Juniper berries are small blue “berries” that grow on evergreen shrubs or trees.
You can have them in your garden for ornamental reasons. There are even people that make small bonsai trees out of the juniper.
There are about 60 different species of Junipers, but the most common variety is called Juniperus communis.
That’s a very thorny plant, with sharp needles that can scratch you bad if you try to pick them without gloves.
Juniperus communis are also the one that has the edible berries.
Other varieties are either considered too bitter to eat or even worse, some are quite toxic.
Learn more about Juniper below!
Table of Contents
Where Do Juniper Grow?
The Juniperus communis is very common in the Nordic region and is found throughout the northern hemisphere. It’s an evergreen conifer.
But juniper plants thrive in a wide variety of environments.
You can find different types of junipers all over the world, widely distributed throughout the Northern Hemisphere, from the Arctic to tropical Africa, from Pakistan to eastern Tibet, and in the mountains of Central America.
Juniper actually has the largest geographical range of any woody plant.
What Do Juniper Look Like?
Juniper is an evergreen shrub or a tree.
Of course, depending on what species, it has different features. But the same species can also look different depending on where it grows. Latitude, soil and climate give junipers different features.
Some junipers have soft needles or leaves. Not all are inedible as I mentioned but I recommend you stay away from the soft or scaly junipers if your’re going to eat the berries.
The one you’re after, the juniperus communis, has very sharp needles. Needles that make them a bit tricky to pick. So the more difficult the work the better they are for you.
The junipers usually bloom the first year, grow green berries the second year and the third year are when the berries become dark blue, they are ready to be harvested, dried or anything else you'd like to make from them.
When the juniper gets older you can find both green and blue berries on the same branches.
Just be sure to pick the blue ones and let the green ones ripen a bit longer.
A Juniper Berry Is Not a Berry But A Cone!
Most say that the junipers have berries, but it's not a true berry, it's a cone.
The juniper cone has unusually fleshy and merged scales, which give it a berry-like appearance.
Because of this and the fact that it's commonly used name, juniper berry, we'll continue calling the cones berries.
Are Juniper Berries Edible Or Poisonous?
You can eat Juniper berries, but not from all species.
Juniperus communis, that are the most common juniper, are the one that is regarded best and safest to eat.
The one on the other side of the scale is the Savin Juniper, also known as Juniperus Sabina, that one is really poisonous. Ingestion of the Savin oil can have fatal outcomes. If you want to read more about the toxicity of juniper, I suggest you check out our article “Are Juniper Berries Poisonous?”
Juniperus communis is the most common juniper in cooking. It’s also the one that’s regarded as the safest to eat.
Other varieties are often regarded as too bitter or toxic. If you are curious about the taste of juniperus communis we’ve written an article where we try to describe its taste and smell, “What Do Juniper Berries Taste And Smell Like?”.
Just be aware that the berries from Juniperus communis are very strong so even at normal doses/amounts, juniper berries have a strong effect on the kidneys and can cause increased stress on them.
What Do You Use Juniper Berries For?
Juniper berries are mostly used as a spice in various game and meat dishes.
It's the dried berries that you use for flavoring the food. The outer shell of the berries are relatively flavorless, so the berries have to be slightly crushed before you use them as a spice.
The other most common thing Juniper berries are used for, but perhaps the thing it’s most famous for is, flavouring gin. People say, if you have tried gin you know how juniper berries taste.
Another thing you can make of juniper berries are tea. It's very easy to make of dried berries that you slightly crush and put in hot water. But you need to be a bit careful and avoid drinking it every day. It’s very potent and should be used with caution. Read more about juniper berry tea in our article “Juniper Berry Tea: Potent Benefits, But Not For Everyone”.
Conclusion: Juniper Grow All Over The World But..
Yes, you can find junipers all over the world. You can have them as ornamental shrubs in your garden, wherever you live. But if you are going to eat the berries, you have to be sure you have the right kind. The juniperus communis is the one you should be looking for. One feature of the juniperus communis is the very sharp needles.
You can find both ripe and unripe berries on the same branch, so be careful when you pick them. You should only get the ripe ones.
Juniper berries are most used as a spice. You use the dried berries when you cook to give the dish flavour. We always have a jar of dried junipers at home. It’s perfect to spice up that stew or give a game dish a deeper flavour.
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