letter]. Am J Psychiatry. 2001;158:1329.
6. Newall C, Anderson LA, Phillipson JD. Herbal Medicines: A Guide for Health-Care Professionals. London, England: Pharmaceutical Press; 1996:176.
Last reviewed September 2014 by EBSCO CAM Review Board
Last Updated: 9/18/2014
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