Juniper berries are produced by several different types of junipers, which are coniferous plants. They are female seed cones that are not really berries, but have scales that are both raised and fleshy. Juniper berries are derived from the juniper shrub, and are evergreens that are part of the Juniperus genus. They originate in the northern hemisphere and are commonly used as natural and herbal treatments.
All types of junipers produce juniper berries. However, not all of them are edible due to their extreme bitterness. Some well-known species of juniper berries are Juniperus communis, Juniperus sabina (which is toxic and therefore inedible), Juniperus californica, Juniperus deppeana, Juniperus phoenicea, Juniperus oxycedrus and Juniperus drupacea.
In terms of diameter, juniper berries are usually between four and 12 millimeters. Juniper berry scales and fleshy and raised, and together all form a solid covering for the seeds. When the berries are young, they are a green color. Over a course of approximately a year and a half, however, the berries turn into a blackish-purple color with maturity.
Juniper berries offer various culinary purposes. In Nordic cuisine, the berries add a strong flavor to meat dishes, particularly wild birds (such as woodcock and blackbird). They are also used as gin flavoring, particularly for Dutch liquor. One variety of juniper berries (Juniperus communis) is used to make a spice in European fare. In Central European cuisine (particularly Hungarian, German, Austrian and Czech), juniper berries often accompany roasts. The berries enhance the flavors of meat, stew, stuffing, sausages and soups, and are often used for marinades and sauerkraut.
The oil of juniper berries is often used as a herbal treatment. It is used as a stomachic, carminative and diuretic to treat conditions and symptoms such as bladder and kidney diseases and indigestion. Juniper berries often are used to manage chest discomfort as well, particularly in France. It is also used for bladder conditions.
Juniper berries rarely cause any side effects. However, use of juniper berries for an extended period of time could reduce the body's level of potassium and also result in fluid loss.