Juniper Berries

by Robyn on August 17, 2011

One of the things I love about the ranch is the trees growing wild on it. They are what most refer to as scrub junipers. They dot the land like weeds here in Northen Arizona. But pruned back and thinned out a bit they add a nice landscape to the raw land.  One thing I noticed first when inspecting the trees is the right kind of juniper berry growing on them. I’m thinking about starting the Northern Arizona Juniper Berry company we have such a bounty of them. A picture of several juniper trees growing on our ranch

This is a view from the very top of the property. We’ve been reading Joel Salatin’s book on small farms and it has us very inspired that we can make a go of a farm school and keep ourselves happily fed and busy in the next few years. So this first experiment with juniper berries will be fun. We’ll also be adding chickens, tomatoes, lavender, fruit trees and possibly a few more livestock. We’ve got our 40 acres, now all we need is a mule.

Large juniper tree

This is the largest of the trees on the ranch. There is a lot of pruning and removing of old dead trees to be done. It wold be nice to have a tractor to get that work done, but for now renting one on the weekends seems to be the word of the day. If you have a long lost or up close relative who is giving away a tractor let me know! I’ll come get it and buy them dinner. ;o)

After reading The Wild Table I became very interested in foraging edible foods. Juniper berries are everywhere and I knew only one thing about them. You make gin with juniper berries. Megan, over at Not Martha, in fact had some experiments this year making her own Gin. I am not a drinker but the idea of being in the bathtub Gin business made me smile; just a bit.

I began doing some research and found that a hundred years ago, and for many centuries before that I’m sure, juniper berries were used as a medicine. The have an antibiotic effect and can be used on all types of open wounds. It relieves the pain of a burn and also made into a tea it has been known to help with a hangover. The berries also help with abdominal problems and help to relieve water retention. Hmm, water retention is a problem at high altitudes. Juniper berries are all over up here. Coincidence? There is also a warning for Juniper berries that says they should not be eaten by women who are pregnant, by women with breast cancer or people with kidney disease. The is a caution also that children under the age of 12 should avoid them also. Well, for the rest of you, you can eat them or dink spirits enhanced by them. The species we have growing on the ranch is actually the Juniperus Californica.

Many online retailers sell dried juniper berries. These can be ground up and mixed with water to form a paste. It is especially good used with wild game, elk, deer, boar but is also used on geese, duck and pork.  Not more than a  teaspoonful is sufficient to add flavor when preparing to feed up to four people. It’s flavor is very strong so a little goes a long way. Marinades, pastes and teas are some of the ways people use Juniper berries. I’m thinking I may just have to pickle some and see how they turn out. I’ll let you know.
A cluster of green juniper berries growin on a juniper bush

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