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Juniper berries

 

Botanical name: Juniperus communis


Wacholder

 

There are various sub-species of juniper for gardening, and the juniper berries come predominantly from these species.

 

Juniper is native to almost everywhere in Europe and to the temperate climate zones of North America, North Africa, and central and western Asia. Juniper is planted as a decorative bush in gardens and parks, but it usually grows wild. In Germany it is found especially in the Lüneburg Heath, in the Thuringian Forest and in the Fichtelgebirge.

 

The spice industry obtains most of its juniper berries from Eastern Europe, Italy, Spain, Sweden and France. Considerable amounts are also harvested in North America and North Africa.

 

Availability

Juniper berries are ripe from August to the middle of September. In Germany, the trees are protected but the berries may be picked. Dried fruits are sold all year round.

 

Appearance, taste, characteristics

The evergreen juniper belongs to the cypress family (Cupressaceae) It is seen in gardens and parks as a 2-m-tall shrub, but it can grow into a tree with a height of 12 m. The needle-shaped leaves are not attached individually to the stems but in whorls. They are 1-1.5 cm long and have a blue-green, waxy sheen when seen from above.

 

From the inconspicuous, scaly blossoms develop spherical seed cones, which do not attain full ripeness until the second or third year following pollination. The fruits are actually not true berries but mock berries. When ripe they are 5-10 cm thick, round, dark violet with a bluish film, and have three hard, angular seeds. After drying they are violet-brown to black-brown.

 

The berries smell aromatically of resin and turpentine. Their flavour is spicy, sweetish, somewhat sharp, and later bitter. The aroma is reminiscent of pine needles.

 

Ingredients

Juniper berries contain 0.5-3.5% essential oil, the composition of which depends on the location of the plant. In the lowlands, the content of pinene predominates, while in the mountains the oil contains large amounts of sabinene. Other main components are myrcene, limonene, terpene oil and citronella oil.

 

Flavonoids, resins, bitter substances and tannins, as well as 30% invert sugar are also contained in juniper berries.

 

Quality criteria, optimal storage conditions

Fresh juniper berries are normally dried at room temperature.

 

They should be stored cool, dry and in the dark. In an airtight container the fruits will remain aromatic for up to a year. Chopped or crushed berries quickly lose their aroma.

 

Presumed effect on health

Owing to their slightly bitter, aromatic flavour, juniper berries presumably stimulate the appetite and the digestion. Infusions of the crushed berries or extracts are recommended for heartburn, belching and abdominal fullness. The essential oil is used to treat disorders of the urinary tract, but not during pregnancy or in patients with kidney disease.

 

In folk medicine juniper berries are used for inflammation of the urinary bladder and the prostate gland; they are also supposed to alleviate gout and rheumatism and to eliminate halitosis. Juniper oil is used topically for acne, eczema and psoriasis.

 

Since it is not yet clear whether continual therapeutic use is harmful to the kidneys, treatment without the advice of a physician should not last longer than 1 week.

 

The amounts of juniper berries used for flavouring, however, give no cause for worry.

 

Form of consumption, use, processing, practical tips for preparation

Juniper berries can be used fresh or dried, and either whole, shredded, crushed or ground. Whole berries are removed from food before it is served; therefore, it is practical to cook them in a spice egg or a tea filter. If the berries are not cooked for a long time they should be crushed or chopped prior to use.

 

Juniper berries are used above all in Scandinavia, Western Europe and in Russian cooking. They are often used to flavour marinades, pickling brines and fish stock. The aroma goes especially well with game and poultry, but it also enhances other meat and fish dishes.

 

Juniper berries are also popular for pickling salt meat and for vegetables, for example sauerkraut, red cabbage, beetroot, and pearl onions. When they are cooked with the foods, they moderate the intensive cabbage smell. Stews, soups, sauces and pâtés can also be flavoured with the berries. The spice can even be combined with apples, for instance in jelly or apple pie.

 

The vast majority of the berries are used by the distilled spirits industry to make gin and other similar spirits. To this end, the berries are fermented and distilled or marinated in alcohol.

 

Seasoning tip

Juniper berries harmonize with cloves, caraway, bay leaves, marjoram, thyme, rosemary and summer savory. They also go with garlic, fennel, parsley and mint.

 

A mixture of garlic, salt and juniper berries can be crushed to season meat, and roast wild boar tastes good with mugwort and juniper berries.

 

 

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