Saturday, January 19, 2013

Foraging Juniper Berries!

I coupon.  I garden.  I was content with that in my pursuit of food.  That was, until last summer when I discovered crab apples!  Suddenly a whole world of potential local, super healthy food opened up.  Not only that but it has become a treasure hunt!  First, let me tell you, I was not big into nature in school.  I dreaded collecting leaves to identify trees.  I found it a totally miserable experience.  What was the point?

Fast forward to now and I am hitting the local book store for plant identifying books and Amazon for the best foraging advice.  I read stories of people talking about their grandmas teaching them about the best wild usable plants and am jealous as I never had such an opportunity.  I am visiting local parks for exercise and to study the plants.  So far I have found Paw-paw trees, wild blackberries, black walnuts, honeysuckle bushes, a variety of Oak trees with acorns, and crab apples.  I have discovered the world or weeds and how many of them are more nutritious than what you can find in the grocery store.  Really, what is a weed?  It is merely a plant that is currently out of favor with the population.  I find it amazing that there is so much abundance around us and so few people know about it. 

Yesterday, I visited Winstead Hill Park in Franklin, TN.  It is a rocky hill that over looks the area where the Battle of Franklin took place during the civil war.  There are numerous monuments to fallen Confederate generals.  It's a small park and I had been meaning to stop there for some time just to see it.  I climbed the stairs and as I was reading the monuments I glanced around and discovered that numerous beautiful evergreen trees were laden with tiny blue berries.  I knew instantly that these were Junipers from my reading.  I tasted one of the berries (I've read that you can taste but don't swallow anything that you are not 100% sure about).  The berry tasted slightly sweet with a distinct Gin flavor and a slight crunch.  So I took a handful of berries, a couple of small branches and several pictures of the trees to research.

Thus, I spent my afternoon reading about Junipers.  As you may know, Junipers are what gives the popular alcoholic beverage Gin it's flavor.  There are over 50 varieties of Juniper.  It is most often found as a shrub but can be a tree as in this case.  Junipers can have either pointy sharp branches or braided-like scale branches.  The berries are actually cones of the female tree and can come in different colors but most often blue.  I will call them berries for simplicity's sake.  My find was over 20 feet tall with braided-like scale branches and small blue dusty berries.  The white dust on the berries is actually yeast and can be used to make a yeast starter for bread.

The type of Juniper most often used to flavor Gin is the Juniperus communis or the Common Juniper.  It is usually found as a low spreading shrub and has needle-like leaves.  This was definitely not the trees I found.  So I was looking for a Juniper tree that grew naturally (not an unusual variety intentionally transplanted).  It also had to thrive on rocky hills.  I narrowed down the possibilities to Juniperus scopulorum (aka Rocky Mountain Cedar) or Juniperus virginiana (aka Eastern Red Cedar), two common Junipers found in the southeast United States.  Both are edible, but after closely studying the photos of the two, I believe the trees I found are Juniperus virginiana.  Go HERE for more descriptions of types of both of these trees.

There is one variety of Juniper that I found mentioned which is toxic.  It is the Juniper sabina.  It is a low-growing shrub and also known as a stink bush as it emits a rank odor when leaves are crushed.  The trees I found are not of this variety, but you should certainly confirm any that you find are not as well.

Juniper berries are considered a seasoning and a little goes a long way. It has a sharp clean flavor and goes well with meat, particularly wild game. It is also often found in many European dishes and was once used to flavor their beer. Cabbage and potatoes are also frequently seasoned with Juniper. It was used by ancient Egyptians, Greeks and native Americans for it's medicinal qualities. It has been known to treat numerous diseases such as indigestion, gout, urinary tract and bladder infections and inflammations, sore throat, and colds. It has diuretic and antiseptic qualities. It contains high natural insulin and is used as a topical medicine for skin problems such as acne and warts. It has also historically been used in traditional herbal medicine to stimulate menstruation and childbirth. Pregnant women should avoid it.

You can freeze them or dry them but the berries lose flavor the longer they are from harvest. Here is the recipe that I used which turned out great:

Cranberry and Juniper Glazed Pork

1 boneless leg of pork
4 tbsp cranberry sauce
1 tbsp juniper berries, crushed
1 tbsp port
salt and freshly ground black pepper
sprigs of fresh parsley and sage to garnish


1. Preheat the oven to 375° F.

2. Roast the pork following the instructions on the pack.

3. Meanwhile, mix together the cranberry sauce, juniper berries, port and seasoning, to taste.

4. Around 20 minutes before the end of the cooking time, spoon half the glaze over the pork joint, return the meat to the oven and continue to roast for the remainder of the cooking time.

5. Transfer the pork to a warmed serving plate. Stir any meat juices into the remaining glaze, heat through and pour over the pork just before serving.

6. Garnish with sprigs of parsley and sage.

Here are other recipes that may be worth a try:  

Cabbage Soup with Juniper & Beef 

Juniper Pickled Onions

Juniper Berry Brine for Turkey

Apple and Juniper Berry Sauerkraut

Garlic Potatoes with Juniper Berries

Cranberry-Pear Chutney with Juniper Berries

Juniper Salmon (uses the branches not the berries)

Note:  I am no expert...yet.  You should do your own research on plants that I suggest.


yarmo81 said...

I really liked your post on juniper. I believe you would be a very good fit with our plant foragers group. Though new, it has a good mix of novices through experts (including numerous authors). You are welcome to join it:

Sam Schaperow, M.S.
P.S. I co-moderate a wild mushroom group. You are also welcome to join it:

stevebonzai said...


Unknown said...

need to know how to use them.... juniper berry's.... grind, or peel them. or r they soft? never used them.. need so information on them

Dr. Mom said...

Robert, you can dry them or freeze them. I keep a small bag of them in my freezer for use in recipes. Usually a recipe will tell you how to apply them. They can not be peeled as they are actually a small cone and not a berry in the traditional sense.

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