|Friday Five: Juniper Berries|
|Written by Heleigh Bostwick Friday, 07 October 2011|
Juniper (Juniperus communis ) berries are perhaps, best known for their use in flavoring gin, genever, and other spirits; however, they have many other uses as well. For instance, I have a bottle of dried juniper berries in my spice rack. And while Iíve had them for a while, I have yet to use them in a recipe. Nonetheless, I like knowing they are there--just in case. Be careful though if youíre foraging. Not all juniper berries are edible and some may even be toxic.
Unripe juniper berries on the tree are a beautiful waxy blue-green color, but when mature they are more of a dark purple-black color, and it's these ripe juniper berries that should be used in cooking. Juniper berries pair nicely wild game, pork, and lamb dishes as well as apples adding a fresh, clean flavor to the dish. Crush the berries, which by the way aren't really berries, they're actually modified cones, for the best flavor, and it goes without saying, the fresher the berries, the better the flavor.
Many early white spirits were flavored with botanicals. In the 17th century, the Dutch were the first to flavor spirits with juniper berries in what we now call gin and Genever, a spirit popular in Holland and Belgium thatís making a trendy appearance in major US cities like New York and San Francisco.
Essential oil of juniper berry derived from the ripe fruit along with the berries themselves, are used as flavoring agents in perfumes and cosmetics such as soap, shampoo, and moisturizers.
Juniper berries have been used for therapeutic purposes in herbal medicines since the 16th century and are said to be good for digestive problems as well as treating kidney and bladder diseases. The oil from the ripe berries is used as a diuretic in modern day medicine. Native Americans have used juniper berries for medicinal purposes as well.
Sprays of juniper boughs full of the immature bluish-green berries make great holiday decorations, plus they make the house smell great too!