Five things you didn’t know about Juniper

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Juniper is the backbone of any gin, especially a traditionally distilled London Dry style. For us, it is magical not just for what it brings to the flavour of our gin, but also in some of the myth and mystery that surrounds it.

Here are five things you might not have known about our enigmatic friend:

It isn’t actually a berry.

It is the humble juniper that gives gin its unique flavour. Berry-like in appearance and texture, it is usually referred to as one. It is actually the female seed cone of a juniper tree, a type of conifer. In other words, a heavily disguised pine cone, enveloping the seed inside in its fleshy scales. The compounds in the essential oils that are extracted in the distillation process, pinenes and terpenes in particular, are similar in composition and flavour to those in the Scots pine we use in LoneWolf Gin. And it’s these compounds that give gin its resinous backbone and LoneWolf gin its subtle blue louche.

It’s mystical.

Juniper has been associated with having mystical properties since prehistoric times. In various ancient cultures it was either burned or sprigs scattered to protect against everything from evil spirits to famine. It is still used today in some Scottish Hogmanay ‘Saining of the House’ rituals, where a smouldering branch is wafted from room to room to purify the house. Chinese juniper is also one of the most popular species used in the art of bonsai, where they are seen as symbols of fertility, strength and long life.

It’s often used in cooking.

Juniper berries have long been used to make accompaniments and sauces for traditional British game dishes and fruit puddings. The spicy, rich, aromatic berries give depth to recipes as diverse as stews, terrines, and even as an addition to mustard. But it is our Nordic friends who really give juniper its chance to shine in everything from jams to cakes to cured smoked salmon.

If you’re feeling the urge to get creative in the kitchen, explore these Nordic and British dishes here:

Nordic recipes.
British recipes.

It has links to medicine. 

The Ancient Greeks used juniper for its believed digestive and physical stamina benefits. When the Dutch invented genever in the seventeenth century, it was partly with diuretic, anti-rheumatic and appetite stimulant properties in mind. Modern British medicine has yet to find supportable evidence for any of these claims, although our Austrian and Swiss cousins do include juniper in their respective Pharmacopoeias for its antibacterial, anti-fungal, antiviral, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory properties. We’re pretty sure we run quicker after a G&T too.

Where the snake oil salesmen and learned physicians do agree is that it is not safe for expectant mothers. Juniper consumption can cause miscarriages, and was often used in darker times to induce an unwanted birth.


It’s endangered.

British juniper is categorised as vulnerable and near-threatened. Grazing by deer and rabbits is the main animal menace to the growth of the slow-growing saplings. Root rot and fungus are the airborne threats. Our native juniper population is, like our human population, getting older and less fertile. As well as external dangers, it has a relatively uncommon botanical characteristic that doesn’t help its cause. Juniper is dioecious, which means that the male and female flowers grow on different trees. That means that unless another (opposite sex) juniper is nearby, the female flowers and male pollen may never meet. Which means no juniper berry. And no gin.

So unless we create the conditions for new, more fertile saplings to grow, we’ll be looking at a shortage of British juniper in future years. If you spot a sapling or shrub, make a note of its location and let Plantlife know.

Without action, they predict it will be extinct in Southern parts of the UK within 50 years.

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