Latin Name: Juniperus communis
Pharmacopeial Name: Juniperi fructus
Other Names: common juniper
Juniper grows in the temperate regions of Europe, Asia, and North America. Its berries, female cones more closely related to pine cones than to fruit, are used commercially for the preparation of gin and essential oil. Gin has been drunk in the Western world for at least three hundred years. The oil is diuretic and has gastrointestinal irritant and antiseptic properties (Leung and Foster, 1996). Commission E approves the use of juniper dried fruit preparations or oil to relieve dyspepsia.
In traditional medicine, preparations made from juniper berries were used to relieve flatulence and indigestion and to stimulate the appetite. Berries themselves were eaten to relieve rheumatism (Tyler, 1993) or were made into topical ointments and rubbed into joints and aching muscles (Newall et al., 1996). Spirit of juniper, made by extracting the oil with 70% alcohol, has been used to treat dropsy, intestinal pain (Grieve, 1979), and lack of appetite (Tyler, 1993). Steam inhalations were used for bronchitis, extracts were made to treat snakebites and intestinal worms, and some types of cancers were treated with juniper (Leung and Foster, 1996). It was also used for cystitis (Newall et al., 1996). In veterinary medicine, juniper oil was mixed with lard and used to heal wounds; the concoction also protected open wounds from fly infestation (Grieve, 1979).
Juniper's therapeutic actions are due primarily to its volatile oil, which contains the constituent terpinen-4-ol. Diuretic actions stimulated by terpinen-4-ol are reportedly aquaretic, meaning that glomerular filtration rates increase, but electrolyte secretion does not. Excessive use may cause kidney irritation and damage because terpinen-4-ol has demonstrated irritant activities (Newall et al., 1996). Other constituents that may have applications in the future are juniper berries' lignan, desoxypodophyllotoxin, and flavonoid, amentoflavone. Desoxypodophyllotoxin may stimulate juniper extract inhibition of cytopathogenesis caused by herpes simplex virus type 1 in primary human amnion cell cultures (Markkanen et al., 1981). Amentoflavone appears to have some antiviral potential (Chandler, 1986).
Laboratory tests provide support for the use of juniper oil and berry to relieve inflammation. Oral administration to rats was 60% effective in preventing paw edema, compared to a 45% efficacy rate for indomethacin. Extracts were also fungicidal against Penicillium notatum. The scientific studies available on the therapeutic actions of juniper berry and berry oil have been performed mostly on laboratory animals, and human studies are needed. Because the oil has been found to stimulate uterine contractions, use is not advised during pregnancy (Tyler, 1993).
Juniper berry is the ripe, fresh or dried spherical ovulate cone ('berry') of Juniperus communis L. [Fam. Cupressaceae] and its preparations in effective dosage. Juniper berry contains at least 1% (v/w) volatile oil in reference to the dried preparation. Main ingredients of the volatile oil are terpene hydrocarbons such as a-pinene, b-pinene, myrcene, sabinene, thujone, and limonene. Also contained are sesquiterpene hydrocarbons such as caryophyllene, cadinene, and elemene, and terpene alcohols such as 4-terpineol. Furthermore, juniper berries contain flavonoid glycosides, tannins, sugar, and resin- and wax-containing compounds.
Chemistry and Pharmacology
Constituents include volatile oil, sugars, glucuronic acid, L-ascorbic acid, resin, catechins, proanthocyanidins, fatty acids, sterols, gallotannins, geijerone, diterpene acids, and flavonoid glycosides (Leung and Foster, 1996). The volatile oils consist of about 58% monoterpenes, including a-pinene, myrcene and sabinene, and camphene, camphor, 1,4-cineole, p-cymene, a- and g-cadinene, limonene, b-pinene, g-terpinene, terpinen-4-ol, terpinyl acetate, a-thujene, and borneol (ESCOP, 1997; Newall et al., 1996). The sesquiterpenes include caryophyllene, eposydihydrocaryophyllene, and b-elemem-7a-ol (Newall et al., 1996). Factors that influence the concentrations of constituents include geographic location, altitude, degree of ripeness, and other environmental factors (Leung and Foster, 1996).
The Commission E reported an increase in urine excretion and a direct effect on smooth muscle contraction in animal experiments.
The berry has diuretic, digestive, antiseptic, carminative, stomachic, and antirheumatic properties (Leung and Foster, 1996).
The Commission E approved the use of juniper berry for dyspepsia. It has also been used in combination with other botanicals for bladder and kidney conditions (Bruneton, 1995; Leung and Foster, 1996; Newall et al., 1996).
Pregnancy and inflammation of the kidneys.
Note: Juniper berry may increase glucose levels in diabetics (ESCOP, 1997).
Prolonged usage or overdosing may cause kidney damage.
Use During Pregnancy and Lactation
Not recommended during pregnancy and lactation (ESCOP, 1997).
Interactions with Other Drugs
Dosage and Administration
Unless otherwise prescribed: 2 g to a maximum of 10 g per day of whole, crushed, or powdered fruit, corresponding to 20-100 mg of the essential oil, for infusions and decoctions, alcohol extracts, and in wine.
Essential oil: Liquid and solid medicinal forms only for oral application.
Infusion: Steep 2-3 g in 150 ml boiled water for 20 minutes, take three times daily.
Fluidextract 1:1 (g/ml): 2-3 ml, three times daily.
Essential oil: 0.02-0.1 ml, three times daily.
Spirit of juniper: A mixture of oil of juniper and alcohol corresponding to 20-100 ml oil.
Note: Combinations with other plant preparations in teas and similar preparations for treating bladder and kidney diseases may be helpful.
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This material was adapted from The Complete German Commission E MonographsTherapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines. M. Blumenthal, W.R. Busse, A. Goldberg, J. Gruenwald, T. Hall, C.W. Riggins, R.S. Rister (eds.) S. Klein and R.S. Rister (trans.). 1998. Austin: American Botanical Council; Boston: Integrative Medicine Communications.
1) The Overview section is new information.
2) Description, Chemistry and Pharmacology, Uses, Contraindications, Side Effects, Interactions with Other Drugs, and Dosage sections have been drawn from the original work. Additional information has been added in some or all of these sections, as noted with references.
3) The dosage for equivalent preparations (tea infusion, fluidextract, and tincture) have been provided based on the following example:
- Unless otherwise prescribed: 2 g per day of [powdered, crushed, cut or whole] [plant part]
- Infusion: 2 g in 150 ml of water
- Fluidextract 1:1 (g/ml): 2 ml
- Tincture 1:5 (g/ml): 10 ml
4) The References and Additional Resources sections are new sections. Additional Resources are not cited in the monograph but are included for research purposes.
This monograph, published by the Commission E in 1994, was modified based on new scientific research. It contains more extensive pharmacological and therapeutic information taken directly from the Commission E.
Excerpt from Herbal Medicine: Expanded Commission E Monographs
Copyright 2000 American Botanical Council
Published by Integrative Medicine Communications
Available from the American Botanical Council.