Foraging for Juniper Berries...And What to Do With Them (You'll be Amazed at What These Little Blue-Purple Berries Can Do!)
I live in a Pinon-Juniper Belt---meaning Juniper trees are all around me, everywhere. It's not hard to find Juniper Berries when I need them. Wild Juniper grow right in my yard! For me, that makes them "not that special."
However, we are getting ready to move from the high altitude desert of the Mojave Desert where we live now to the Mountain West of Idaho. There are not very many Juniper trees of the species we have here in that location. So my native Juniper trees are suddenly becoming very "special."
I am starting to look at our environment here in the Mojave Desert with new eyes. I'm planning on several posts in the next weeks that focus on the special plants you can forage here. Most people think this is a "dead" place, but it is not.
The plants here are strange and different (like the Joshua Tree--which isn't a tree at all), but they are every bit as powerful medicinally as those found in lusher areas of our country. In fact, I would argue, they are more powerful, having been exposed to such harsh conditions.
What can you do with Juniper---leaves and berries? And where can you find juniper trees to forage? Well, here you go---
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Foraging Juniper--Berries and Leaves
There are several species of juniper berries, and some are toxic (generally the commercialized plants used in landscaping). You'll need to be aware of the species that grows near you. As always, when foraging, be sure you have correctly identified the plant. One of my favorite books for foraging is John Slattery's Southwest Foraging and Michael Moore's plant identification books. He's written several for different regions.
Juniper berries aren't really berries at all. They are the female fruit of tree--the conifer. The berries are very attractive, light bluish-purple. They also have a white powdery covering that is actually a yeast bloom. These are perfect for getting your ferments started if you don't have a culture!
You can find juniper trees in the wild in environments like pinon-juniper belts, high plains areas, some mixed conifer forests, near the edges of scrub oak patches, and even in the hills. They are a real treasure.
Uses of Juniper Berries
Juniper berries have so many uses, they need to be included in every herbalist's medicine chest--especially if they grow wild near you! (Well, in that case, you'll have access to them all the time because Juniper Berries can be foraged all year round.)
If you can't forage for Juniper berries, you can purchase dried berries from Starwest Botanicals.
1) Urinary Tract Infections
Juniper berries are excellent for supporting the health of the urinary tract system. And if you feel that unpleasant little tingle indicating that perhaps a UTI is on the way, what I do is start taking the tincture or make a tea right away.
Juniper berries are my first go to for a UTI, and if one gets stubborn, I add Chaparral for about a week. You should drink LOTS of water too---and use cranberries. Here is an article about Supporting the Urinary Tract and UTI's Naturally.
Safety Note: Juniper can be irritating to the kidneys, so if you have chronic kidney issues, you should not use juniper. Otherwise, to make the tincture or tea more soothing, combine with a demulcent herb such as marshmallow or hollyhock.
2) Used as a Spice
You can use juniper berries as a flavoring for meat marinades (go easy though, until you get a "taste" for them). If you plan to use the whole berries in your cooking, know there are hard seeds inside, and you'll need to avoid them when the food is cooked.
I've put a few in the crock pot with a roast, and the berries add a delicious pungent spice! Again--just avoid the berries so you don't hurt a tooth! The ratio for berries in cooking is roughly 10 berries per pound of meat. They are especially good with venison and strong tasting meats.
3) Jumpstarting a Wild Ferment
Wild fermentation is a new trend these days. Basically, when you ferment vegetables, you can use a starter culture, which makes the fermentation process faster, some believe. OR, you can create a wild ferment, using just the yeasts and bacteria from the environment. OR, you can use a berry or fruit that has a natural yeast coating, like juniper berries, to get your ferment going faster.
You can read more about fermentation in these articles if you like: Fermentation: What is It?, 8 Fermentation Myths, and How to Make Perfect Fermented Sauerkraut. There are lots more fermentation articles on the blog too!
4) Aromatic for Aromatherapy
The essential oil of juniper trees (all parts) is well known across many cultures for clearing the mind. If you are so inclined, some use juniper as an incense, a smudge stick, or in a steam lodge to ward off negative energies.
5) Natural Antiseptic
If you have a tincture ready to go, you can use this to help clean wounds. If you don't have the tincture handy, you can make a strong tea with the plant parts.
Juniper contains compounds that effectively kill certain dangerous bacterias and yeasts, including staph and candida.
6) Helps with Cellulite
Juniper may help break down the fatty areas that form as cellulite. The essential oil has been used for this for quite some time. You can find out more about how to make a cellulite oil here.
7) As a Digestive Aid
Juniper calms the stomach and helps get rid of flatulence and bloating. Drinking a little juniper-ginger tea will help out right away if you've had a heavy meal and are feeling it.
Juniper has diuretic properties and may help you eliminate extra fluids. If you've eaten too much salt (so common in our modern processed foods), having a bit of juniper tincture can help flush out the kidneys. By helping with excess water retention, you'll help get rid of the puffiness that is a common effect of too much salt.
Here is a link to my detox tea blend recipe---You can add juniper berries to it if you aren't pregnant or have kidney issues.
9) Delicious Drinks
You can make gin with juniper berries! Essentially, just infuse vodka with a few crushed berries. Strain after a day or so. You can infuse for a longer time if you want a stronger taste. If you let it go too long, you'll end up with a full-blown tincture! :-)
There is another drink called Smreka from Bosnia. It's a fermented juniper drink, and I am planning to make this! In the meantime, here is a link to a recipe you can try.
10) May Reduce Inflammation
Juniper's anti-inflammatory nature makes it an excellent tonic to take in small amounts. Used along with other anti-inflammatory allies such as turmeric/black pepper and ginger---you may just be feeling better soon---especially in the joints.
Safety Precautions for Juniper
Used in normal amounts, juniper is considered safe. However, as stated above, if you have chronic kidney issues, are on any medications, have diabetes, are pregnant or nursing, you should avoid juniper unless you get the go-ahead from your doctor.
Disclaimer: I'll just add my disclaimer right now, instead of at the end, as I usually do: You need to know that I am NOT a doctor. The information presented here is for informational purposes, and in no manner, stated or implied, is it meant to treat, cure, diagnose, or prevent any disease or health issue. The statements herein are simply my opinion, based on experience and study. These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA.
There. That's done.
Final Thoughts on Foraging for Juniper
I love my juniper trees. Of all the plants that grow in my area of the world (for the next couple weeks), the juniper trees are my favorites. The blue berries are beautiful and provide a refreshing little chew on a hot summer day.
These little berries have so many uses, have a delicious and unique taste, and add a little shot of color to our desert world....I just love them. And I will miss them.
Do you forage juniper? Do you have other recipes or ways to use them? Please leave comments in the comments section! We all love to hear from you!
You may also be interested in these articles: Foraging for Chaparral, Foraging for Lambsquarters, and Foraging for Wild Fennel, among many others on the blog! Also--if you are interested in learning about becoming an herbalist, The Herbal Academy of New England is my favorite place to take courses!
Hugs, Health, & Self-Reliance,
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P.P.S. If you are interested in starting your own blog, here is the book that helped me start earning an income from it, and here is a bit about my favorite blogging resources.
P.P.P.S. Here is one other article I think you'll enjoy: 15 Tips for Wildcrafting Herbs Safely and Successfully!
Slattery, John: Southwest Foraging. Copyright 2016 by Timber Press.
Moore, Michael: Medicinal Plants of the Desert and Canyon West. Copyright 1989. Museum of New Mexico Press.
Disclaimer: I am NOT a doctor. The information presented here is for informational purposes, and in no manner, stated or implied, is it meant to treat, cure, diagnose, or prevent any disease or health issue. The statements herein are simply my opinion, based on experience and study. These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA.