Winter is definitely the time to be thinking about juniper berry recipes!
Juniper berries are a spice used in many different cuisines around the world for centuries. They have found their way into European, Asian, and Middle Eastern recipes, as well as American food. They have a slightly bitter taste, but they are very versatile in the kitchen.
I have used juniper berries on wild game such as venison, as well as a flavoring for vegetables and even desserts.
The flavor is best described as mildly resinous with a tang of citrus and pine. The aroma is similar to gin!
If you’ve never cooked with juniper berries before, they should be handled with care, since their flavor is so intense that it can easily overwhelm a dish if too many are used. For most households, mine included, a couple of cupfuls will last all year.
Below are a few of my favorite juniper berry recipes that I use regularly and have adapted from my two favorite wild cuisine books: Forage, Harvest, Feast – A Wild-Inspired Harvest by Marie Viljoe and The Forager’s Pantry – Cooking With Wild Edibles by Ellen Zachos. If you’re into wild foods cuisine, then I couldn’t recommend these two books more.
I especially love that the emphasis is on plants that can be sustainably harvested or which have the potential for commercial growing, such as lamb’s quarters, serviceberries, and nettles. Also highlighted is how we can easily transform traditional weeds and invasive plants into tempting dishes. How soul-satisfying to turn the chore of weeding out destructive garlic mustard and pesky purslane into harvesting for pesto or as a replacement for spinach or other traditionally prepared greens.
Collecting and Preparing
Taste the berries before you pick them to ensure that they are edible. As a general rule, juniper berries and other junipers should have a pleasant resinous taste and a hint of sweetness when ripe.
Gather ripe berries from late fall through winter and early spring. Where I live in the Northeast, I find the ripeness and taste to be at their best in late winter.
If you’d like to save your berries for later, simply put them in a large jar. They’ll keep their flavor for at least a year! I use a spice grinder to grind juniper berries, wiping the blades immediately after, as the resin can gum up them in no time.
Want to learn more about Juniper Berries and their benefits and medicinal uses? Take a look at this article Incredible Juniper Berries: Identification, Uses & Benefits
Juniper Berry Recipes
1) Juniper Sugar
Freshly gathered juniper berries add wild aroma and flavor to baking, marinades, cured meats, slow braises, and stews involving duck, rabbit, or venison. Freezing your supply ensures that it remains as fresh as the day you made it. (adapted from Forage, Harvest, Feast – A wild Inspired Cuisine by Marie Viljoen).
- 1/4 Cup fresh juniper berries
- 1 Cup sugar
- Grind the juniper berries in a spice grinder until very fine (a mortar and pestle can be used).
- Mix the pulverized berries (they will be moist…that’s okay) thoroughly with the sugar.
- Store in a container to use immediately, or freeze for later use and to keep fresh.
2) Chai Masala
I am a huge tea drinker and absolutely adore Masala chai tea. Typically, it’s a spiced Indian tea, that includes spices such as cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, black tea, and milk. But the word masala translates to mixture or blend of spices, so there’s no reason not to create your own version. Here is my version of a homegrown and foraged masala chai tea.
This juniper berry recipe makes 1 cup of wild masala chai tea. I like to premix this spice blend to have on hand when the mood strikes. Simply store in a sealed jar for future use. Enjoy!
(adapted from The Forager’s Pantry – Cooking With Wild Edibles by Ellen Zachos
- 1 teaspoon dried ginger root
- 1/4 spice berries
- 1/4 teaspoon spruce tips
- 2 dried juniper berries
- 1 cup water
- 1 tablespoon loose leaf black tea or 1 bag unflavored black tea
- Honey, to taste
- Combine the spicesand water in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes.
- Remove the pan from the stove and add the tea. If using a tea bag, cut it open and dump the leaves into the hot water. Stir to combine, cover, and let steep for 2 minutes.
- Add milk and honey. Return to a boil. Remove from heat and strain into a mug.
3) Juniper Berry Icing
This juniper berry-infused icing is the perfect accompaniment to baked goods such as gingersnaps or other wild and spicy sweets. (adapted from The Forager’s Pantry – Cooking With Wild Edibles by Ellen Zachos)
- 1/3 cup juniper berries
- 3/4 cup half-and-half
- 1 pound confectioners sugar
- Use a mortar and pestle to lightly crush the juniper berries, but don’t get too carried away. You don’t want to pulverize them, just expose more surface area to better infuse the flavor into the cream.
- Combine the crushed berries and half-and-half in a saucepan and heat, continually stirring to avoid scorching.
- Remove the liquid from the heat when bubbles start to form around the edges of the pan.
- Allow to steep and cool on the counter to room temperature, then move to the fridge to continue steeping for 4-5 hours.
- Strain the berries out.
- Add the confectioner’s sugar to a bowl, then stir in the half-and-half, little by little until the icing reaches the right consistency.
- Transfer the icing to a squeeze bottle, pastry bag, or ziplock baggie with the corner snipped off. Drizzle the icing onto your baked good.
4) Juniper Syrup
Sweet and resinous, juniper syrup is a taste of the distant wilds. I use it in mixed drinks and mocktails. It also adds dimension and aroma to roasted veggies and fruit, and to the pan juices of roasted meat. (adapted from Forage, Harvest, Feast – A wild Inspired Cuisine by Marie Viljoen)
- 1/2 Cup fresh juniper berries
- 2 Cups water
- 2 Cups sugar
- Grind the juniper berries a little at a time (a couple of tablespoons at a time). Be sure to wipe your grinder blades immediately afterward.
- Bring the water to a boil and add the sugar; stir well until all of the sugar is dissolved.
- Add the ground juniper berries and simmer for 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and let the mixture cool completely.
- Cover and allow the mixture to infuse for 12 hours or overnight.
- Strain through a fine-mesh sieve and then again through cheesecloth to remove any fine particles.
- Pour into clean glass bottles and store in the fridge. May also be frozen, where it will taste fresh for up to a year.
Hopefully, the list above will inspire you to try out some new juniper berry recipes yourself. It’s a great time of year for it, as the berries are at their peak in terms of flavor. There are many different ways to use them in food, so be sure to experiment and find out what you like best for your own cooking style.
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