Cupressaceae (cypress family).
It is a coniferous tree, which belongs to the family of Cupressaceae. It has which bluish-green branches, and bears small yellow-purplish flowers and three cornered seeds. It is a wonderful and a versatile garden plant. It can tolerate a wide range of growing and soil conditions, as well as certain extent of drought. It is distributed throughout Europe, North America and certain parts of northern Asia.
While the origin of Juniper berries is obscure, the spice is commonly cultivated across the Northern Hemisphere, most commonly in Hungary and Southern Europe, particularly Italy.
The tree has thick foliage, commonly used as strewing herb to freshen the stale air, due to its air-cleansing fragrance. The juniper trees very in size, ranging from small to tall trees. Their leaves are needle shaped and scale like. Its seeds are cone like and very fleshy, due to which they appear as berries. The foliage of the tree comes in many colours, ranging from silvery-grey to mauve and purple in some seasons.
Juniper berry is the female seed cone produced by the various species of Juniper. It is fleshy with merged scales, which give it a berry-like appearance, but it is not a true berry. These berries are green in colour at a young stage, but later, when they mature, they turn purple-black in colour. The cones by certain species, especially from Juniperus communis, are used as a
spice in European cuisine, and also gin its distinguishing flavour.
Juniper, any of about 60 to 70 species of aromatic evergreen trees or shrubs constituting the genus juniperus of the cypress family (cupressaceae), the reddish brown or bluish cones are fleshy and berrylike and often have a grayish, waxy covering. They mature in 1 to 3 seasons and contain 1 to 12 seeds, usually 3. Common juniper (j. communis), a sprawling shrub, is widely distributed on rocky soils throughout the northern hemisphere.The juniper trees and shrubs grow mostly in all parts of Northern Hemisphere. All the species of juniper trees produce berries. These plants grow from direct planting of berries, and also from the cuttings from new growth. The trees can grow very well in light drained, impoverished soil. The soil to be selected can be alkaline or acidic.
The berries are picked when they are fully ripe, sometime in late summer or early autumn. When ripe, these berries are very dark in colour.
When the juniper berries are ready to be harvested, you need to spread them on a flat ground, in a sunny place. You can also dehydrate the berries, or place them in an oven. But you should make sure that these berries are used within one year of harvesting.
Juniperus communis berries are varied in sizes, from 4-12 mm, other species have mostly similar sizes of berries, though some are larger, such as J. drupacea which bears 20-28 mm diameter berries. A juniper berry remain fleshy and merge into a unified covering surrounding the seeds. Young berries are green, maturing to a purple-black colour in about 18 months in most species. Mature berries are usually but not exclusively used in cuisine, while gin is flavoured with fully grown but immature green berries.
The classical Latin name of that plant iuniperus and its botanical genus derivative name juniperus may possibly be a Celtic loan. Names of juniper in several European languages, especially Romance languages, derive from that name, e.g. English “juniper”, Dutch jeneverbes, Italian ginepro, Spanish enebro, Romanian ienupăr and Hebrew juniper. In English, the French loan juniper supplanted the Old English name of that plant, cwicbēam (modern quickbeam) “life-tree”, which was also used for rowan or mountain ash, sorbus aucuparia. The species name communis is a slightly less pejorative Latin term for “common” than the alternative and more frequently used name vulgaris.
The German name wacholder (of which machandel is a Northern variant) contains a stem which might be related to wachsen “grow” (cf. English “wax” meaning “increase” but is probably derived from the Indo-European root weg “weave” or “web” (cf. English “veil”, “wick”) since its branches have been used for weaving. The same root also lies behind English “wax” as in “beeswax”.
The Germanic tree suffix -der, as in wacholder, appears in several other German plant names. At root is the Indo-European deru with the meaning “tree, particularly oak” and the derived meaning “strong”, “firm” or “reliable”. This is a very prominent root found in most Indo-European languages (Sanskrit darvi, Farsi dar, Greek drys, Russian derevo and Latvian darva all refer to wood and Latin durus, Lithuanian drūtas and Old English trum refer to strength. Modern English examples include “tree”, “tray”, “tar”, “true” and “trust”.
Just as the language of the Gael has been in decline, so too has the preponderance of the Juniper tree in Scotland. Juniper went under the Gaelic names of Aittin or Aiten, and also Samh – words which remain with us in the form of place names. We have Attadale in Wester Ross and Samhan near Mull, that beautiful and mysterious island off Scotland’s West Coast. There is also some evidence that place names incorporating the Gaelic word Iubhair (for Mountain Yew) may in fact refer to Juniper.
Many of the earliest prehistoric people lived in or near juniper forests which furnished them food, fuel, and wood for shelter or utensils. Many species, such as J. chinensis (Chinese Juniper) from eastern Asia, are extensively used in landscaping and horticulture, and as one of the most popular species of bonsai. It is also a symbol of longevity.
Ancient folk tales claim that juniper bushes and berries were safe havens for people trying to flee harm. It is said that Jesus’s family took refuge under the branches of a juniper bush while fleeing from King Herod. Other folk tales say that souls of the dead can linger in a juniper, in the hope of returning to life, and that juniper sprigs can ward off the devil. Juniper was also once believed to guard against the plague. Harming a juniper tree was thought to cause bad luck, or in some cases, even death.
It is too small to have any general lumber usage. In Scandinavia, however, juniper wood is used for making containers for storing small quantities of dairy products such as butter and cheese, and also for making wooden butter knives. It was also frequently used for trenails in wooden shipbuilding by shipwrights for it’s tough properties.
In Estonia juniper wood is valued for its long lasting and pleasant aroma, very decorative natural structure of wood (growth rings) as well as good physical properties of wood due to slow growth rate of juniper and resulting dense and strong wood.Various decorative items (often eating utensils) are common in most Estonian handicraft shops and households.
According to the old tradition, on Easter Monday Kashubian (Northern Poland) boys chase girls whipping gently their legs with juniper twigs. This is to bring good fortune in love to the chased girls.
Juniper was also burned during outbreaks of the Plague, and in Scotland the disease could be dispelled by fumigating the house with juniper smoke while its occupants were inside, after which the house was aired and the occupants revived no doubt with Juniper flavoured whiskey. 😉
Depending on taxonomic viewpoint, there are between 50-67 species of juniper, widely distributed throughout the Northern Hemisphere, from the Arctic, South to tropical Africa in the Old World, and to the mountains of Central America in the New World.
Several species of the genus juniperus grow virtually everywhere in temperate Europe and Asia.
All juniper species grow berries, but some are considered too bitter to eat. Besides Juniperus communis, other edible species include Juniperus drupacea, Juniperus oxycedrus, Juniperus phoenicea, Juniperus deppeana, and Juniperus Californica. Some species, such as Juniperus sabina bear cones which are toxic and consumption is inadvisable.
Many junipers (e.g. J. chinensis, J. virginiana) have two types of leaves: seedlings and some twigs of older trees have needle-like leaves 5-25 mm long; and the leaves on mature plants are (mostly) tiny (2-4 mm long), overlapping and scale- like. When juvenile foliage occurs on mature plants, it is most often found on shaded shoots, with adult foliage in full sunlight. Leaves on fast-growing ‘whip’ shoots are often intermediate between juvenile and adult.
In some species (e.g. J. communis, J. squamata), all the foliage is of the juvenile needle-like type, with no scale leaves. In some of these (e.g. J. communis), the needles are jointed at the base, in others (e.g. J. squamata), the needles merge smoothly with the stem, not jointed.
The needle-leaves of junipers are hard and sharp, making the juvenile foliage very prickly to handle. This can be a valuable identification feature in seedlings, as the otherwise very similar juvenile foliage of cypresses (Cupressus, Chamaecyparis) and other related genera is soft and not prickly.
Aroma and Flavour
Juniper berries are often described as having an air-freshening, piny aroma – one that is fragrant and flowery, a cross between gin and turpentine. In flavour, it is very “clean,” aromatic, a slightly bittersweet flavour, and piny. The flavour of juniper is often compared to gin, as it has been used to flavour gin since the 17th century.
Aromatic with a sweet accent similar to that of the South American pink pepper.
Health Benefits of Juniper Berries
Juniper berry is rich in nutrients, and provide many health benefits to the people. They possess many important nutrients, which are as follows:
Vitamins and minerals – juniper berries are rich in vitamin C and Vitamin B. they contain small amounts of calcium.
Volatile Oils – it also contains a substantial amount of volatile oil.
Apart from up to 33% sugars and 10% resin, juniper berries owe their use in the kitchen to an essential oil (0.2 to 2%, dependent on provenance). The essential oil is mainly composed of monoterpenes: 80% α- and β-pinene, thujene, sabinene, 5% terpinene-4-ol, α-terpineol, borneol and geraniol; sesqiterpenes (α- and β-cadinene, caryophyllene) are found in traces.
An essential oil that is extracted from these seeds is used in making perfumes and in aromatherapy. Juniper berries healing properties are also too many, it therefore used as a medication for many ailments. The seeds inside the berries are used for decoration and in jewellery making.
Juniper has long been used for medicinal purposes both internally and externally. Burning the branches was thought to purify the air while applying a poultice relieved a number of maladies and wounds.
The percentage of various nutrients is as follows:
Lipid – 16%
Carbohydrate – 46%
Fiber – 34%
Ash – dry weight.
Juniper berries are a natural cure for treating flatulence. The tea that is prepared from these berries is often used to wash the joints so as to relieve oneself from joint pain and soreness. It treats gout and other similar conditions. Apart from this, it is used for expelling respiratory problems.
Juniper berries are a diuretic. They have many important medicinal uses.
- The consumption of tonics made out of it can act as an appetite increaser. It can also act as an appetite suppressant.
- It also has remedies for Arthritis and Rheumatism. It is being used for treatment against diabetes.
- In some tribal areas, it is used as a female contraceptive.
- It also helps in combating bacterial infections such as prostates, vaginitis and inflamed kidneys.
- It can be used for treatment of lung disorders.
- It is used as a purifier and overall system cleaner.
- Juniper berries have also acted as an old herbal remedy for digestive tract problems.
- The extracts increase peristalsis and intestinal tone.
The earliest recorded medicinal use of juniper berries occurs in an Egyptian papyrus dating back to 1500 BC, in a recipe to cure tapeworm infestations.
Juniper berries stimulates the uterus, therefore it should not be consumed by pregnant women, as it may even lead to abortion of the fetus in worst circumstances. Those people with severe kidney infection should absolutely not consume it, as it may increase the chances of its severity. Side effects of this spice include certain urinary problems such as purplish urine and blood in the urine; intestinal pain and diarrhoea. Juniper oil should never be applied to open wounds as it may result in swelling and irritation.
Buying and Storage
Juniper berries are primarily used as a spice, providing a great flavour to the food. The outer scales of the berries do not contain any flavour, so they are removed while crushing the seed to extract the spice out of it. The spice can be used in a dry state or in a wet state; however the odour is strongest immediately after harvest, so they should be used fresh. They flavour the liquor such as jenever and sahti beers. It flavours the various meat and veal dishes. The juniper berries extract has an antioxidant activity.
Juniper berries are excellent flavouring agents, and you may not get the exact flavour on using any other spice or flavouring agent. However there are certain spices that provide almost a similar taste, Gin being one of them. Other distant spices that are used as a substitute for juniper berries may include usage of garlic or onion extracts, so as to give some flavour to the cooked food.
Harvesting if you do have the opportunity. Simply pluck the berries from the branches, dry roast them in a 250-degree oven until they shrivel a bit, turn black and become crumbly, then you may store them in an airtight container for months.
The dried berries should be crushed well just before using as the flavour will decline rapidly once exposed to the air. You won’t need many, three or four of the berries will flavour most dishes without overpowering the main ingredient or other seasoning’s.
Whole, fresh juniper berries should have a moist appearance, dark blue and black colour, and soft texture. Fresh varieties can be found in speciality eastern European markets. Dried juniper berries are sold whole in the spice aisle, but only the amount that will be used immediately should be purchased and ground just before use. Even whole juniper berries lose their flavour very quickly with long-term storage.
Cooking Ideas with using Juniper Berries
Pine-like, spicy, refreshing and savoury. Try mixing it with wine for game, fish or chicken dishes. Juniper Berries are used in Northern Europe and the United States in marinades, roast pork, and sauerkraut. They enhance meat, stuffing’s, sausages, stews, soups and even pickles.
Juniper berries are used in northern European and particularly Scandinavian cuisine to impart a sharp, clear flavour to meat dishes, game meat (boar and venison). The berries are also used to season pork, cabbage, and sauerkraut dishes. Juniper berries are also used in German, Austrian, Czech and Hungarian cuisine, often with roasts.
Juniper Berries are used for preparing a wide range of dishes. They can be used for seasoning the meat dishes like that of the wild birds – thrush, blackbird, woodcock; pork and also game meats. They also compliment the taste of beef, sweet dishes, fruit dishes like apple tarts, and any dish requiring alcohol.
The berries are also used to flavour other alcoholic beverages such as a Swedish health beer and a French beer-like drink called ‘genevrette’ made from equal amounts of juniper berries and barley.
It also blends well with a variety of spices, including thyme, sage, oregano, marjoram, bay leaves, and all spice.
The juniper berries are nutritionally rich. They provide many health benefits and are excellent when used as a flavouring agent. Try this spice if you still have not. You will surely feel sorry if you miss this amazing spice.
Juniper Berry Spice Rub is a delicious blend of juniper berries, black peppercorns, fennel seeds, cloves, coriander, and coarse sea salt. It’s peppery and complex, but the piney flavour of juniper is definitely the star. This rub is ideal for game meats like venison, duck or beef, an excellent foil for rich, gamey or fatty foods.