Ive become fascinated with juniper berries but only the kind that are used for culinary purposes. Yes, there are differences: Juniperus communis is the variety mostly used as a spice and as a flavoring ingredient for making gin; and the other is Juniperus Sabina, which is not suitable for consumption as it is very bitter and quite toxic.
However, the juniper berries that are used as a spice are actually a form of cone from a shrubby conifer tree, which is native to Europe, and is used as a spice in many European cuisines. The round, small berries turn an attractive, deep blue-purple when they ripen, which can take up to three years to do.
I love looking at them I can imagine some skillful artist making a fancy looking bracelet or necklace with the berries. In fact, the Native Americans have used the seeds inside juniper berries as beads for jewelry and decoration.
For me, crushed juniper berries are perfect for making excellent meat rubs. The clear sharp flavor is favorable for elevating the taste of meat dishes, especially wild game and pork. They are used both fresh and dried, but their flavor and odor are at the most potent immediately after harvest.
One of the active ingredients that the juniper is known for is terpinen-4-ol, which is a volatile oil found in all parts of the juniper tree, but is strongest in the fresh berries. Terpinen is also known as a diuretic that can irritate kidney functions, so it is has been recommended for pregnant women who have kidney ailments not to consume juniper berries.
When storing juniper berries it is best to buy them in small quantities. By the time the berries are dried and cured, the oils have already deteriorated and so they will have little taste if they are stored for a long time.
I like to think of the juniper berry as a holiday sort of spice that can be acknowledged for its festive essence.