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This small evergreen is one of several juniper species native to the northern hemisphere. It has the distinction, however, of being the principal flavoring for a commonly used alcoholic beverage, gin. The aromatic "berries" (actually cones of this evergreen) have also been used in herbal medicine for at least three hundred years and perhaps longer. Apothecaries once used gin as juniper berries are used to treat kidney ailments. More recently, golden raisins soaked in gin have become popular as a home remedy for arthritis.
Because it acts as a diuretic by causing local irritation of the kidneys-and because this action is liable to be detrimental when those organs are already inflamed-and because juniper is hazardous for use by pregnant mothers, this drug is no longer recommended for various kidney disorders by the medical profession. Juniper berries could adversely influence glucose levels in diabetics. In European phytomedicine, use is limited to only one month, unless under a physician's supervision. Safer and much more effective drugs certainly exist, but juniper continues to be used in folk medicine, particularly for its diuretic properties. In fact, a recent comprehensive review has challenged the assertion that juniper berries and their contained oil are nephrotoxic in therapeutic doses. Such effects may be due to products adulterated with turpentine oil. Additional research on this ancient herbal remedy is certainly warranted.