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The common juniper (Juniperus communis) loves sun and stony ground. It is widespread in Europe, fertilized mythology as a shrub of life and has been in demand as a medicinal plant since ancient times.
Fact sheet on juniper
- Scientific name: Juniperus communis
- Common names: Incense tree, fire tree, horizontal bar, machandel tree, crane weather shrub, grammel shrub, incense shrub, wach almond, quailberry shrub, machandel boom, jochandel, Kaddig, Kranewitt, Wecholter
- family: Cypress family (Cupressaceae)
- distribution: The common juniper has the widest distribution of all conifers. It grows from North America to the south of Greenland, in almost all of Europe and in large parts of northern and temperate Asia to South Asia. It also occurs in Africa north of the Sahara.
- Parts of plants used: Berries, leaves and branches
- application areas: Indigestion, flatulence, abdominal discomfort, loss of appetite, parasite infestation, bladder and urinary tract infection
Juniperus communis - the most important facts
- Common juniper grows on rocky, sunny areas all over Europe.
- Juniper has been known as a seasoning and medicine for thousands of years.
- The plant disinfects the urinary and respiratory tract, promotes digestion and expectoration when coughing and acts as a light sedative.
- Juniper is known in folk medicine as a remedy for gout, rheumatism and arthritis.
- Many healing effects have been proven in scientific studies. Juniper has an antibacterial, antioxidant and anti-fungus effect.
Juniper has essential oils such as pinene, camphene, junen, terpineol and cadine, as well as organic acids, sugar and juniperine. The berries contain apigenin, rutin, luteolin, quercetin-3-O-arabinosyl glucosides, scutellarein, nepetin, amentoflavones and bilobetin.
Cupressuflavon, Hinokiflavon, Biflavone, Isocryptomerin and Sciadopitysin are found in the leaves. The seeds contain hemagglutinin. There are also diterpenes and diterpenoids. Fruits and seeds also contain camphene, wax, ascorbic acid and fermentable sugar, among others.
The juniper oil obtained from the berries consists primarily of monoterpene hydrocarbons (English: monoterpene hydrocarbons) such as various pinene, sabine, myrcene and limonene.
Medical use of juniper
Juniper is traditionally used for
- Digestive problems,
- Stomach pain,
- Pain in the heart area,
- Loss of appetite,
- Intestinal infections
- as well as worms in the internal organs.
It is considered a remedy for infections of the urinary tract and is said to help against bladder and kidney stones. Juniper was a remedy for snake bites, joint and muscle pain and for healing external wounds. The inhaled oil is said to help against bronchitis and other respiratory infections as well as against tuberculosis.
Current studies indicate laxative effects, anti-inflammatory substances and antioxidative activity. Likewise, a potential against fungi, bacterial diseases, against cataleptic complaints and a potential effect against nerve damage in Parkinson's and diabetes was shown.
As part of a study by the Süleyman Demirel University and the University of Sakarya (Turkey), the influence of juniper berry oil on excess cholesterol in the body was investigated in albino rats weighing 200 to 250 grams. The juniper oil was shown to counteract an increase in cholesterol.
In a study by Kumaun University (India), juniper leaf extracts were tested for their action against five pathogenic bacteria that are resistant to many medications (Bacillus subtilis, Erwinia chrysanthemi, Escherichia coli, Agrobacterium tumefaciens and Xanthomonas phaseoli). The Juniperus communis methanol extract was found to be very effective compared to conventional antibiotics.
Juniper Extracts Against Cancer?
Juniperus communis water extracts have been shown to trigger cell death from various cancer cells, according to a study by the Swedish Karolinska Institute and the University of Helsinki. More research is needed to potentially develop new anti-tumor drugs.
Are Juniper Berries Safe or Unsafe?
Juniper berries therefore contain chemical substances that act against inflammation and probably also against viruses, bacteria and fungi. What is certain is that juniper increases the urge to urinate. In "normal" cans, whether as a flavor enhancer, spice or medicine, juniper, juniper berries and juniper extracts are probably safe.
It is most likely safe to take juniper preparations by mouth for a short time, to inhale juniper oil or to apply it to the skin in small areas. When rubbing the skin with the oil, you should first test whether there are effects such as reddening, burning skin or swelling.
You should not use juniper oil on large wounds. It is also unsafe to take juniper in large doses or long-term orally. Unwanted effects can include kidney damage, for example. Pregnant women should avoid juniper because the substances can reduce fertility and trigger miscarriages. It is also advisable not to use the plant while breastfeeding, as research into any negative effects is still pending.
Danger: If you have kidney problems, you should never take juniper supplements.
Juniper in diabetes
Juniper can affect blood sugar levels. For diabetics, this quickly means too much of a good thing. Those suffering from diabetes should not consume juniper berries. In general, it is advisable to avoid the blue berries during phases in which a controlled blood sugar level is important - for example, in the two weeks before a surgical intervention.
High and low blood pressure
Research is still pending, but juniper berries may affect blood pressure and may be harmful to people who have hypertension or low blood pressure.
Juniper extracts can trigger unwanted interactions in medication for diabetes. These are used to keep blood sugar low. Juniper also lowers blood sugar. The combination of the two then leads to the sugar level becoming too low.
The potentiated effects of laxatives and juniper extracts are less dramatic but annoying. You quickly lose too much fluid here. Firstly, it is not pleasant to sit on the toilet constantly, secondly, a lack of fluid leads to low blood pressure and a drop in performance.
A brew can be made from the fruit. For this, about ten grams of the berries are poured with 100 milliliters of boiling water. Let the juniper brew steep for about ten minutes, then strain the fruit. When the liquid has cooled a little, it can be applied to external wounds with a wrap, envelope or compress and has a disinfecting effect.
Internally, juniper wine is a remedy for cough, it is supposed to clean the urinary tract and to urinate. To do this, they put four grams of the fruit on 100 milliliters of white wine, let everything steep for ten days and then drink a small glass of the wine before meals.
When can juniper be collected?
The leaves can be collected continuously from spring to autumn, including the branches. The fruits are only harvested when they are fully ripe, which means blue-black and a little soft when pressed.
They dry the leaves in the shade and turn them frequently. Fruits and wood dry best in the oven at low temperatures. Fruits like wood are stored in fabric bags, the leaves in porcelain jars or glasses.
Mythology and culture
Juniper can already be found in sites of Neolithic pile dwellings. We don't know whether it was used as food, medicine or both at the time. The ancient Egyptians used twigs of Juniperus as smoke offerings for the gods, and berries and seeds were also found in mummies. Contrary to earlier assumptions, these served "only" as perfuming, cedar oil was used to mummify the corpses according to recent analyzes. The confusion was also explained by the conceptual overlap, because the Greek “kedros” means both juniper and cedar.
In the Germanic peoples east of the Rhine, juniper was considered a sacred tree of life. In addition to its medicinal effects, this was probably due to the fact that it is an evergreen plant whose needles shine out of the snow in winter.
In the popular belief of the Christian Middle Ages, Juniperus communis had an ambivalent magic. It was considered a tree of death that watched over the buried, but also a tree of life. Souls that did not come to rest should retreat into the tree.
Juniper and folk medicine
These religious-magical attributions were linked to juniper in folk medicine. This is how warts should disappear when you stroke a juniper branch over them. Juniper fires should deter witches, devils, and epidemics. In Bavaria, hikers put a branch of juniper in their hats and believed that this prevented them from getting their legs sore.
The old Estonians made sacrifices to the patron saint of livestock and pastures under a juniper tree. In Germany, you should take your hat off when you came to such a shrub, as it was considered to be the home of ghosts. In Carinthia, a Juniperus communis was supposed to stand at the entrance to a giant's den, elsewhere the shrubs covered the entrances to the dwarfs' apartments. In Norway you should listen to music and singing at junipers at night, because the elves met here for the festival. In German sagas, the key to underground empires lies under the cypress tree.
Juniper berries in the kitchen
Juniper berries were found in dishes at an early stage, and this was due not only to their taste but also to their medicinal effects. Juniper schnapps like Steinhäger in Germany, British gin or genever in the Netherlands are used to get your digestion going after a heavy meal. The sweet-tart aroma spices fish dishes and especially game, but also sauerkraut and sweets. (Dr. Utz Anhalt)
Author and source information
This text corresponds to the requirements of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.
- Bavarian State Institute for Forestry and Forestry (LWF): Contributions to juniper (accessed: 7.1.2020), LWF
- Goethe University Frankfurt am Main: New Senckenberg Medicinal Plant Garden: Urinary Tract (accessed: January 7, 2020), University of Frankfurt
- Akdogan, M .; Koyu, A .; Ciris, M .; Yildiz, K .: Anti-hypercholesterolemic activity of Juniperus communis Lynn Oil in rats: A biochemical and histopathological investigation, in: Biomedical Research, 23/3: 321-328, 2012, Biomedical Research
- Gumral, Nurhan; Kumbul, Duygu Doguc; Aylak, Firdevs et al .: Juniperus communis Linn oil decreases oxidative stress and increases antioxidant enzymes in the heart of rats administered a diet rich in cholesterol, in: Toxicology and Industrial Health, 31 (1): 85-91, January 2015, Epub January 2013, SAGE journals
- Raasmaja, Atso; Stenius, Ulla; Ghalali, Aram: The Water Extract of Juniperus communis L. Induces Cell Death and Sensitizes Cancer Cells to Cytostatic Drugs through p53 and PI3K / Akt Pathways, in: International Journal of Molecular Sciences, 20 (9): 2054, May 2019, PMC
- Sati, S.C .; Joshi, Savita: Antibacterial potential of leaf extracts of Juniperus communis L. from Kumaun Himalaya, in: African Journal of Microbiology Research, 4 (12): 1291-1294, June 2010, Academic Journals
- Fierascu, Irina; Ungureanu, Camelia; Avramescu, Sorin Marius et al .: Genoprotective, antioxidant, antifungal and anti-inflammatory evaluation of hydroalcoholic extract of wild-growing Juniperus communis L. (Cupressaceae) native to Romanian southern sub-Carpathian hills, in: BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 18 / 3, January 2018, BMC