DISCLAIMER : Juniper Berries are one of the plants that I have not actually used. I have done some research for the article but since I’ve not used it myself I’m strongly urging you to double check all information for accuracy. The Web MD article on Juniper Berries lists them as possibly safe. Therefore I wanted to point out that there are some cautions. With that said, we’ll also see that there’s also some traditional uses that would indicate that they’re relatively safe.
One of the more common plants that I have grown up with is the Eastern Red Cedar. It’s an evergreen that’s fairly common in the Appalachian Mountains and because it gets timber sized it’s often mistaken for a type of pine tree. But pine trees have true needles where the juniper has leaves that are more like scales. The eastern red cedar is a beautiful tree that’s often planted as an ornamental if the right soil is available. As kids we always thought of them as Christmas Trees because of the pyramid shape they have.
I have always thought of the red cedar as a utility tree. That’s one who’s properties are more useful as a non-food / medicine. The bicolor wood is absolutely beautiful when polished. It has a creamy colored sapwood and red heartwood that’s pleasing to the eye and wonderful spicy aroma. Because of smell red cedar is traditionally used to make cabinetry. The smell keeps pests like moths from infesting natural fiber clothing and cedar panels are sold for closets. Cedar chips can be purchased by the bale as pet bedding. Early in my life as an artist and craftsman I was commissioned to create a cedar bed frame. I saved as many scraps and as much sawdust as could scrape up to make air fresheners. When I was a kid most #2 yellow pencils were made out of cedar. Even as I write this I can slell the smell of the old fashioned hand cranked pencil sharpener in my third grade classroom.
The wood is usually pretty stable and I could fill the whole post with lists of things you might use it for but this is a #ForageFriday post so lets move on to the food and medicine.
As I stated that the disclaimer there are some reasons for caution. For example, Juniper is known to cause miscarriages and diabetes are cautioned to consult with a medical professional due to the risk of kidney damage. Even a healthy person shouldn’t consume the berries in large quantities or for an extended period. But the berries are used to flavor gin.
The key seems to be moderate use as a spice on wild meats. There seems to be plenty of recipes online calling for small amounts of juniper berries and one marinade I saw called for a total of 3 berries in the mix.
Anyone can have an unknown allergy but juniper allergy is a known thing so keep that in mind.
I’m not really the kind of person who uses a lot of cologne but in the 90s I did have a favorite scent that was made from juniper berries so if you’re the kind of person who has a talent for making scents juniper is one that you might try to craft from wildcrafted berries.
The last little tid-bit that I have tonight is that even though we call it a berry it’s actually a cone that encases a single seed. The part we call a berry is actually scales. And, the white powdery substance that coats the “berry” is a wild yeast that us probably what lead to it’s use in making gin.
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