An Herbal Interlude, Juniper

Juniper, an herbal interlude

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    Juniper (Juniperus communis) and other varieties

    With a special affinity for the urinary system, Juniper has been used all over the world, for at least 3000 years and probably more. It has a long history of use as a diuretic, urinary antiseptic, a soothing kidney remedy and much more. Sometime in the early 1900’s Juniper berries became known as a kidney toxin. The label stuck and warnings persist today. 

    History speaks a different tale. The eclectic herbalists of the 1800’s and 1900’s wrote about the use of the berries specifically for the treatment of kidney disease. Yet, the warning and fear of Juniper’s use is repeated over and over, even when modern studies show contrary findings.

    The mistaken information can be traced to an incident of adulteration around the turn of the century. Adulteration happens when correct and incorrect plants are mixed. Sometimes it happens by accident, sometimes not. It depends on the supplier and the makers of products. In this case someone making Juniper volatile oil (essential oil) mixed juniper with a plant called Savin, a close cousin of Juniper. You guessed it, Savin is a kidney toxin.  

    Many studies have been done (click here for a list of studies taken from Richard Whelan’s website.) These studies offer no proof of Juniper causing nephrotoxicity. That said, studies are only a place to start. The rest comes through our personal relationship with the plant. Juniper works best in some situations and not well in others. The secret is in its energetics.

    The Energetics of Juniper

    Juniper is heating, drying, stimulating, decongesting, and dissolving. It is also an astringent and highly aromatic. Its strong action is best used for cold, congested, stagnant, boggy conditions. This may be seen by a whitish or furry coating on the tongue. Edema or swellings may be present, along with a kind of chronic ache in the low back and joints. 

    Juniper is contra-indicated when there is an active acute infection or inflammation. The oils are excreted in the urine and can be irritating to active kidney infections. 

    Parts Used and Preparations

    The berries and leaves are most often used in medicine; however, the twigs and inner bark may also be used. Care should be taken to only harvest fresh ripe berries. Juniper berries can take 3 to 4 years to ripen. Unripe berries are a light gray or a frosted blue color. Ripe berries are dark blue-purple. Leaves, twigs, and the inner bark may be gathered as needed. Interestingly, Juniper berries are not really berries at all. They are small cones, sort of like small pinecones with a colored membrane. 

    Ripe Juniper Berries
    Ripe Juniper Berries
    Unripe Juniper Berries
    Unripe Juniper Berries

    The berries are more heating and activating and contain more essential oils. The leaf is more astringent. 


    • Tincture 1:5 75% – suggested dose 20-40 drops 3 or 4 times per day
    • Infusion made with 1 teaspoon crushed berries, a rounded teaspoon of leaves or mixed leaves and berries, steeped in 8 -12 ounces boiling water for 15 minutes. Suggested dose is 1 to 3 cups per day in 2-to-4-ounce doses.
    • Ointment or oil – infuse berries, leaves or combination into oil. Let steep in warm oil, (between 110 and 130 degrees) for at least 48 hours. Longer is better. Care should be taken not to use hot oil. Heat will destroy essential oil constituents.
    • Juniper essential oil may be used internally or externally. Suggested dose for internal use is 2 to 5 drops internally with a buffer (like in tea, or in a capsule.) Externally, use 5 to 15 drops in a teaspoon of carrier oil.

    No preparation of Juniper should be given in doses larger than recommended above. Large doses or prolonged use can cause suppression of urine, strangury (a buildup of blood in the organs,) or hematuria (blood in urine.)

    Chemical Constituents

    Although like all herbs, Juniper has a complicated chemical signature, the main chemical constituents, which were reported in J. communis L. are α-pinene, β-pinene, apigenin, sabinene, β-sitosterol, campesterol, limonene, and cupressuflavone.

    Medicinal Actions

    Juniper is primarily used as a urinary tract disinfectant, antimicrobial, and diuretic for the treatment of cystitis (bladder infection,) urethritis (infection of the urethra) and chronic pyelonephritis (kidney infection.) 

    Juniper acts as a cleansing agent to the kidneys. As such, it will help increase the output of urine, decrease edema or swellings while eliminating excess uric acid and other metabolic toxicosis. This makes it helpful for chronic kidney infections and other urinary issues in the weak and elderly. For this purpose, look for a dragging feeling or weight across the kidneys. Juniper is also well-employed to help resolve low grade, recurring urinary infections, especially when there is puss in the urine, and/or when accompanied by other symptoms of dysuria.  (See Natural Solutions for Urinary Tract Infections for more information). The herb is also well-used in formula to help eliminate urinary stones and symptoms of gout.

    For internal uses, Juniper works best in formula. As an extremely stimulating botanical, very high in hot essential oils, mixing it with other herbs allows us to employ its healing properties while mitigating possible irritating constituents. To smooth and cool possible irritating properties, combine with demulcent, diuretic herbs like Marshmallow, Corn Silk, Plantain or Yerba Mansa. Michael Moore suggests adding cooling diuretic herbs like Uva Ursi, Manzanita or Pipissewa.

    Anti-bacterial antimicrobial properties

    Juniper is helpful for bacterial and fungal infections. One study by the School of Natural Sciences, at Griffith University in Australia found that both the tea and alcohol extracts of Juniper berry inhibited bacterial triggers of rheumatoid arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis, and multiple sclerosis. Although the water extract (infusion) had the broadest inhibitory action, the alcohol extract displayed antibacterial activity on 9 or the 13 bacterial strains tested. Both extracts were found most effective at inhibiting the growth of bacterium Proteus mirabilis, Proteus vulgaris and Staphylococcus aureus all common in UTI’s. Interestingly, the water extract was also effective at blocking the proliferation of the colorectal cancer’s cell line CaCo2 and cervical cancer cell growth. Additionally, all extracts were found to be non-toxic.

    Juniper and rheumatism

    Rheumatism is not a single disorder but refers to various painful conditions affecting joints, bones, cartilage, tendons, ligaments, and muscles. As an antirheumatic and antiarthritic remedy, Juniper acts as a neuromuscular stimulant. That means, it relieves rheumatic pain by helping to shift the muscular system to a parasympathetic nervous response. Chronic pain puts us in a constant state of stress. Stress puts us in the flight or freeze mode related to the sympathetic nervous system. Juniper first inhibits any microbial activity related to the condition of rheumatism, then relaxes, warms, and sooths the muscles and associated nerve tissue. The prime indication of Juniper for this use is chronic pain, accompanied by coldness. If your pain is worsened by cold or helped by heat, Juniper may be very helpful. I would use it externally as a paste, salve, oil, or ointment. 

    Other uses

    As a gastric stimulant and carminative, Juniper berries work well to rid the digestive system of excess gas and pain. Chewing a few berries before meals will help stimulates stomach secretions, improve digestion, and relieve cramps and bloating.

    Herbalist, Michael Moore considered Juniper a uterine vasodilator. He discussed drinking an infusion once a day, the last two weeks before the due date as a good uterine tonic to prepare for labor. Otherwise, the herb is contra-indicated during pregnancy as it may stimulate uterine contractions and induce miscarriage.

    As a nice counterirritant, Juniper used externally makes a nice addition to a salve or oil to reduce arthritis and rheumatic swellings, relax muscles and help relieve pain. As a decongestive and circulatory stimulant, Juniper is a nice addition to any decongestant oil, or inhalation, helping to reduce congestion in the respiratory system and anywhere in the body. The salve proves helpful for many to relieve long-standing eczema and psoriasis.


    • Juniper should not be used in pregnancy as it may stimulate uterine contractions.
    • Not for use in acute (hot) and inflammatory conditions.
    • Only a small amount of Juniper is needed and is best used in formula and for a limited time. Prolonged use or large doses can cause suppression of urine, blood in the urine or cloudy urine, and proteins to be passed in the urine. 
    Wonderment Gardens

    Suggested Products from Wonderment Gardens.

    We Specialize in high quality, small batch, hand-crafted herbal products.  Each made with love and integrity.

    Coffman, Sam: The Herbal Medic, Volume 1; San Antonio Tx, 2014

    Kane, Charles W: Medicinal Plants of the American Southwest; Lincoln Town Press, 2011

    Moore, Michael: Medicinal Plants of the Mountain West; Museum of New Mexico Press, Santa Fe, NM.  2003

    Frawley, David and Lad Vasant: The Yoga of Herbs Second Revised and Enlarged Edition; The Lotus Press, Twin Lakes, Wi.  2001

    Holmes, Peter: The Energetics of Western Herbs Volume 1; Snow Lotus Press, Cotati, Ca.  2007

    Hoffmann, David, FNIMH, AGH: Medical Herbalism, The Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine; Healing Arts Press, Rochester, Vermont.  2003



    The statements and ideas presented here are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease or condition. They have not been evaluated by the FDA. All ideas presented are for the sole purpose of education. To help you take control of your own health. If you have a health concern or condition, consult a physician. We suggest that you always consult a medical doctor before modifying your diet, using any new product, drug, supplement, or doing any new exercises.

    These statements and products have not been evaluated by the FDA. They are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease or condition. If you have a health concern or condition, consult a physician. Always consult a medical doctor before modifying your diet, using any new product, drug, supplement, or doing any new exercises.

    Herbs taken for health purposes should be treated with the same care as medicine. Herbal remedies are no substitute for a healthy diet and lifestyle. If you are serious about good health, you’ll want to combine diet, exercise, herbals, a good relationship with your doctor and a generally healthy lifestyle. No one of these will do it alone.

    This information is designed to be used as part of a complete health plan. No products are intended to replace your doctor’s care, or to supersede any of his/her advice or prescriptions.

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