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You might be wondering why I chose Juniper as my herb of the month. After all, it's not a common herb or spice.

It all started when I went to a demonstration of the Swiss Just products that I've featured this month as well. (Go to January Featured Product for more information.) One of the products that got my attention was their Juniper Cream. My mother lives with chronic back pain, and I wanted her to try it. I'll let you know what she thinks, but she might have to use it when my dad isn't around. Juniper has a strong scent that you either love or hate, and my dad falls into the latter category. Because of that cream, we've had some interesting discussions about juniper. So, I decided to do a little research on the subject. Here are some interesting facts I've uncovered.

The type of juniper berries one should use, especially in cooking (yes, you can cook with juniper berries!) are from the juniperus communis plant (shown above). There are some rare varieties that are toxic, so don't pick your own unless you can identify them properly. You can search the internet for recipes. I found one for Tilapia with Juniper Berry Sauce that I'm going to try once I locate a bottle of juniper berries. They should be with the other spices, but I might have to make a trip to Whole Foods or order them from Amazon.

Juniper berries are the defining ingredient in gin, too. I was not aware that there are so many gin aficionados out there. I don't think I've ever even tasted gin, and I'm not a fan of hard alcohol. But, I might have to give it a try just to see if I can notice the "delicate notes of juniper." I even found a blog devoted to gin:  

According to the website,, gin must contain juniper berries by law. The primary botanical ingredients are juniper berries and coriander seeds. Gin also often contains angelica root, orris root, sweet orange peel, and licorice powder. I had no idea!

Juniper was burned in ancient times to ward off evil spirits and as a disinfectant. Herbalists recommend a tea or a few drops of tincture in honey for digestive complaints, urinary problems, gout, rheumatism and arthritis. Juniper is considered to be anti-inflammatory, and is therefore also used in creams to be applied topically, as in the Swiss Just Juniper Cream I hope my mother will use.

Speaking of my mom, she's concerned about being allergic to the juniper cream since she has cedar allergies, and both are in the same family (Cupressaceae). According to the Center for Aromatherapy Research and Education, CARE, one cannot have an allergic reaction to properly distilled and pure essential oil because they contain no proteins, peptides or amino acids, the molecules that cause an allergic response. However, one can have an allergic reaction to solvents that are used in inferior products. High-quality essential oils are distilled without solvents. Also, one can be allergic to the carrier oils used in creams and massage oil, such as almond oil. So, it pays to do your research and find a high-quality essential oil. Then check the other ingredients if you're experiencing an allergic reaction. 

If you've never used juniper berries, you might want to give them a try this winter. They are warming to the body, both internally and externally. If the cold weather makes you stiff, juniper cream might provide some soothing heat and take away the pain of sore joints. The tea should help your digestion.

References (in addition to those given above):

Tierra, M. The Way of Herbs. 1980. New York.

Lavabre, M. Aromatherapy Workbook. 1990. Vermont

Stewart, D. Raindrop Newsletter: Sensitivities to Essential Oils. The Center for Aromatherapy Research. 2006.

© Bobbi Mullins 2011, All rights reserved. FOOD FITNESS FAITH™