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Juniper Berries

Information about Juniper Berries plus Juniper Berry Recipe Collection


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Juniper berries  (Juniperus communis L.) belong to the plant family Cupressaceae (cupress family). Classed as a shrub, the plant grows to  4 to 6 feet high.  The berries are used for the production of the volatile oil which is a prime ingredient in Gin.  In fact, the name ‘juniper’ derives from the French 'genievre,' which means gin. It is one of the few examples of spices from a cold climatic region.




Origin and History of Juniper Berries


The plant is  widely distributed throughout the Northern Hemisphere in particular  in Europe and Asia and grows prolifically in the wild.


Juniper has been used for medicinal purposes as far back as 1550BC. A papyrus from ancient Egypt  was discovered which showed Juniper berries as an ingredient for a medicine to treat tape worms. It is perhaps because of their medicinal qualities that they were initially incorporated into cooking.


During the Roman Empire, the dried berries replaced pepper, which was not only scarce but also  expensive and they were used to flavour sheep and game as well as in sauces. 


During the Renaissance c14th Century,  their popularity grew probably to counteract the rich, spicy foods which were being consumed at that time,as juniper berries aid digestion and it is thought that  this same reason probably accounts for the making of Gin which was first distilled in Holland in the 17th Century.



Cultivation and Processing of Juniper Berries


Juniper berries take two or three years to ripen, so blue and green berries are often seen together on the same plant. Only the blue, ripe berries are picked. Many of the crops are harvested from the wild in Europe where the berries are gathered in the autumn by laying a sheet under the bush and then beating it. Once collected, they are laid out to dry a little, during which process they lose some of the blue bloom and develop the blackish colour seen in commerce. 


It is possible to grow Juniper plants either from seed or by taking cuttings. Seeds should be sown in a cold frame in spring and planted out in their permanent position one year later. Stem cuttings should be taken in early autumn and potted in a sandy soil under glass. Male and female plants are needed for berries to be produced.



Juniper Berries in Cooking


Juniper Berries have a bitter-sweet taste and aroma which goes particularly well with stronger meats and game. Having said that, if used with discretion, it also compliments chicken, pork and certain fish such as Salmon. 


Popular in some European cuisines, they are excellent when used in marinades,  stuffings and pâtés and are also particularly good with cabbage. They are a traditional ingredient in German Sauerkraut.


Store them  in an airtight container in a dry, cool place, away from direct sunlight and lightly crush just before using to release their flavour.


IMPORTANT:  Amongst its many  medicinal uses, Juniper  is used as a diuretic and also as a uterine stimulant during labour to improve contractions. It should therefore be avoided during pregnancy and  should not be used when breastfeeding. Do not give to children under 12 years or the elderly, or to people with kidney disease. 






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