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Dec 29, 2010 01:43 PM

Are all juniper berries edible?

I live in a region of the country that has an abundance of eastern red cedar which is known botanically as juniperus virginiana. Are there specific types of juniper berries that can be used in cooking or will they all be suitable? I would love some feedback and recipes if anyone can help. I was thinking about slow roasting lamb with juniper berries and lemon.

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    1. If you choose to pick juniper berries and use them, it's probably best to be sure the plants haven't been sprayed with any kind of fertilizer or bug killer.

      1 Reply
      1. re: escondido123

        The woods and my back yard are full of them, finding a clean source will be easy. There seems to be a bit of controversy on the edibility. Maybe I should put some gin into the marinade rather than the berries. I love gin + tonic, but too much make you coo-coo.

      2. Here's a juniper berry thread from this past summer, with a little more info. It wasn't clear whether the OP actually found his juniper berries, as he didn't respond, but maybe the thread info will be useful for you, aside from the berry picking location reference. todao's poison control center link might be something to pay attention to. You could also contact a botanist at your local agricultural college for more info on your particular variety of Eastern Red Cedar. The NYT article in the link below has some encouraging info about your type of cedar, and positive comments on the flavor of berries from wild cedars.

        To be honest, aside from the somewhat small posion risk, the difficulty in picking them is big for me. I'd leave the berries for the birds, and just buy some dried:

        Best of luck to you. Let us know how this turns out.

        4 Replies
        1. re: bushwickgirl

          Great info, thanks. I am a horticulturalist which is why Im willing to pick my own. I will keep all informed.

          1. re: CCSPRINGS

            A quick search suggests that the fruit of j. virginiana can be a little toxic, unlike those of the common juniper, j. communis, that is used for gin. Is there not common juniper in your part of the country?

            1. re: andrewtree

              My property has so many j. virginiana they become weeds. Going to use them to build a trellis. I suppose I should seek out some commons.

              FYI - my brother lives in Port Townsend, just mailed us some salmon.

              1. re: CCSPRINGS

                Finally made the trellis two almost two years to the day. I guess I get distracted easily.

                I do believe there are a few common juniper, need to go take a closer look for berries.

                I could always go to William Sonoma and buy a tin but gathering is more fun.

        2. Anyone have a clue about the best time to harvest wild juniper berries? I don't like the thought of paying $8 for a bottle of berries when common juniper grows all around me.

          8 Replies
          1. re: Jeebs

            Depending on your location, start harvesting in September or October, and further into the fall. Good luck.

            1. re: bushwickgirl

              Thanks bushwickgirl! I'm in MT at high elevation (~6000'). Anything I should look for on the berries?

              1. re: Jeebs

                I would guess make sure they are juicy and smell like gin. What are you going to do with them?

                1. re: CCSPRINGS

                  Nothing specific... just want to have them around for when a recipe calls for them. I would've used them last month in chicken confit.

                  1. re: Jeebs

                    Since you're a such a high altitude, I wonder if they'd ripen earlier. Depends on the temperature. Juniper usually ripens around October where I am (Northeast).

                    1. re: bushwickgirl

                      Hey Jeebs, I too am in MT.

                      I realize this thread is a bit old, but I'm going to pick some juniper berries off a bush in my front yard and give them a try. They're frozen, but my bet is they'll work great after they thaw. I've occasionally chewed them late in the fall when hunting and enjoyed their flavor. I don't think harvesting them late will hurt the flavor one bit.

                      I plan to use them in this recipe:

                      I'll let you know how it goes.

                      1. re: Bigsky406

                        Never too old, thanks for the revival!

            2. re: Jeebs

              Juniper is a two year berry, it takes two years to mature. There will be mature and immature berries on the same plant. Just pick the ones that are dark purple and just starting to get a bit wrinkled. These will be sweetest and have most intense flavor. Juniper berries improve with age and many gin distilleries either buy aged juniper or age themselves.