Juniper "berries" are actually not berries at all, but tiny pine cones from the juniper bush. You may either love or hate their distinct piney flavor. Either way, these little pine cones have some health benefits, including acting as antioxidants and effective antibacterials for bacteria-related conditions.
Juniper berries have a pungent, pinelike flavor and are used to spice up many cuisines, including European and Indian recipes, along with game dishes. Juniper berries were used in ancient Greece as a medical remedy, and reported health benefits live on today. Chiro Web, a network of websites with chiropractic and health-focused resources, notes one of juniper's main medicinal components is 4-terpinen, which might help lower uric acid levels, manage the herpes simplex virus and soothe digestive upset.
A study from the Universite Tunis El-Manar in Tunisia published in "Natural Product Research" in 2011 tested the chemical makeup of juniper berries and concluded they may be useful against diseases of the brain and blood vessels. This potential is due to the berries' high levels of unsaturated fats and antioxidants. Another report from Shiraz University of Medical Sciences in Iran, published in "Pharmacognosy Research" in 2010, found juniper berries' essential oil possesses impressive antioxidant effects and the ability to sweep up damaging free radicals.
Along with antioxidant powers, juniper berries may also have antibacterial properties. A German study published in the international peer-reviewed journal "Natural Products Communications" in 2010 analyzed the chemical composition of several essential oils, including oil from juniper berries. The antibacterial elements of the oils were tested against several different strains of bacteria, including that from spoiled food, food-poisoning-related bacteria and both animal- and plant-based pathogens. Juniper oil inhibited bacteria's activity, showcasing its potential as an effective antibacterial tool.
How to Use and Considerations
Cookbook author Raghavan Iyer suggests crushing juniper berries and rubbing them on meat, or adding it to fish sauce. Regarding supplements, Chiro Web suggests 2 to 10 grams of dried juniper berries per day, or 20 to 100 milligrams of oil. Juniper tea is made by steeping a few berries in hot water. Chiro Web notes long-term use of juniper can cause kidney problems, so limit your use to six weeks, and avoid the berries if you have kidney problems. Consult your doctor before starting any supplement.