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Juniper berry is the fruit produced by several varieties of juniper trees throughout the world. They are edible for both humans and animals, and have a clear and distinct flavor that has long been appreciated in European cooking. Juniper berry is also the main flavoring ingredient for the alcoholic beverage known as gin.
Juniper berry is known for a combination of citrus and pine flavor primarily because of its high concentration of pinene. When used as a spice or a flavor ingredient, juniper berry is best as soon after harvest as possible. The flavor and aroma decrease dramatically as the berries age and dry out.
Along with increased urine production, its benefits for proper kidney function may be one of the reasons why juniper berry is often included in supplements designed for digestive and urinary tract health. A second common use of juniper berry in dietary supplements is as an antioxidant.
Interestingly, juniper berry has antiseptic properties which have caused it to be used for hundreds of years in the medical community. According to the Discovery How Stuff Works website, juniper berry was used by medieval doctors as an aromatherapy that warded off communicable diseases.
The doctors used to chew on the berries during working hours while also burning the branches inside their buildings to help prevent the spreading of germs. It apparently worked because British medical facilities began doing the same things when their supply of antiseptic medications ran low during World War II.
Juniper berry contains more than 100 different compounds which have various effects on human health. Most commonly it is used as a diuretic to treat kidney and bladder problems. Terpinene-4-ol is one of the compounds previously mentioned which has been proven to help promote increased filtration activity in the kidneys.
Although it is not as potent an antioxidant as some others, juniper berry does have measurable benefits in this area. Antioxidants are known to control what are known as free radicals in the body, thereby reducing some of the damage these free radicals can do. The best antioxidants have been linked to preventing many age-related illnesses, general breakdown of body tissues, and even some kinds of cancers.
Lastly, juniper berry contains essential oils that are often used in therapies for rheumatoid arthritis, hemorrhoids, and varicose veins. Swedish doctors have long used these essential oils to treat minor wounds and swollen joints.
While such treatments have not been conclusively proven to be effective, there are some studies to show that the essential oils from the juniper berry inhibit the body's production of prostaglandin. If those studies are correct, that would explain the effectiveness of juniper berry essential oil in relieving arthritis pain.
There is some disagreement within the medical community as to whether or not juniper berries should be used as a supplement. Taken in excess there can be some unpleasant side effects.
Those who insist supplementation is not needed suggest that individuals cook with the juniper berry in order to get the benefits without the dangers of toxicity. They suggest that using juniper berry as a spice is one of the best ways to reap its benefits. To that end, the BBC is just one of many resources where you can find good juniper berry recipes.
If you would prefer a different method of getting the benefits of juniper berry, you can make a tea. You do this by pouring a cup of boiling water over two thirds of a teaspoon of dried berries, then steeping them, and straining.
The longer you allow the berries to steep the stronger your tea will be. In most cases this will be a very powerful tea and should be used cautiously if taken on a daily basis.
When juniper berry is ingested as a tea or a dietary supplement it should never be taken for more than four weeks consecutively unless directed by a doctor. It can cause kidney irritation, especially in those already suffering from kidney issues.
Furthermore, if the compounds contained in juniper berry are allowed to build up in the system they can cause severe issues such as seizures, serious kidney damage, low blood sugar levels, and abnormally increased or decreased blood pressure.
When used as a topical ointment juniper berry can cause skin irritation, burning, and redness and swelling. Doctors suggest that it never be used to treat open wounds.
Because the effects of juniper berry on developing babies is unknown, women who are pregnant or breast-feeding are not to use it as a dietary supplement. Cooking with it is fine, as this will break down many of the components found in juniper berry. Do not drink teas or elixirs where juniper berry is the main ingredient.
If you're suffering from diabetes or scheduled for surgery in the near future, you should also refrain from taking juniper berry. To locate and compare products containing juniper berry, use the supplement finder now!