The common juniper, Juniperus communis, is the most widespread coniferous plant in the world. This evergreen member of the cypress family probably grows wild in the woods right behind your home. Junipers have a three-year fruiting cycle. They produce flowers the first year, and green berries appear the next. The berries ripen and turn blue from September to October of their third year. So each mature plant will have some combination of green and blue berries in any given year. While juniper berries are free for the taking, they don‘t come without a price. Wear sturdy gloves and protective clothing when you pick the fruits because the leaves are heavily armed with sharp, stiff spines.
Watch your chosen juniper plants for ripening berries beginning near the end of summer. You’ll want to harvest plants with as many ripe blue fruits as possible. Green berries aren’t suitable for dry curing.
Tie each end of a short piece of rope to the handle of a small plastic pail. Place the rope around the back of your neck. This will free up both of your hands for handling juniper berries, and it’s a handy little device for carrying them.
Spread an old sheet around the base of the juniper bush. Grasp a branch with a gloved hand and shake it. The ripest blue berries will drop easily from the limb onto the sheet.
Pluck remaining ripe berries from the plant by hand.
Lay an old sheet out in a shady spot in the yard and dump the berries onto it. Spread them out and leave them for a couple of hours. Insects that you may have inadvertently collected will fly or scurry away. Inspect the berries and discard any brown, green or damaged fruits. Take the remainder indoors for cleaning and processing.