Juniper berries have long been used to purify the air—and protect against evil. Ancient Europeans burned the berries as part of a cleansing ritual to protect against sorcery, and the sweet, earthy scent was believed to ward off the plague. Legend says a juniper planted at the front door would prevent a witch from entering unless she could count all of the needles. Native Americans used juniper berries for medicinal and spiritual applications, and even today, the shrub is associated with protection and good health.
While it’s unlikely that your spa is battling the forces of darkness or buttressing evil spirits, juniper berry treatments can bring a welcome positive energy through the doors with its uplifting and healing properties. “Juniper berry is known for cleansing and purifying the spirit as well as being a spiritual protector and remover of negative energy,” says Susan Keene, director of Nidah Spa at Eldorado Hotel & Spa (Santa Fe, NM), adding that it has more tangible, physical attributes, as well. “It is especially useful for gout and arthritis as it expels uric acid from the joints. It has antiseptic qualities and cleanses the body of excess fluids, aiding kidney and bladder issues.”
The berries’ detoxification properties and joint benefits make it well-suited for soaking and cleansing tired hands and feet, says Keene. Nidah Spa uses SpaRitual’s Visionary Cleanser in its Juniper Berry Pedicure ($80, 60 minutes). The treatment incorporates juniper berry to sanitize the feet and remove oil residue, which helps nail lacquer properly adhere, instead of using alcohol-based products.
Juniper berry oil is also a powerful antiseptic and is used in lotions for wounds that are slow to heal. For this same reason, it can be used to treat acne, oily skin, eczema, and dermatitis, which make it beneficial in facials and scalp massage, says Shel Pink, founder of SpaRitual.
Its woodsy, pine-like scent mixes well with other indigenous plants, such as cedarwood, clary sage, cypress, lavender, and rosemary, and makes it an appealing ingredient in treatments leading into the winter months. Use it in treatments to evoke memories—or fantasies—of crisp mornings in the mountains with snow blanketing the trees.
Plus, it ties in well with the idea of mistletoe and other cool-weather berries, which can translate into fun holiday-themed treatments, such as Nidah’s Cranberry Bog Pedicure ($70, 60 minutes). “Juniper berry pedis are frequently offered in spa packages, and we have paired it with a gin-based cocktail,” says Keene.
Martinis aside, juniper berry’s overall detoxification effect lends itself well to soaking treatments or wraps. Additionally, the scent possesses a variety of benefits when used in a bath. “For example, when the steam from a juniper berry bath is inhaled, it eases tension and promotes the clearing of sinuses,” says Pink, adding that its essential oil is inhaled to treat bronchitis and numb pain. “Aside from the physical benefits, juniper berry-themed services are appealing because of its scent. Juniper berry oil has a fresh, warm, balsamic, woodsy-pine needle odor, and juniper baths have the soothing smell of the dried sage.”
The Spa at The Cliff House Resort & Spa (Ogunquit, ME) offers a Native Juniper Berry Wrap ($115, 50 minutes) designed to detoxify tissue and ease rheumatic pain and arthritis. “The invigorating aspects of the juniper berry appeal to our spa guests, as does the fact that it is a native plant,” says spa co-director Nicole Chapman.
Juniper is also particularly effective when paired with invigorating ingredients, such as lime and peppermint, according to co-director Krystle McLean. “Lime is stimulating, and The Cliff House offers a Wild Lime Scalp treatment as a 25-minute service that can be added to our Juniper Berry Wrap,” she says. “Peppermint is also stimulating, and we use peppermint lotion and oils for our foot massage.” She also recommends guests receive juniper berry treatments in the morning to boost energy, rather than late in the afternoon when guests may be looking to wind down and relax.
Because it helps relieve sore muscles, Megan Brame-Finkelstein, Metropolis Soap Co. owner and head formulator, recommends using Metropolis Soap Co.’s Juniper Berry and Herbs Sore Muscle Soak in treatments targeted to athletes. However, Brame-Finkelstein and others caution against using juniper berry on pregnant women or people with kidney problems. “Because of the volatile oils that are in the berries’ composition, juniper can cause uterine spasm, and if there are pre-existing kidney problems, juniper can aggravate those conditions,” she says. “The problems with regard to pregnant women and those with kidney problems happen when juniper is ingested, but I always think better safe than sorry when it comes to topical applications, as well.”
For most spa guests, however, the small blue berries will do wonders when it comes to soothing the body and the spirit. Forget burning sage. Turn to juniper berry to cleanse and purify guests and spa alike.