Gin was named after genièvre, the French word for juniper berry, which gives gin its characteristic flavor. The British said that an infusion of berries could restore lost youth; however, juniper’s more important role was for protection. It traditionally was planted at the entrance of homes to guard against evil and ghosts.
Burning the branches was found to ward off contagious diseases, so medieval physicians chewed the berries while on duty and burned the branches in hospitals. In World War II, the French returned to burning juniper in hospitals as an antiseptic when their supply of drugs ran low. Juniper berry essential oil has myriad aromatherapy applications.
Fresh berries offer the highest quality oil, but needles, branches, and berries that have already been distilled to flavor gin are sometimes used. Everyone is familiar with the lively scent of juniper wood because it is used for making pencils. With many of the same properties as cedarwood, it also acts as a wool moth repellent.
Principal constituents of juniper berry: Pinene, myrcene, sabinene, limonene, cymene, borneol, camphene, juniperine, terpenic alcohol, and terpineol
Scent of juniper berry: The fragrance is pungent, herbaceous, peppery, pinelike, and camphorous. The needles produce a turpentinelike scent called juniper tar.
Therapeutic properties of juniper berry: Antiseptic, astringent; relieves the aches of rheumatism, arthritis, and sore muscles; increases urination and circulation; encourages menstruation; aids digestion
Uses for juniper berry: Juniper berry essential oil is used in massage oils, liniments, and baths to treat arthritic and rheumatic pain, varicose veins, hemorrhoids, fluid retention (especially before menstruation), and bladder infection. Inhale it in a steam to relieve bronchial congestion, infection, and bronchial spasms. Inhalation may also lift your spirits, as sniffing the oil seems to work as a pick-me-up and to counter general debility. Cosmetically it is suitable for acne complexions and eczema. Add approximately 6 drops per ounce to shampoos for greasy hair or dandruff.
Warnings for juniper berry: Juniper can overstimulate the kidneys, so do not use it when they are inflamed or infected. Inflamed or infected kidneys can be very serious, so be sure to seek a doctor’s advice.