The Juniper berry is not a true berry. It is a pine cone with fleshy merged scales that give it a berry-like appearance. The cones are only formed on a handful of species and in addition making gin are used as a spice in European cuisine. From what I have read Juniper berries are one of only two spices derived from conifers. The other usage is found in Apache cuisine the tar and inner bark of certain pine trees are used as a sweetener. The essential oil extracted from juniper berries is used in aromatherapy and perfumery. The oil can be distilled out of berries which have already been used to flavour gin.
Juniper berries have been used as a medication. They are a diuretic and were also thought to be an appetite stimulant and a remedy for rheumatism and arthritis. Juniper berries have been found in ancient Egyptian tombs including Tutenkamen’s. The Juniper is not native to Egypt so these must have been imported at great expense. Ancient Olympians used Juniper berries to enhance stamina. Native Americans used the juniper berry as an appetite suppressant in times of hunger. Juniper berry is being researched as a treatment for diet-controlled diabetes, as it releases insulin from the pancreas, hence alleviating hunger. It is also said to have been used by some tribes as a female contraceptive.
In a modern still the berries can be suspended in a “gin basket” positioned within the head or column of the still, which allows the hot alcoholic vapours to extract flavouring components from the botanical charge. The traditional pot still method has the berries added to the second run. You can also make a flavoring for distilled neutral alcohol. Lightly crush two tablespoons of berries and soak in a cup of alcohol for up to a week. Filter through a wet coffee filter and add a portion of this concoction to a quart of moonshine. You can make it stronger or weaker according to taste.
Juniper is a very common evergreen but the flavor of this deep blue berry is anything but ordinary. Spicy and sweet with pine aroma. If you’ve enjoyed a gin and tonic you will know the taste. These juniper berries (actually cones) are delicious in stews and soups with meats and vegetables. Does wonders for gamey meats.
Directions: For tea add 1 to 2 teaspoons of herb to 8 oz water in a pot. Cover and simmer for 15 to 30 minutes, strain and serve immediately. May be diluted.
Safety Info: Not to be used for more than four to six weeks in succession. Persons with inflammatory kidney disease should not use this herb. Not to be used during pregnancy.
Processing Notes: The berries of Juniperus communis ripen in the autumn three years after they are formed. Therefore a plant will be bearing fruit in all stages of maturity at any one harvest time, which accounts for the varying flavors of individual berries.