Various flavonoids, catechin tannins, diterpenes, monosaccharides, pinene and limonene.
Common juniper is a small evergreen tree that is related to cedar, cypress and other conifers. The mature, dark-colored cones, or berries, are used to lend a slightly citrus and pine-like flavor to foods and beverages.
In Northern Europe, juniper berries are used as a spice to season game meats and sauerkraut, as well as beer. The berries are also the key flavoring agent in gin.
Favor profile Juniper berries impart a mild pine-like
flavor. When used in cooking, it’s a good idea to remember that a little goes a long way.
Juniper berry is used in the making of syrups, wines, cordials and other alcoholic
beverages, most notably gin. In Norway, juniper foliage is used in cladding, a
traditional method of insulating barn walls from wind and rain. The process is tedious,
but well-constructed juniper cladding can last for decades, reportedly up to 50 years
in some cases.
A sauce or syrup of juniper berry is traditionally served as a condiment to accompany
rabbit, pheasant, quail, venison and other game meats. Combined with anise, rosemary and other herbs, juniper berries are used as a barbeque seasoning and flavoring for barbeque sauce.
History and Folklore
The ancient Egyptians used juniper berries as food and also to remedy intestinal parasites. Because the tree is not native to the region the berries had to be imported, probably from Greece. In addition to the mention of juniper in various ancient Egyptian
writings, remnants of juniper berries have been found at the tomb of Tutankhamun, better known as King Tut, which indicates the people may have also used the herb as an offering to the departed. The early Canaanites considered juniper berries a symbol of fertility and healing and dedicated them as offerings to Ashera, the Mother Goddess and consort of El sometimes referred to as the lost goddess of Egypt and She Who Walks On (or in) the Sea.
The northeastern Native Americans harvested juniper berries along with the bark of the tree to make medicines to treat infections and gastrointestinal disorders. In Medieval Europe, the so-called fruit was thought to be a deterrent for both flatulence and evil spirits. At one time, juniper oil, or spirits of juniper, was used in veterinary medicine to treat minor skin irritations from flies and to prevent or treat dropsy in sheep. (Dropsy is an old term for edema, a condition characterized by swelling due to the accumulation of lymphatic fluid under the skin.)
Today, juniper berries are largely limited to culinary use. Juniper berries are a key flavoring ingredient in gin and a beverage called sahti, a type of rye beer enjoyed in Norway and Finland. Juniper berries are used in northern European and particularly Scandinavian cuisine to "impart a sharp, clear flavor" to meat dishes, especially wild birds (including thrush, blackbird, and woodcock) and game meats (including boar and venison). They also season pork, cabbage, and sauerkraut dishes. Traditional recipes for choucroute garnie, an Alsatian dish of sauerkraut and meats, universally include juniper berries. Besides Norwegian and Swedish dishes, juniper berries are also sometimes used in German, Austrian, Czech, Polish and Hungarian cuisine, often with roasts (such as German sauerbraten). Northern Italian cuisine, especially that of the South Tyrol, also incorporates juniper berries.
Juniper berries are a key ingredient in gin, the alcoholic beverage that takes its name from the Dutch word for juniper, or “genever.” Originally, the concoction developed by the 17th century Dutch physician and chemist Franciscus Sylvius was intended to remedy gout, lumbago and disorders of the kidneys and gallbladder, but it soon travelled from the pharmacy to the battlefield. In fact, the term “Dutch courage” stems from the habitual imbibing of English soldiers to muster up courage when fighting against the Spanish during the Dutch Revolt (aka The Eighty Years War). During the reign of William the Orange, and for the decades that followed known as the Gin Craze years, gin became a popular pup drink for commoners, although its quality declined from a lack of juniper berries and the substitution of turpentine.
The berries, which are actually modified cones, are used whole or ground as spice. Ground juniper berries are encapsulated as a dietary supplement, or used to produce infusions and tonics as beverages or for topical use on the skin. Juniper berry powder is also added to incense blends intended to be burned on smoldering charcoal.
Whole fresh or dried or powdered, essential oil