JUNIPER – The Spice

sprig of juniperJuniper is most likely to be associated, these days, with the production of Gin, but it has been used over the centuries for flavouring food, curing the plague and even warding off witches! It certainly seems to work as there have been no recorded sightings of witches at any Campaign for Real Gin gathering.

There are many varieties of juniper, but Juniperis Communis is the one that is native to the UK and is mainly found in Scotland, Wales, Yorkshire, Cumbria and Sussex (in fact, Juniperis Gordonis is known to flourish in St. Albans!).

Usually juniper is a shrub, but sometimes it grows up to 30 feet high in the right conditions. Burning its wood releases an aroma which was used as a precaution against cholera and witches. The bark was made into rope, whilst the roots were woven into baskets in Scotland.

Juniper berries initially form in their first summer as tiny green cones and then ripen in their second (or even third) year. When they are a soft-slatey blue, they can be picked from amongst the razor-sharp prickles for drying. If you are not close to a Juniper bush, the berries are readily and cheaply available from shops!

Juniper oil is wholly soluble in alcohol and used to be distilled from twigs as well as the berries. Oil of Juniper was prescribed as a stimulant, a sudorific and a diuretic. These benefits are, of course, present in gin.

Here are three recipes, using Juniper berries, that are worth trying:

Cabbage with juniper berries and cream

For many, cabbage conjures up memories of childhood meals (not always happy ones), but some, like Lewis Carroll take a more romantic view (“The time has come…”). Whatever your memories or prejudices, try spicing up your greens with the following recipe:

Serves 5 – 6

  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1 small Cabbage, Savoy or white, very finely shredded
  • 300 ml chicken stock
  • 2 teaspoons juniper berries, well crushed
  • 150 ml double cream
  • Sea salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Melt the butter in a large saucepan, add the cabbage and shake for 2-3 minutes to colour all over. Heat the stock and berries quickly until almost boiling, pour over the cabbage and simmer uncovered for 5-9 minutes until the cabbage is al dente and the stock well absorbed.

    Add the cream and season with a little salt and plenty of pepper to taste. Cook over a high heat for a minute until the cream thickens and the cabbage is well coated. Serve very hot.

    Ham and gin with juniper berries

    This is a quick and simple supper dish even if it does seem a waste to burn the gin! Good served with mash.

    Serves 4

  • 50g unsalted butter
  • 10 juniper berries, coarsely crushed
  • 8 thick slices of good smoked ham
  • 2 tablespoons gin
  • Melt the butter gently in a very large frying pan. Fry the juniper berries for about 1 minute before adding the ham and cooking for a minute or so on each side. Remove the meat to a hot serving dish, warm the gin quickly in a ladle, then pour into the pan and ignite. Shake the pan until the flames die down, then pour the sauce over the ham.

    Serve at once

    Chicken breasts with juniper berries

    This marinade with juniper berries is also good with pork – particularly loin chops – and for barbeques.

    Serves 4

  • 3 teaspoons Sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon juniper berries
  • 1 large garlic clove, finely chopped
  • 2 large or 4 small chicken breasts, skinned and boned
  • 3-4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • lemon wedges to serve
  • Crush the salt and mix with the juniper berries and garlic. Rub this mixture into both sides of each chicken breast and leave for 30 minutes. Then pour over just enough oil to coat the meat thoroughly. Leave to marinate for at least 2 hours.

    If the chicken has soaked up all the oil, brush it with a little extra, then grill for 4-5 minutes each side until cooked through. Serve with any juices poured over, and with lemon wedges.

    Further recipes on the web can be found at Recipes4us