How to Use Juniper Berries in Cooking and More
Until recently, this author had not really stopped to consider the many uses for juniper berries. Considering that I live in Central Oregon, where juniper berries are everywhere—from low scrub brush varieties to huge, towering, antique-looking trees covered with berries—it all of a sudden seemed prudent that I would investigate the possibilities.
Where is the species from?
As it turns out, there are all kinds of things juniper berries are good for. Originally a plant species found in Europe, it has now become indigenous to North America and can be found just about anywhere.
Scrub juniper is the most common variety, though the juniper trees (up to 20 feet in height) are prevalent in many locales as well—such as here in Central Oregon. Juniper is virtually everywhere and is the most common allergen here for both people and pets.
Robins in flocks numbering in the hundreds can be seen here in winter foraging for the berries. Fields are covered with them as they fly from bush to bush, tree to tree, gobbling up the bounty.
Just this morning, I observed a herd of deer eating the berries that are just beginning to ripen on juniper trees in the area. Birds, squirrels, and deer love the berries, and here in Central Oregon, they have more than enough to keep them supplied.
Is juniper really a berry?
Actually, it isn't! The juniper "berry" is really part of a cone that develops on the plants—a cone because junipers are actually part of the pine family. This explains why the berry gives a flavor reminiscent of rosemary and has a rather pine-like taste mixed with, to some, a citrus-laden flavor.
The berries pack a huge amount of flavor, so it's advised to always use less rather than more if using as a spice or in cooking.
What You Can Do With Juniper Berries
Juniper berries have been used for centuries as a natural remedy for many things. Today, they are used in many herbal preparations or as a stand-alone treatment in various forms such as dried, as a tea, mixed with other herbs, or made into juniper oil.
Some common uses and healing properties
- It can be made into a cleansing tea used twice per day.
- It has been found to make excellent poultices for wounds and promotes healing.
- Juniper berries increase urine production and are used to treat urinary infections.
- Anti-inflammatory properties make it a prescribed treatment for arthritis.
- The berries are said to fight off or eliminate herpes virus flares.
- It was used as a treatment long ago for syphilis and gonorrhea.
- It's said to decrease upset stomach and heartburn.
- The juniper berry lessens bloating and increases appetite.
- Juniper berries are most famous for their use in gin.
- It can be used as a spice—a little goes a very long way.
- It's a great adjunct to meat dishes such as beef, pork, or wild game such as venison.
- Scandinavians, Northern Italians, and Germans use juniper berries in many dishes.
- The berries add delicious flavor to vegetable dishes and things like sauerkraut.
- It can be used to make soaps and skin oils.
- It's said to be beneficial in treating skin conditions such as acne and psoriasis.
- It can be used in fragrances and sachets for its clean, pine-like scent.
Juniper Berry Warnings
As in most things in life, too much of a good thing can turn out to be a bad thing. Juniper berries are no exception.
There are certain conditions that would be contraindicated to use the berries with as an herbal supplement—including juniper oils. This is because they have an interaction with certain medications or conditions.
Warnings about when not to use juniper berries:
If pregnant, nursing, or trying to get pregnant—the juniper berry acts to stimulate menstruation and can result in premature delivery or spontaneous abortion.
- Diabetics are advised not to use juniper berry products because they can decrease blood sugar to dangerously low levels quickly.
- High blood pressure sufferers should beware of juniper because it can cause wide fluctuations in blood pressure.
- Anyone who appears to suffer allergy symptoms when around juniper should not ingest the berries or oils.
- Chronic kidney disease patients should take care if using juniper berries as they work directly on the kidney and urinary system, causing increased filtration.
- People taking lithium are warned to use caution in using juniper berries as there can be an interaction between the berry and this drug.
- Likewise, people on diuretics are said to be careful if taking juniper berries because it can lead to over-diuresis, which can be a serious health risk (both are water pills).
- It is recommended never to take it for more than 4 weeks as a supplement. Then stop and come back to using it at another time. It is mainly used as an anti-inflammatory measure.
- If you are contemplating surgery, it is recommended to stop any use of juniper berries at least 2 weeks before the procedure.
How to Dry Juniper Berries
- Baking sheet
- Paper towels or bath towel
- Juniper berries
- Spread berries on paper towels or a bath towel and remove twigs, leaves, bugs, etc.
- Sort through them and remove any green berries that are not ripe. A ripe juniper berry is blue.
- Place the berries on a cookie sheet and dry them at room temperature for 3 or 4 weeks. (Put them on top of a cupboard so they're out of reach of pets and children.)
- Discard any brown berries or berries that have bug holes.
- Use in recipes calling for dried juniper berries.
- Store them in an airtight container in a cool, dry place.
This author would venture to say that they can also be dried in a food dehydrator. Perform the same pre-drying steps and post-drying steps to remove any berries that are brown or have bug holes.
Cooking with Juniper
For the cook, you can find recipes for all kinds of great stuff using juniper berries, fresh or dried. Again, remember that a little goes a long way in terms of juniper berry flavor.
This salmon recipe sounds absolutely fantastic and is on my list to make soon.