Along the Grapevine

Juniper Berries and Soup

33 Comments

DSC02831Since I began working on this blog, I have found two things about foraging which surprise me. First, that you can forage quite happily in the winter even in this snowiest of landscapes for some really worthwhile ingredients, one of which I am writing about today. In fact, the winter has the advantage of being insect-free, and as long as there’s not a blizzard and you are dressed for it, the venture is very invigorating and a great excuse to enjoy the outdoors. Just don’t remove gloves for too long while you take photographs or snip branches, both of which are impossible with furry gloves.

The other surprise is that some of the most overlooked and miniscule pickings add so much flavour and are every bit as valuable as the bulkier crops. Good seasonings and spices are essential in cooking, and if they are local, fresh and free, all the better.

I have always used juniper berries in cooking, usually to flavour fish, game, sauerkraut and choucroute garnie, but no longer will I buy little plastic boxes from the supermarket. I found my own source, and they are so good!

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These ones grow on what is usually referred to as the Eastern Red Cedar which is misleading because it is not a cedar, but a juniper, juniperus virginiana to be exact. This same cedar we use to add a scent to our linen trunks and repel moths is not a cedar at all – another surprise for me. There are other varieties of juniper, but I will only try and describe this one as I have direct experience with it. So here are a few facts you’ll need to identify it.

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Where it grows:  Eastern North America, hardy to zone 3.

Description: A coniferous evergreen which in poor soil may just be a shrub but in the right conditions can grow as high as 40-50 feet with a spread of 8-15 feet.  It is pyramid shaped. The leaves change appearance with age. The young ones, on trees up to three years old and the new growth on older trees have sharp spreading needles about 2-4 inches long. Leaves of older trees are green and scale-like arranged in overlapping groups of four. The trees I picked from were of the younger variety. There is a good picture showing the leaves at different stages in this post. The fruit are small currant sized cones resembling berries, dark blue with a white waxy coating which makes them look sky blue.

Uses: The cones are used in cooking and making gin, the leaves are toxic. The bark is used as a moth repellant, and the wood is used in building fence posts. Oil is extracted from leaves, bark and wood.

Benefits and Cautions: The cones (which look like berries) have an antiviral compound called deoxypodophyllotoxin (DPT) which is used against some viruses. People used to add it to tea as a medicinal herb. They should not be taken in large amounts.

Juniper Berries on Punk Domestics

At this point I was just interested in using these little cones (berries), and as I am off rich and meaty dishes at this time of year, I decided to make a vegan soup – a pea soup, with some aromatic flavour. I also used some of my prickly ash, or szechwan pepper, but if you don’t have that you can just use more black pepper. And if you don’t have these plants in your area, you can buy both juniper berries or Szechwan pepper at a good spice store.

 

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I soaked, then cooked one pound of split peas. Once cooked I added 1 chopped onion, 1 carrot, 4 crushed cloves of garlic, 10 juniper berries, 1 tsp Szechwan pepper, 1 tsp black pepper and salt to taste. I simmered it until all vegetables were cooked.

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You can vary the spiciness  according to your taste of course. By using these less common flavours, you will find this familiar soup takes on a whole new character. If you have a favourite dish using juniper berries, I would love to hear about it.

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Linked to:  Angie at The Novice Gardener; Jhuls at The Not So Creative Cook and Mr. Fitz of Cooking with Mr. Fitz.

 

 

 

Author: Hilda

I am a backyard forager who likes to share recipes using the wild edibles of our area.

33 thoughts on “Juniper Berries and Soup

  1. I find your posts so intriguing! It’s wonderful to be able to discover amazing food stuffs in nature and so easily to hand, as long as you know what you’re doing of course!

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    • Knowing what you’re doing is important. I researched this a lot as I have never collected juniper before. I think the main thing is to avoid the small ornamental ones, some of which are OK, but not taking any chances here.

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      • That would be my concern with any foraging, I’m sure it is very easy to pick the wrong thing!
        Someone tried to sell me ‘wild garlic’ that they had picked themselves last year and it was nothing but weeds!!!

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  2. Hilda, you always leave us in awe of your ‘findings’. This one is very new to me and I am sure for others, too. Thank you for introducing this one to us & for bringing such wonderful dish. I hope you are having a fantastic time & happy FF. Enjoy your weekend! xx

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  3. Enjoyed reading about juniper berries. I am trying to imagine the interesting flavour of the pea soup with juniper berries and prickly ash. Happy Fiesta Friday, Hilda!

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  4. Such an intriguing find and even more so by the addition of these berries added to the pea soup. Good for you braving the elements and continuing to forage in the winter. What is the weather like where you are? We’ve had a relatively mild winter on the East coast of the USA so far, not a snowflake in sight, but I’m sure that will change……enjoy your weekend Hilda and Happy FF!

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    • Thanks Loretta. We have had mostly a mild winter like you, but after Christmas we did get snow and some real cold – although today it is raining which won’t do the sumac any good. We are still waiting for real winter to get started, but I am determined to get out walking whenever it is reasonably possible. Foraging is always a good incentive!

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  5. The Eastern Red Cedar is very common in the Tennessee hills. I’ve just decided to include some foraging in my weekend plans.

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  6. Hilda, you are an adventurer ! Wow! so much in nature and such interesting ingredients ! Happy to have found your blog!

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  7. I love juniper, I used to love picking it in Scotland as a child though we never cooked with what we found (not as confident a forager!). An interesting post as ever

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    • Thanks Caroline. We don’t use juniper much in this country. I have found it most in Alsace cooking, other than in gin of course, but I think it is one of those flavours that might gain a little popularity in the future.

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  8. So interesting, Hilda! I used juniper berries for the very first time today. I made an amazing stew with chicken, kielbasa, cabbage, apples, sauerkraut and juniper berries. What an amazing flavour. And now I read about you foraging for these tasty berries. I wonder if they can be foraged here in BC. Any idea?

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    • I can’t find any varieties in BC, although that doesn’t mean there aren’t. The tree I write about does not, but there are lots of ornamental cultivars that come from that. Not all juniper berries are edible though – the ones to avoid are the small ornamental ones. There are some good foraging groups in BC – maybe you should check with one of them.

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  9. very very cool indeed!

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  10. I always love reading about your foraging Hilda, but I’m particularly excited about this one as I have some idea where to look myself…there’s a massive patch of juniper close by where I live. While I’ve never cooked with juniper before, your soup and Chef Julianna’s stew above has given me some ideas🙂

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  11. Interesting, I’d just assume everything dies when you see snow. Hadn’t thought of the absence of insects factor, either. And great point that a little goes a long way, especially with things (at least for my taste buds) like juniper. I smell juniper and I think of gin for sure and sometimes it makes me cringe if it’s too powerful. But it is so unique at the same time, such a unique flavor. I’m really super curious how it tasted with split peas!!!!!!! Everybody thinks of split peas and ham, ham hock, or Indian spices. Did you like it?

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    • Thanks for dropping by Sue. There are a few things to collect which actually get sweeter after the cold sets in – like highbush cranberry and any other berries if they haven’t been consumed by the birds. The smell of juniper reminds me of gin too – and the strong aroma probably prevents us from eating excessive amounts which are not good. The soup was very good – I probably could have used more juniper but it does give a nice woodsy taste – pretty hard to describe, but I can’t imagine anyone not liking it. I thought it a nice change from the usual flavours – I usually use Indian spices, but I like the ‘local’ flavour. I am now making sauerkraut with it, and hope to collect some more for other ‘experiments’.

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  12. Your post are always intriguing and you introduce so any new stuffs to us… what a lovely post… Thanks for sharing Hilda. .

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Very interesting! I bet the foraged ones are much more flavorful.

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  14. Hilda, I learn so much from your posts! After reading your lovely account on foraging, I felt like I enjoyed a good outdoor trip too…..even when I am not a winter person:)
    What an interesting find with the juniper berries and love how you have used it in the soup!

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  15. Hilda…I remember as a child my dad would take me on the mountains to look for morels and we would bring a basketful home. Wonderful you read your foraging experience and the recipe sounds delicious. Take care – Zeba

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    • Thanks Zeba. I agree that foraging is a wonderful activity in which to include children. I am waiting for my grandson to be old enough to come along on some of my expeditions.

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  16. I love juniper! I can only get it dried here but I used it in a Julia Child recipe for lamb and my father loved it!!

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