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Medically reviewed on Oct 23, 2017

Scientific Name(s): Juniperus communis L. Family: Cupressaceae

Common Name(s): Juniper


Juniper berries have long been used as a flavoring for beverages and as a seasoning for cooking. It is also used as a diuretic and in the management of bronchitis and arthritis. Use is limited to low concentrations.


There are no recent clinical studies of juniper; however, classical use of the oil called for dosage of 0.1 mL or 20 to 100 mg of the essential oil, or 2 to 10 g of the berry, for dyspepsia, and as a diuretic or emmenagogue. 1


Juniper is contraindicated in those patients with reduced renal function.


Documented adverse effects include allergenic, catharsis in large doses, diuretic, and increases uterine tone (ie, possible anti-implantation, abortifacient, and emmenagogue effects). Avoid use. 2 , 3


None well documented.

Adverse Reactions

Skin and respiratory allergic reactions may occur.


Topically applied juniper can cause potentially carcinogenic DNA damage and, in large doses, convulsions and renal damage. Juniper should not be ingested by pregnant women.


The genus Juniperus includes 60 to 70 species of aromatic evergreens native to Northern Europe, Asia and North America. The plants bear blue or reddish fruit variously described as berries or berry-like cones. Junipers are widely used as ornamental trees. The cone is a small green berry during its first year of growth that turns blue-black during the second year. The small flowers bloom from May to June.


Juniper berries (the mature female cone) have long been used as a flavoring in foods and alcoholic beverages such as gin. Production by apothecaries and other historical uses for gin have been reported. 4 Gin's original preparation used juniper for kidney ailments. The berries also serve as seasonings for pickling meats and as flavoring for liqueurs and bitters. Other uses include perfumery and cosmetics. Oil of juniper, also known as oil of sabinal, is used for preserving catgut ligatures. 5 Juniper tar is also used for its gin-like flavor and in perfumery. In herbal medicine, juniper has been used as a carminative and as a steam inhalant in the management of bronchitis. It has also been used to control arthritis.


Juniper berries contain about 2% volatile oil, juniperin, resin (about 10%), proteins, and formic, acetic, and malic acids. In addition, fatty acid, sterol and terpene content has been analyzed by gas chromatography, identified from extracts of ripe and unripe juniper berries. 6 The dried ripe fruit yields oil of juniper, with pinene, cadinenes, camphene and a number of diterpene acids.

The volatile oil is composed of more than 50% monoterpenes (pinene, myrcene, sabinene) with many minor constituents. Variability in juniper oil is seen, particularly between first year fruits vs third year fruits. 7 Steam distillation of the berries yields mono- and sesquiterpenes from the oil. 8 In other studies, isolation, chemical characterization and composition of the essential oil of juniper are described, revealing 23 compounds. 9 , 10

Isolates of dimeric proanthocyanidins (tannins), from bark extracts of Juniperus communis have also been reported, 11 as well as determination of polyprenols in the juniper needles. 12

Uses and Pharmacology


Juniper berry oil has been used as a diuretic. This activity is most likely due to the action of terpinen-4-ol, which is known to increase renal glomerular filtration rate. 13 This activity appears to be a local irritant effect.

Animal data

Research reveals no animal data regarding the use of juniper as a diuretic.

Clinical data

Juniper berries are often found in herbal diuretic products. The effects of juniper berry oil with regard to urinary tract disease has also been reported. 14

Anti-inflammatory effect
Animal data

A recent study evaluates its inhibitory activity on prostaglandin biosynthesis and platelet activating factor (PAF)-induced exocytosis in vitro. 15

Clinical data

In traditional Swedish medicine, Juniperus communis has been used to treat wounds and inflammatory diseases.

Animal data

Dried berries of juniper and juniper decoction have been evaluated into recent animal studies. Results support hypoglycemic activity in streptozotocin-diabetic mice. 16 , 17

Clinical data

Further proof is necessary to determine if this effect can be beneficial for human diabetics.

Other uses

Berry extracts increase uterine tone and should, therefore, not be ingested by pregnant women. Anti-implantation/anti-fertility activity has been determined in female rats by three similar studies, with one study reporting 60% to 70% efficacy. 18 , 19 , 20

In a recent study, the antioxidative effects of juniper are discussed. 21

Of interest in veterinary medicine, treatment of psoroptic mange in sheep with extract of Juniperus communis has been reported. 22

Juniper has been used in phytotherapy and cosmetics in the eastern Mediterranean area. 23 Reported therapeutic uses of juniper include juniper baths for treatment of neurasthenic neurosis 24 and management of scalp psoriasis in its tar form in combination with other tars. 25


There are no recent clinical studies of juniper; however, classical use of the oil called for dosage of 0.1 mL or 20 to 100 mg of the essential oil, or 2 to 10 g of the berry, for dyspepsia, as a diuretic or emmenagogue.


Documented adverse effects include allergenic, catharsis in large doses, diuretic, and increases uterine tone (ie, possible anti-implantation, abortifacient, and emmenagogue effects). Avoid use. 2 , 3


None well documented.

Adverse Reactions

Adverse effects in humans are generally of an allergic nature. These include occupational allergy affecting the skin and respiratory tract 26 through a sensitivity to airborne juniper pollen. 27 Two reports note that Chinese, Japanese and Filipinos tend to be more sensitive to juniper pollens than Caucasians. 28 , 29 Juniper and other related pollens affect 13% to 36% of patients with pollen allergies. 30


Epidermal contact with juniper tar (eg, preparation for psoriasis treatment) can cause potentially carcinogenic DNA damage in human tissue. 31

Single large doses of juniper berries may cause catharsis, and repeated large doses may be associated with convulsions and renal damage. 5

Kidney irritation from juniper oil is examined in one report, that relates this effect to 1-terpinen-4-ol content. 32

Because the berries are known to exert their diuretic effect by irritating the renal tissue, products containing juniper should be used with caution by all and should never be used by those with reduced renal function. Safer and more effective diuretic and carminative drugs exist. The oil can induce gastric irritation and may induce diarrhea. Therefore, its use is limited to low concentrations (less than 0.01%) as a beverage flavor.

Juniper tar has an oral lethal dose of 8014 mg/kg in the rat. 5


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3. Ernst E. Herbal medicinal products during pregnancy: are they safe? BJOG . 2002;109:227-235.
4. Clutton DW. Flavour Ind 1972;3(Sep):454-456.
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7. Horster H. Planta Medica 1974;25(Feb):73-79.
8. Lamparsky D, et al. Parfuemerie Und Kosmetik 1985;66(Sep):553-6,558-60.
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10. Proenca Da Cunha A. Journal of Essential Oil Research 1989;1(Jan-Feb):15-17.
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12. Sasak W, et al. FEBS Letters 1976;64(1):55-58.
13. Janku J, et al. Experientia 1957;13:255.
14. Schilcher H. Medizinische Monatsschrift Fur Pharmazeuten 1995;18(7):198-199.
15. Tunon H, et al. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 1995;48(2):61-76.
16. Swanston-Flatt SK, et al. Diabetologia 1990;33(8):462-464.
17. Sanchez de Medina F, et al. Planta Medica 1994;60(3):197-200.
18. Agrawal OP, et al. Planta Medica 1980;SUPPL:98-101.
19. Prakash AO, et al. ACTA Europaea Fertilitatis. 1985;16(6):441-448.
20. Prakash AO. International Journal of Crude Drug Research 1986;24(Mar):16-24.
21. Takacsova M, et al. Nahrung 1985;39(3):241-3.
22. Srivastava SC, et al. Indian Veterinary Journal 1969;46(9):826-828.
23. Tammaro F, Xepapadakis G. J Ethnopharmacol 1986;16:167.
24. Jonkov S, Naidenov G. Folia Med (Plovdiv) 1974;16:291.
25. Cunliffe WJ, et al. British Journal of Clinical Practice 1974;28(Sep):314-316.
26. Rothe A, et al. Berufsdermatosen (Germany, West) 1973;21:11.
27. Anderson JH. Ann Allergy 1985;54:390.
28. Kaufman HS, et al. Ann Allergy 1984;53:135.
29. Kaufman HS, et al. Ann Allergy 1988;60(1):53-56.
30. Bousquet J, et al. Clin Allergy 1984;14:249.
31. Schoket B, et al. Journal of Investigative Dermatology 1990;94(2):241-246.
32. Schilcher H, et al. PZ Wissenschaft 1993;138(3-4):85-91.

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