Juniper – Ancient protector of health & home
This time of year always has me reminiscing about childhood Christmases in Germany. With the treasured memories of hushed anticipation and cheerful traditions the one thing that stands out strongly is the food of the season. The cold weather is a perfect time to dish up warming, rich meals of game. A particular flavour springs to mind, Juniper – and this is what I have chosen as the herb of the month for December.
Juniper – Juniperus communis – is an evergreen tree which grows to 2-4 meres in height (6-13ft). It has needle like leaves and bears berries which over two years ripen from green to blue-black. Growing throughout the northern hemisphere, it is said that those areas with warmer summers supply the most aromatic berries.
The juniper has been used for shelter for the stranded traveller in times of old, protecting from the elements. The theme of protection was carried through in medieval Europe where branches being burned on the hearth to ward off spirits and protect from the plague. “…a counterpoison, resister of the pestilence and excellent against the biting of venomous beasts”. (Nicholas Culpeper, 1653) Planting a juniper beside your front door will keep witches from entering as they need to count every branch and twig – this will keep her occupied for a long time and make it pretty easy to identify her. Wear a sprig around your neck to protect against attacks from animals and snakes.
Well known as the main ingredient of gin, juniper berries have many other uses which may not be as well known. Mecicinally, juniper berries have antiseptic, anti-inflammatory and digestive properties. Externally they are used to ease joint pains, rheumatism and gout. Internally they are very useful to reduce gas and aid digestion.
In the kitchen juniper berries are a must when cooking game or most meats for that matter. The German dish of sauerkraut is flavoured with juniper as are many rich marinades and pickles. Very few berries are needed to impart a pungent full flavour. Caution: Juniper is a uterine stimulant and should not be used in therapeutic doses by pregnant women and people with kidney complaints.
Some recipes for you to try:
An Australian roast lamb recipe using a juniper berry spice rub. “Roast lamb is a favourite Australian family dinner that we have all grown up on. Try this twist on the classic roast that uses a meat rub of juniper berries, peppercorns and fresh rosemary. It’s utterly delicious and makes a great pan gravy too.”
Herb & Berries Footbath
1 teaspoon dried sage
1 teaspoon dried rosemary
10 juniper berries
5 whole cloves
Place the ingredients in a cheesecloth or a large tea ball.
Fill a foot tub with boiling water and place the bundle in the water.
Let it steep until the water is cool enough for your feet.
Sit back and enjoy this invigorating footbath. Afterwards moisturise.
If you are not familiar with juniper berries, most good supermarkets and delis will have them dried. Try something new 🙂