The juniper tree, Juniperus communis, is an evergreen shrub that grows in many parts of the world, including North America, Europe, and Asia (1Trusted Source).
It produces seed cones that are commonly known as juniper berries. Though the berries’ coloring varies, most are deep blue. Their aroma is often described as woody or spicy.
They have a tart, pine-like flavor and are commonly used in small amounts as a spice or flavoring agent.
These small berries have been used for medicinal purposes (and culinary) since ancient times, and current research suggests that they may offer various health benefits.
Here are 5 emerging benefits of juniper berries:
High in nutrients and powerful plant compounds
Though nutrition information on juniper berries is limited, they’re known to provide certain vitamins and an array of plant compounds.
Vitamin C is essential for immune health, collagen synthesis, and blood vessel function. It also acts as a strong antioxidant, protecting your cells from damage caused by unstable molecules called free radicals (3Trusted Source).
The berries also pack many plant compounds, including flavonoid antioxidants, volatile oils, and coumarins, which are chemical compounds with various protective properties (1Trusted Source).
The volatile oils in juniper berries contain substances known as monoterpenes, including limonene, camphor, and beta-pinene. Monoterpenes have been shown to provide anti-inflammatory, anticancer, antioxidant, and antibacterial properties (4Trusted Source).
Coumarins and flavonoid antioxidants also offer an array of health-promoting effects. Consuming a diet rich in these compounds can promote health and may protect against chronic conditions, including heart and neurodegenerative diseases (5Trusted Source, 6Trusted Source).
Juniper berries are high in vitamin C, flavonoid antioxidants, monoterpenes, and coumarins, all of which may offer various health benefits.
Antibacterial and antifungal activity
Test-tube and animal studies show that juniper berries have powerful antibacterial and antifungal properties. These are attributed to potent compounds in their oil, including sabinene, limonene, myrcene, and alpha- and beta-pinene (16Trusted Source).
In one test-tube study, juniper berry essential oil demonstrated antibacterial and antifungal effects against 16 species of bacteria, yeasts, yeast-like fungi, and dermatophytes, a type of fungus that grows on your skin, causing diseases like ringworm (16Trusted Source).
Another test-tube study found that juniper berry essential oil significantly inhibited the activity of three bacteria that can cause serious infections in humans — M. gordonae, M. avium, and M. intracellulare (17Trusted Source).
Extract from the berries also may have antibacterial effects against many bacteria, including Campylobacter jejuni, which commonly cause food poisoning, and Staphylococcus aureus, a bacteria that may cause skin, lung, and bone infections (18Trusted Source, 19Trusted Source, 20Trusted Source, 21Trusted Source).
While it’s clear that juniper berries have antibacterial and antifungal properties, human studies are needed to examine whether their extract can be used to treat fungal or bacterial infections in people.
Test-tube and animal studies indicate that juniper berry extract provides strong antibacterial and antifungal effects.
Provide anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects
Antioxidant-rich foods are important for health, as they help protect your cells against damage that may otherwise lead to illness.
Juniper berries are rich in essential oils and flavonoids that function as potent antioxidants and may help reduce inflammation.
One test-tube study detected over 70 compounds in juniper berry essential oil, with the monoterpenes alpha-pinene, beta-pinene, myrcene, limonene, and sabinene making up the majority. All of them add to the oil’s strong antioxidant effects.
The study found that the oil reduced cellular damage in yeast cells by increasing the activity of the enzymes catalase, glutathione peroxidase, and superoxide dismutase. The main role of these enzymes is to protect cells from free radical damage (7Trusted Source).
Another test-tube study showed that juniper berry essential oil significantly reduced inflammation in human skin cells, an effect that researchers attributed to the oil’s high concentration of monoterpenes (8).
Juniper berries are also rich in the flavonoids rutin, luteolin, and apigenin, which test-tube, animal, and human studies have shown can act as powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agents (9Trusted Source, 10Trusted Source, 11Trusted Source).
Juniper berries contain essential oils and flavonoids that offer antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects.
May have antidiabetic properties
Juniper berries were used in traditional medicine practices to treat diabetes, and recent studies confirm that they may have antidiabetic properties.
A study in rats with diabetes observed that supplementing with juniper berry extract significantly reduced blood sugar and increased heart-protective HDL (good) cholesterol (12)
Similarly, another study on the antidiabetic effects of Chinese juniper berry extract found that it significantly reduced blood sugar, cholesterol, and triglyceride levels in rats with diabetes (13Trusted Source).
Researchers believe that these antidiabetic effects are due to the berries’ high concentration of antioxidants (14Trusted Source).
Though these findings are promising, research in humans is needed to confirm this potential health benefit.
Some rodent studies indicate that juniper berry extract may improve high blood sugar levels.
Could promote heart health
Juniper berries may promote heart health by improving HDL (good) cholesterol levels and reducing high triglyceride levels, as well as LDL (bad) and total cholesterol.
A study in rats with diabetes demonstrated that treatment with juniper berry extract reduced total cholesterol and triglyceride levels by 57% and 37%, respectively, compared with a control group (13Trusted Source).
Another rat study found that juniper berry extract increased HDL (good) cholesterol levels as well (12).
However, until more human research on the effects of juniper berries on heart health is available, it’s unknown whether eating these berries can reduce heart disease risk.
Some animal research suggests that juniper berry extract may improve heart disease risk factors.
Juniper berry uses
Unlike other berries, juniper berries are typically used only in small amounts to flavor foods — not eaten in large portions.
They have an astringent, pine-like taste, which makes them a popular ingredient for seasoning recipes and infusing beverages.
For example, juniper berries are used to add flavor to marinades and spice rubs and give gin its distinctive taste.
They’re commonly sold dried — either whole or crushed — but can be purchased fresh as well.
Keep in mind that there are many types of junipers, and not all are edible. Berries from the Juniperus communis are most frequently used in culinary applications (22Trusted Source).
Juniper berry essential oil is also used in aromatherapy and said to be calming. Keep in mind that essential oils should not be ingested.
Additionally, juniper berry tea can be purchased in tea bags or made at home using crushed juniper berries.
Dosing and precautions
Juniper berry supplements and extracts can be purchased online and in certain health food stores.
Because human studies are lacking, it’s unclear what dosage is most effective to reap their medicinal benefits.
Most juniper berry supplement labels recommend taking 1–6 grams per day, divided into multiple doses.
These supplements are not appropriate for children and should be avoided by women who are pregnant, as juniper berries are considered uterine stimulants and may cause miscarriage in high doses (23).
The supplements may also interact with certain medications, such as diuretics and psychiatric drugs.
Additionally, many online sources state that concentrated juniper berry supplements may harm your kidneys, though no evidence supports these claims.
Nonetheless, considering a lack of human research on which to base the safety and effectiveness of taking juniper berry supplements, it may be best to choose other, thoroughly researched natural treatment options.
In any case, always speak with your healthcare provider before trying a new supplement.
Juniper berries are commonly used in small doses to flavor recipes and beverages. Not a lot is known about the safety or effectiveness of juniper supplements, so choosing another, more researched alternative is likely a better option.