Juniper berries can be quite tricky to pick.
The needles are so sharp that they can scratch you even looking at them. Well perhaps not that sharp, but still, after a while combating these needles you’ll understand what I mean.
Fortunately there are a few tricks to picking the berries with ease.
Be sure to pick juniper berries from the tree carefully. They break easily, and once the oils are released, their flavor degrades quickly.
You’ll want to harvest plants with as many ripe blue berries as possible. Green berries are unripe and you won't be able to use them.
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“The Ordinary Pick One By One Technique”
This is not the best or most effective technique when it comes to picking juniper berries. It's quite tedious and time consuming work.
But your hard work pays off after you’ve done picking the bush:
Two great advantages of this simple and boring technique is that you only get the berries, not the other debris that you get using other techniques, and on top of that, you only pick the perfectly ripe berries so there’s basically no work to be done after you got the amount of berries you’re after.
This technique requires that you wear gloves. Otherwise you’ll regret even going close to the bush. There’s no juniper berry products that are worth having your hands and arms all scratched up. Those needles can be quite painful and could even get infected.
When you are picking the berries one by one, you need to take it easy, the berries are quite soft and can easily be squashed between your fingers, and once the oils are released, their flavor degrades quickly.
“The Branch And Bucket Technique”
This is the one my husband uses the most. It’s probably because he can do the work quickly and then give the rinsing of the “harvest” to me…
All you do is keep a bucket right under a branch and then you gently shake or, if you have gloves, run your hand gently over the branch and the ripe berries will fall in the bucket.
It's convenient and easy, and you can target one branch at a time but you get more debris mixed in with the berries that you have to take care of later.
There’s also quite a lot of insects etc that tag along for the ride.
“The Cloth Technique”
This one requires some planning and preferably you’ll pick a few bushes and not just one.
You harvest the berries by laying a cloth or a sheet underneath the juniper and then tapping the bush with a stick so that the mature berries fall off.
Be sure not to hit the bush or branches too hard so you don’t damage it. You want the bush to be able to provide you with berries for as long as possible.
If you're wearing gloves, you can grab a branch with a gloved hand and shake it carefully. The ripest blue berries will drop easily from the branch onto the sheet. The unripe ones tend to be left on the branch if you don’t use too much force.
This technique will also get you debris mixed with the berries. I've also noticed that we don't get as many insects as with the other two methods. That's a huge plus in my book!
But using a cloth underneath the juniper is my favorite method as it actually produces fewer needles and other debris (and insects!) that you don't want mixed with your berries.
Always Wear Gloves When Picking Juniper Berries
In any case, whatever method you use, you should wear thick gloves because the junipers needles are very sharp. A lot sharper than you might think!
I prefer work gloves made from leather that don't have any textile sections, just leather all around, as the needles seem to know exactly where they can get through and scratch you! Here's an example of good work gloves for picking juniper berries that are available on Amazon.com. For images and prices including availability in other Amazon markets please go to our recommended page.
Once Your Back Home With Your Juniper Berries
If you don’t have a partner that you can trick into going through your bounty then it’s all up to you. This is the part you can almost completely skip if you had the patience picking the berries one at a time.
A good way of dealing with the insects is to stay outdoors. That way you don’t get them inside your home. There can be quite a lot of them in a small bucket of juniper berries.
The best way that we’ve figured out is to place a sheet out in a shady spot in the yard and lay the berries on it. Spread them out and leave them for a couple of hours.
Most of the insects that you may have inadvertently collected will fly or scurry away.
Inspect the berries and discard any brown, green or damaged fruits.
Then you can take them indoors for cleaning and processing.
The best thing is to dry the berries at once. You should not use them fresh. So, dry the juniper berries by spreading them out on a flat surface in a sunny spot until they are shriveled.
Conclusion: A Lot Of Work But Well Worth It!
There are a few different ways to pick juniper berries. All of them with their pros and cons.
But the most important part of picking juniper berries is the protective gear you have, as in good quality gloves, and also that you try to avoid crushing the berries while handling them.
My favourite method is “The Cloth Technique” where you lay out a cloth underneath the juniper and then tap the bush gently and the berries will fall off.
Peter’s favourite one is “The Branch And Bucket Technique” as it doesn’t require too much planning beforehand and clearly because he can leave the rinsing of the berries to me. I don’t mind it though. It’s quite relaxing and the results are absolutely worth it.
Good luck with your juniper berry hunting!
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