by Wade Boyle, N.D.
Medical Herbalism, 4(4):1,10
“When a new patient arrives I always start in by advising the taking of five juniper berries the first day. On the second day I raise the amount to six. On the third to seven—and so on, adding one berry each day until the total of thirty is reached. Then I reverse the order and take away one berry each day until the original five had been reached. The effect of these juniper berries on the ailing is so marvelous—so miraculous—that the patient then gladly consents to go through with the entire treatment of my water-cure without question.”
These are the words of Father Kneipp, the great Bavarian water curist and herbalist, spoken one hundred years ago to his nature cure students. Well might those of us who would be herbalists today heed the wisdom of the good priest.
Juniper berries are not really berries but rather fleshy cone scales which easily pass for berries. They were official in the United States Pharmacopoeia from 1820-1936. They are rich in volatile oils with names like pinene, thujine and terpenine which give them their antiviral, antibiotic and antifungal properties. In the old days—long before Kneipp—doctors used to chew them when treating epidemic infections as an antiseptic barrier, the way garlic was used by robbers and priests during the plague.
Most of us know juniper as a very effective urinary tract antiseptic and diuretic. Not so well known are its alterative effects. One of its constituents is a bitter called juniperin which is a stomachic. Harvey W. Felter, the eclectic, knew about this and recommended juniper for atonic and depressed conditions. The late Fritz Weiss called it an antidyscratic, which is to say, it fights depraved states of humors. He found it useful for chronic arthritis, gout, neuralgia and rheumatism. He gave dandelion every spring and juniper every fall to his patients with degenerative joint disease.
Juniper berries give the “marvelous” effects noted by Kneipp because they improve nutrition via their action on the stomach and because they enhance detoxification through the kidney. This is another way of saying it has strong alterative qualities.
It should be noted that juniper berries can irritate the kidneys and are contraindicated in acute and chronic kidney disease. They should never be taken for more than six straight weeks. If they are used for longer periods, the urine must be monitored closely for albumin. Juniper berries are also contraindicated in pregnancy because they increase uterine contractions.
The fresh or dried berries may be
chewed, a la Kneipp; they have a fresh, rather pleasant taste. When
steeped in water, they must be covered to avoid loss of the volatile
oil. If you collect your own berries, make sure to use only the
second-year berries which are purplish-blue.
In the past I did not treat my
patients on their first visit but rather waited until all the lab tests
were back and I had had a chance to study their cases. Now I often put
them on a good juniper berry tincture while waiting for the test
results. Sometimes they notice a difference and sometimes not, but I
notice a difference in how they respond to the larger program once
their digestive and detoxification organs have been primed during this
little head-start period. This clever use of juniper berries is a very
small part of our great botanical debt to Father Kneipp.