Friday, October 14, 2011

Juniper - The Purifying Essential Oil

In almost every scenario, common juniper (INCI: Juniperus communis) isn't really a center-stage kind of thing. In gardening, it's usually a background plant (unless you're into Japanese gardening). In cooking, juniper berries are the kind spice you don't really know what to do with, and for skin and hair care, juniper is probably not the first thing that comes to mind. Nonetheless, juniper is the star of today's posting, and for 2 reasons:
1. I have recently experienced juniper hydrosol for the first time
2. I have recently received a generous bag of fresh organic juniper berries that prompted all kinds of fun with juniper

Gateway To The Fairies
Juniper is native to many countries throughout the northen hemisphere and as such, has a diverse history. For example, hundreds of years ago, some Germanic cultures perceived junipers as 'the gateway to the realm of fairies and spirits'. It was therefore customary to remove your hat in the presence of the trees to show respect and reverence.

The Species
There are several species of juniper, all of which grow berries, but it is not all species that produce berries suitable for consumption. For the sake of accuracy, the juniper berry is not really a berry at all – but the seed cone of the plant. This flavorful little orb has found many uses throughout history – in both its unripe and ripe state.

The Green Berries
The most common use of juniper berries is to flavor gin. It is the green, immature berries that are used for this. They have a characteristic piney, fresh-green flavor that gin drinkers will immediately recognize. The name gin is actually derived from the French genièvre or the Dutch jenever which both mean juniper.

The Purple Berries
Tasting the dark-purple-almost-black ripe berries I received, I was quite surprised to discover how sweet they were – the taste was a complicated mix of 'gin-pine-resiney' flavor with a dark sweet edge. I immediately started thinking of which dishes I could possibly include this interesting flavor to.

What it's Good For
Taken internally: Juniper berries release insulin from the pancreas (enabling them to take the edge off of hunger pangs). It is currently being studied as a possible treatment for diet-controlled diabetes. The berries also act as a urinary tract disinfectant and have a history of use as such among Native Americans.
Applied topically: Juniper essential oil is quite efficient at cleansing the blood and in doing so, helps clear up 'sluggish skin'. It also helps expel uric acid, break up cellulite and aids in lymph drainage. It is therefore ideal as an addition to a massage blend – particularly because it also helps soothe aching muscles. Its antiinflammatory properties are also claimed to help relieve rheumatism and arthritis.

Hair Care
Juniper is a great addition to hair products. Aside from helping against lice, ticks and fleas, it is said to battle dandruff and generally stimulate the scalp (I have yet to try juniper in a shampoo, but have plans. More on that soon!)

Rub a Dub Scrub
I use juniper essential oil in my detox scrub and find it incredibly stimulating. It has also proved to be quite effective towards cellulite. Although – to be fair – I have used it in conjunction with other ingredients also claiming anti-cellulite properties, so I can't be sure how much of the credit is due to the juniper. Nonetheless, the scent is positively refreshing on its own and even more sumptuous when mixed with grapefruit essential oil.

What To Be Mindful Of
  • It is unknown whether or not juniper may interact with medications as it hasn't been studied for this.
  • Because juniper is mildly stimulating and irritating, it may worsen some types of inflammatory pain by increasing the flow of blood to the affected area. 
  • Juniper is a known emmenogogue (read: stimulates blood flow in the pelvic and particularly uterine area) and can cause contractions of the uterus. It is therefore not recommended for pregnant women or women who have heavy menstruation.
LisaLise Products With Juniper
Herbal Power Protein Hair & Scalp Spray, Wax to the Max Hair Wax, Himalayan Crystal Detoxifying Scrub

Are you a fan of juniper? Or is it a 'background' ingredient for you?

2 comments:

Lola Zabeth said...

Oooh, a juniper shampoo?!? Can't wait to hear more about that.

Lise M Andersen said...

I promise to update on it. Right now my to-do list is almost as long as my arm (and I have seriously long arms), and I wish I had more time to try all the exciting stuff I have been researching.