Juniper (Juniperus communis)
Juniper can be found worldwide in many forms, from shrubs to trees, 2m to 10m, upright to weeping and tolerating many different climates and soil types. Its berries are the only edible part of the plant and these are actually female seed cones rather than berries, taking two years to ripen. Famously, it is the juniper berry which is responsible for giving gin its delicious slightly bitter, aromatic character.Its name derives from the French Genievre or the Dutch word jenever, both meaning juniper.
Juniper berries are versatile little chaps and can be used fresh or dried, crushed or whole. They are commonly used in – yes, I’ve already mentioned gin – condiments such as rhubarb and juniper jam where they get on famously together and they pair very well indeed with all types of game dishes adding a richness which you can enhance if you add them to your herb posy with other herby friends. A few juniper berries thrown in with your garlic potatoes or roasted winter root veggies definitely won’t come in wrong either. Funnily enough this spicy berry will add an extra level of flavours to a variety of sweet puddings such as crème brulee and cakes, particularly fruit cakes.
John Gerard wrote that ‘The smoke of the leaves and wood driveth away serpents and corruption of the aire which bring the plague, or such like contagious diseases. He had the right idea as we now know that juniper has antiseptic, antibacterial and antifungal properties and was also used in the past to treat war injuries to help protect wounds from infection. It is unsurprising then to find that juniper was used historically as a medicine before it was used in the kitchen, or even the distillery. As Donovan sang ‘Jennifer Juniper, lives upon the hill, Jennifer Juniper, sitting very still’. I wonder where he found his inspiration?
Juniper is a hardy evergreen tree growing wild in Britain. You can harvest the berries during Autumn and use fresh or dry them to be stored for later use.
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