© Denzil Green
Juniper Berries have a bitter, astringent taste with a bit of resinous pine flavour to them. Drying mellows their flavour. They are used as a spice in cooking. Oil from the berries is used to make gin.
The berries do indeed, as the name would imply, come from Juniper bushes. The small berries, about the size of large peppercorns, can take up to 2 – 3 years to ripen. When ripe, they’ll be plump, dark bluish-purple, and have a bit of a dusty hue to them. Green berries are not ripe. You’ll see bushes with both ripe and unripe berries on them at the same time. When the berries are dried for storage, they will be more black in colour.
Before you go and pick any, know that there are different varieties of Juniper bushes such as Juniperus virginiana, and J. chinensis; the taste of berries from these varieties is not as desirable as those from “Juniperus communis” bushes. Unfortunately, this knowledge is not all that useful, because not every Juniper bush has a sign on it indicating its scientific name.
The berries aren’t eaten raw: they are dried and then crushed when needed and used as you would a spice. Don’t throw them whole into a dish. The flavour is very prominent, so use only 1 crushed berry per every 4 portions of a dish you are making.
Good with cabbage, pork, beef, game, sauerkraut, oily fish such as mackerel, etc.
Dash of gin.
Juniper Berries may be harmful to people with kidney problems. The berries may cause miscarriage. Juniper oil should be used with extreme caution; reputedly just 6 drops can be toxic.
1 pound of Juniper berries = 450g = 5 ⅓ cups
Dried Juniper berries will be leathery. If they just get dried and hard, they are too old.
Henry, Diana: The joys of juniper. London: Daily Telegraph. 20 March 2011.