Thursday, November 08, 2007

More On Redcedar ...

The Cedar Grove From The Front Door

Comments left on yesterday's post about Eastern Redcedar have sent me scurrying to find out more about this species and its connection to the making of gin. The latin name for this species is, juniperus virginiana. Juniperus scopulorum, or Rocky Mountain Juniper is the western counterpart to Eastern Redcedar, according to Michael A. Dirr, in his book, Dirr's Hardy Trees and Shrubs, An Illustrated Encyclopedia.

As a child, I remember my mother cooking with juniper berries that she picked from a cedar tree growing outside our kitchen window. She added them to saurkraut as it simmered on a back burner of the stove and to some meat dishes, mostly game meats like venison. My parents both hunted when they were young and taught us about foraging for wild plants for food. My mother was an expert on wild mushrooms. One of my brothers has taken up the post she had to abandon as she aged and became ill. When they are in season, he collects mushrooms in Vermont and New Hampshire supplying many a fine restaurant with the treasure he collects in the woods.

But back to junipers and gin! According to Joe and Teresa Graedon, hosts of The People's Pharmacy, aired on many an NPR station, juniper communis, or Common Juniper is the one used for making gin. It is also listed in Dirr's book, but with no reference made to the gin part. I haven't found other references to this particular species being used for gin in my other reading. According to Dirr, this cedar grows mainly in New England.

Juniper berries have been used for centuries in herbal medicines by ancient Greek, Arab and Native American healers. It can be used as a diuretic and to treat maladies of the bladder and kidneys. It can also be used to "pique the appetite," as an aid for digestion and for relieving flatulence or good ole common gas. Other uses include being used topically to treat wounds and inflammed joints as in arthritis.

According to Karma Ashley in her on online leaflet entitled, Juniper Berries, a Dr. Sylvuis, discovered gin in the Netherlands in 1650, while he was looking for a medicine to treat kidney disorders. Commercial production began around 1655.

5 comments:

marja-leena said...

Thanks for this information.! Juniper trees, eh. Funny how our familiar trees differ in other parts of the world. The junipers that I know here are shrubs but I've a lot to learn about tree identification.

deirdre said...

This is so interesting. I used to use juniper berries in venison dishes a long time ago. I had no idea the juniper was related to the cedar. One of my life goals is to be able to identify trees.

Isabelle said...

Lovely tree posts - educational, too!

Lucy said...

Good with pork too! the leaves of the shrubs have a similar perfume...

paris parfait said...

It's so interesting to learn more about juniper trees and juniper berries. As for mushroom-hunting, it's nice your brother has the skill - I worry about those who don't know anything about mushrooms picking them from the woods and cooking them, without knowing if they're (a) edible or (b) poisonous! :)