The Eastern Red Cedar is really a juniper.

In the cobweb recesses of my mind I have two memories of junipers. One was to make a tea to “force out” measles*. The other was how horribly prickly they were when someone shoved you into them.

As for “forcing out” measles that is highly doubtful. Measles make themselves known without having to be prodded to debut by any conifer tea. However junipers do have the potent antiviral compound deoxypodophyllotoxin (DPT) which has been shown to be effective against viruses that cause the flu and herpes. So maybe juniper tea did have some effect on the intensity or duration of the measles.  The DPT is found in berries and the leaves, aka needles. I wonder if it is also in gin which is flavored with juniper.

Southern Cedar, Juniperus silicicola

Common in the eastern United States — officially east of the 100th meridian —  is Juniperus virginiana, top photo,  joo-NIP-er-us ver-jin-ee-AY-nuh. It is also the species most ornamental cultivars are bred from. Unfortunately this particular juniper is call the Eastern Red Cedar. It is not a cedar. It is a Juniper. The Southern Cedar, Juniperus silicicola, left, joo-NIP-er-us sill-liss-sih-KOLE-uh, also is not a cedar being a subspecies of the J. virginiana.   One can use the “berries” of those two “cedars” like juniper berries because they are junipers. The berries, however, are not berries. They are modified cones. Also while the foliage of many junipers can be used the foliage of the J. virginana and the J. silicicola cannot be used. Also to be avoided entirely are J. sabina and J. oxycedrus, both from southern Europe. J. sabina is often planted as an ornamental in the United States. Small junipers used in landscaping might be of European origin and not useable in any way. Make sure of their identification.

J. sabina, often planted in North America as an ornamental, cannot be used either berries or leaves.

Besides medicinal uses, which includes treating diabetes, the berries are employed for flavoring, most notably in gin and the French liqueur Chartreuse. It takes the “berries” two to three years to ripen. Mature but still green berries are used to flavor gin. Mature blue berries are used to flavor game. They are also used to flavor stuffing, marinades and stews. In Europe one cannot make authentic sauerbraten or sauerkraut without juniper berries. In the southern Alps a dark syrup is made from the berries and is traditionally eaten as a dessert with cream or hot milk. (Some berries are as much as 30% sugar.)

As with many herbs used medicinally or as a spice juniper berries should be used sparingly. Think flavoring, not food. They irritate the kidneys and are diuretic. Juniper extracts should be avoided. They may be fatal.  Florida’s Seminole Indians had many medical uses for the Easter Red Cedar. They used it to treat cold symptoms, swollen joints, stiff neck or back, swollen legs, eye diseases, fever, headache, dizziness and diarrhea.

J. communis, the most common juniper in northern climates around the globe.

The bush I was pushed into as a kid and pushed others into was J. communis, left, the most  common juniper in northern latitudes around the world, joo-NIP-er-us koh-MUNE-iss. It’s also the juniper that flavors gin. There are 13 species of Juniper in North America, two in Europe, some say 19 in North America and maybe 60 in the world. Definitely used by native Americans were J. californica, J. communis, J. communis var. montana, J. deppeana [aka J. pachyphlaea] J. horizontalis, J. monosperma, J. occidentalis, J. osterosperma [aka J. utahensis] J. scopulorum,  J. tetragona,  J. virginiana and Juniperus silicicola, the latter often called a variation of J. viriginana.

On the left is the bark of the red cedar (a Juniper) and on the right the bark of a white cedar, a Chamaecyparis thyoides

On the left is the bark of the red cedar (a Juniper) and on the right the bark of a white cedar, a Chamaecyparis thyoides

How the berries were used varied from tribe to tribe and species to species. The Acoma mixed the berries of the J. monosperma with chopped meat, put it into a clean deer stomach, then roasted it all. The Yavapai pulverized the berries of the J. deppeana, soaked them in water, put them in the mouth, sucked all the juice out, then spat out the solid matter. The Cahuilla dried the berries of the J. californica in the sun or ate them fresh. They also ground the berries into flour  and used them to make mush or bread. The Diegueno considered the previous species berries as famine food only. But the Kawaiisu Indians deseeded the same berries, pounded the berries into a meal, moistened, molded the meal into cakes, dried them then ate them. The Paiute took the berries from the J. occidentals and mixed them with mashed deer liver for food. Or, they stored them in a grass-lined holes in the ground for winter use. The Apache boiled the berries of the J. osteosperma and ate them plain. But the Mescalero took J. monosperma berries, roasted them, added water, and made the mixture into a gravy.

Elsewhere the berries of these junipers have been use: J. tetragoan (Mexico) J. bermudiana (Bermuda) J. drupacea (Europe and Middle East) and in Asia J. chinensis, J. conferta, J. recurva and J. rigida.

In some species of juniper young leaves look very different than older leaves.

One confusing element of identifying some junipers is that their juvenile leaves look different than their mature leaves, left. Young leaves of species like  J. virginiana and J. chinensis are pointed, sharp even. Older leaves are overlapping and scale-like. Other junipers have only pointy leaves, hard and sharp. Some have a mixture of the two.

Juniperus comes from the Dead Latin iuniperus. Where that came from is not known but the best linguistic guess is iuncus meaning reed or rush. That might be related to an earlier Egyptian word ganu meaning reed, cane, shrub or bush. Iuniperus does NOT mean young — as in “junior” or evergreen. That is Wikipathetica nonsense. Iuniperus did get translated into Le genevrier in French from whence we get the word “gin.”

Franciscus Sylvius created a medicine we now call gin.

Gin was invented by Dutch physician Franciscus Sylvius, right,  who wanted to make a diuretic medicine. He succeeded. In English the word “gin”  first appeared in print in 1714. It was a very inexpensive alcoholic beverage to produce and became extremely popular. Alexander Pope in 1738 described it as  “A spiritous liquor, the exorbitant use of which had almost destroyed the lowest rank of the People till it was restrained by an act of Parliament.” Actually Parliament passed Gin Acts in the 1730s and 1740s, which caused rioting. Everyone was swilling gin, kids to grannies, causing artist William Hogarth to engrave the print “Gin Lane” in 1751, below left.

Hogarth’s engraving Gin Lane show scenes of drunkeness and various illegal activities whereas his engraving of the same period, Beer Street, show happy, industrious people.

At one point of the 15,000 drinking places in London over half served only gin. More taxes and watering down the gin finally turned the alcoholic tide by the 1760s.  The reason why gin took off was it was cheap, particularly compared to foreign booze that was charged tariffs. But there was also a cultural element. Beer was view positively and gin negatively. Hogarth’s other famous print, “Beer Street” shows positive scenes. The negative connotations of the time are still found in English with disparaging terms such as gin joint and gin mills.

Louisiana’s Cajuns are the descendants of French Canadians that were forcibly driven from Nova Scotia. Longfellows poem, Evangeline, gained cult then cultural status representing the inhumanity of their expulsion.

There’s one more bit of linguistic history regarding the J. virginana. The early French to Canada called it baton rouge, or red stick because the bark and wood have a red tint. When the Acadians were driven out of Nova Scotia and went to Louisiana to be come Cajuns — read Longfellow’s Poem, Evangeline — they found the Southern Cedar and named the capital of Louisiana for it, Baton Rouge.

To reiterate the berries of J. virginana and J. silicicola (Eastern Red Cedar and Southern Cedar) can be used but not the foliage. J. sabina and J. oxycedrus are to be avoided completely, berries and leaves.

This handsom bird should properly be called the Juniper Waxwing.

As for wildlife the Cedar Waxwing likes the “berries” of the Eastern Red Cedar so much it was named after it. The J. virginiana also has one species of butterfly, the Juniper Hairstreak, that always lays it eggs only on the Eastern Red Cedar.

Bags can be made from the bark fiber of the Easter Red Cedar and the Southern Cedar.

* Did you know that measles might be a milder, human form of a fatal disease in animals? Researchers think measles came from distemper and jumped from dog to man about 4,000 years ago. Man befriended dog and dog gave him a disease. I had both kinds of measles when I was a kid, back to back, one right after the other. I was out of school for nearly a month… it was wonderful…

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{ 62 comments… read them below or add one }

Mary Beth September 27, 2016 at 12:17

I wild harvested berries in juniper trees in Sedona. I’d like to assume they are safe by what I read here, but would you tell me your thoughts about wild juniper tress growing in the desert?. They are a powdery blue green and I thought I’d rush some and add some to sauerkraut.

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Kerry August 1, 2016 at 12:15

Harvest Junipers in Oregon…I believe there is state $ to promote the logging of the trees. http://orsolutions.org/osproject/juniper

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Sharon Reeve July 25, 2016 at 19:38

You mention the cones (berries) of Juniperis cummunis have been used. Were they eaten? Do you know how they were used?

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Green Deane July 25, 2016 at 20:24

That is what the article is about.

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Kaitlin March 29, 2016 at 13:43

To see many photos of about 25 different species of juniper, http://botany.csdl.tamu.edu/FLORA/imaxxcup.htm is an excellent page. Scroll down to the Juniperus species to click on individual photos of each species.

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Elizabeth McGreevy January 27, 2016 at 16:03

Is Juniperus ashei toxic?

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Janet Deaver January 22, 2016 at 20:16

How do I help my Juniper thrive? It has blue berries the birds eat. Will spreading peanut butter on its trunk help to invite more insects. It has sap which runs but hasn’t during the winter. I had a Woodpecker visit once but haven’t seen him back.

Please tell me ways to ensure this very tall Juniper survives.

Thank you for your help. Can you e-mail me, please. Put in subject heading ‘Juniper.’

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James January 15, 2016 at 22:11

I live in the hill country around Austin and suffer from “cedar fever” every year. Can you take the berries from these cedar trees around here and make a tea or eat them some other way to build an immunity to “cedar fever”?

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Jimmy July 21, 2016 at 22:08

Yes, it is fairly common for people in the know.

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Debbid December 5, 2015 at 14:32

I have heard that you can make marinated capers out of juniper berries. Is there any truth to this?

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Green Deane December 14, 2015 at 16:09

Hmmm… young ones perhaps… if you go to my home page and type in capers in the search window you will find several plants whose parts can be used as capers. The most controversial is green elderberries.

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Jaclyn October 14, 2015 at 15:44

Do you know if it is possible to make bread yeast from juniper berries? I was told by a native Texan it was possible, but cannot find the info. Thank you!

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Green Deane October 14, 2015 at 15:54

You need to put a lot of blue berries (really cones) in some water with sugar and let them ferment for a week or so. Then drain that water, add sugar and some flour and nurse it long as any starter.

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Juniper leaves September 28, 2015 at 16:59

Was is the appropriate semi formal adjective or discrptor for juniper leaves

Scaly leaves?
Scales making up rough conifer needle like structutures?

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Carol September 17, 2015 at 09:22

Thank you for all that information. I am a homebrewer interested in making an authentic Finnish Sahti. It is an ancient ale made with the needles of Northern Juniper. I have found references to j. comunis comunis as Northern Juniper. The problem is that this plant is listed as toxic. What wuold the species of juniper in Finland be? The branches and needles were boiled. Then tne sparge water was run over them. Thank you for any help you may be able to provide. Carol, brewster.

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Tomi September 10, 2015 at 19:43

Hi,

Why are berries of J. oxycedrus best avoided? It was hugely exported from my region (Dalmatia) but not sure for the use..

Thanks

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Donna Putney September 7, 2015 at 20:48

Wow, Thanks for all your research! We have Eastern red cedar here, and I always wondered why some of the fruit was blue and some green. I saw a video that showed how to harvest the foliage for tea, and am glad to have seen your warning against this; if I understood you correctly? Also, Hubby would like to know if you know of a reason that some are more of a bluish color and some more of a green? In that same line; some around here are “weeping” and some are not. Any thoughts on that?

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Jerusha August 16, 2015 at 17:08

I have rocky mountain and Utah Junipers. I was told that I could make a yeast from the berries for bread and that the bark, leaves and berries were excellent, (when steeped for tea) for UTI’s and several other medical uses. this same person told me that basically every part of these two junipers is for human health and consumption. Is this accurate?

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Adamos July 14, 2015 at 16:33

Are all Junioer berries suitable for Gin distillation? There are 4 kinds of Juniperus here in Cyprus but not sure if suitable for Gin.

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Green Deane July 14, 2015 at 17:04

No. You have to be careful. Some junipers in your part of the world are toxic.

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Dawn June 14, 2015 at 13:35

I own a distillery and I want to harvest wild juniper from Colorado for my gin. As I have read the two dominant variety that grow wild here are edible, but I want to know the best time of year to harvest them? I went out this weekend and the Rocky Mountain Juniper had berries but the Utah Juniper did not, at least in the region where I was. Do you have any information about when these trees fruit and when the best time to harvest is?

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Green Deane June 15, 2015 at 12:29

Juniper berries (cones) aren’t seasonal per se. When things are just right the plants starts to make cones and it can take up to 1.5 years for them to go from light blue to dark blue/black. In theory if you want Juniper Berries in a particular stage you should be able to find them most of the time except the more harsh months.

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Brenda November 13, 2015 at 17:26

The males take 18 months to grow and females take 2-3 years. Our tree out front had berries last year, but none this year. I think that is what you were asking…

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Barbara Smith March 28, 2015 at 11:47

I have planted hundreds of Sargenti junipers on my hill. Are they edible?

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Green Deane March 30, 2015 at 18:49

That’s a hard one…. Some expert consider Sargentii junipers to be a variation of Juniperus chinensis (var. sargentii Viridis) or Green Sargent. Others consider them a separate genus. So it is hard to tell as J. chinensis has been used.

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Shelly February 21, 2015 at 22:15

I am in Idaho and I see Juniper berries all the time when I am out and about. When trying to identify bushes/trees that have edible berries, how can I know for sure which Juniper I have in front of me. Are there some clear identifiers to be on the lookout for?

Thanks!

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Green Deane February 22, 2015 at 05:48

Tom Elpel should be able to help. In that part of the world most of the low junipers should be J. communis but there are almost always local variations.

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Jane November 13, 2014 at 00:27

There is no better medicine in the world for UTI (men or woman) than Juniper berries. Grind up a tablespoon or two of berries. Let it sit in just enough Vodka to cover them, for about an hour or so. Top up with hot water. When cool run through a sieve and drink. 2 to 3 times a day. Works very quickly every time and I’m talking up drug resistant UTI.

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Susan October 17, 2014 at 00:03

The problem with communis is most people would have died of old age before it’s grown a meter. Chinensis is a much faster grower. (spartan variety apparently very fast). The obvious question therefore is whether chinensis berries are as edible as communis. I’ve used communis berries before for UTI and it worked almost instantly (ground up tablespoon of berries in a tot of vodka, leave for a few hours. add boiling water, strain and drink when cool) which might explain the constant old wives tale on web sites that it’s bad for your kidneys. Drug companies have a vested interest in steering people away from free stuff that works better! The only research on the kidney story comes from tests on rats and they were given excessive amounts. The amounts used medicinally are very small and for short periods of time. In my case two doses (see above) over 24 hours! Given the rise of superbugs due to our own hubris and stupidity I suggest people wake up quickly and start looking for alternatives. Not long now and antibiotics simply won’t work.

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Jess K July 28, 2014 at 21:58

Wow. HOW do you KNOW SO MUCH?? (Merely rhetorical, don’t respond to that). But seriously, you keep up with all of these crazy comments and questions — geez you outta set up one of those “Advice Stands” like Lucy in Peanuts. It’s not easy bein’ green I guess, but anyway, THANKS for the knowledge and cool history sidenotes!

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Jan Leaton July 16, 2014 at 01:40

Have: Cedar Digest; Cedar Post; Cedar Gram – already in retirement community. Help me “cook” it for our cook book title contest!

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Jan Leaton July 16, 2014 at 01:29

Naming a cookbook for my community “Cedarfield.” Suggestions?

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Jan May 30, 2014 at 22:05

You know what’s also fun? Taking a spill on a ski slope and landing with your face straight in a Juniper bush.

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Gary March 23, 2014 at 01:14

I grew up having that black syrup every morning for breakfast on bread with butter. As a child it was coined, “Dad’s brown jelly”. I’ve since moved to the US Northeast and over the last 25 years have never seen anything commercially available. Occasionally the family mails a jar and now there are a couple Swiss importers. I don’t understand why it hasn’t caught on in the United States. It is supposedly loaded with iron and other marketable ingredients.

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Green Deane March 23, 2014 at 18:25

You mean Juniper jelly? Never heard of it. Interesting.

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Gary March 24, 2014 at 12:08

It’s not a jelly. That’s just what we called it as children. It’s as thick as honey and darker than molassis. It has got a very distinct flavor – it’s just amazing and very good in tea.

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Karen December 26, 2013 at 14:08

I’ve heard that juniper/eastern red cedar makes an excellent bow wood for long bows. What do you think of junipers for bow making?

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Green Deane December 26, 2013 at 14:38

The truth is I don’t truly know. But there are several bow makes on the Green Deane Forum with many threads about making bows and wood selection. http://eattheweeds.com/forum/index.php/topic,4325.0.html

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Larry December 16, 2013 at 19:39

SO I live in central Texas , what variety of Cedar do you think it is?
they are really loaded with berries this year, and I was running traps and thought, there must be a use for the berries, the birds really like them.
I see Cedar wax wing and other birds eating them

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Green Deane December 16, 2013 at 19:47

Thanks for writing. What color are the “berries?”

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Justin December 10, 2013 at 14:41

Hey Green Deane,

I am preparing some ground for a community garden which has been used for the occasional parked car (but I don’t want to take any chances). I was thinking of using Juniperus communis as a bioremediator, but I haven’t discovered where the plant would store these toxins or if the cones would still be safe to eat.

Thank you.

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Green Deane December 10, 2013 at 14:44

Well, the first issue is to find some research that says the junipers store bad stuff. A lot of plants don’t.

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Nic November 10, 2013 at 01:49

Hello Green,
I collected juniper berries from a local public hunting area for a recipe. After a few hours in the small jar I was storing them in I found larva of a number to be concerning but not alarming. I searched the net and came up with little. They don’t look like the Juniper Hairstreak larva and as far as I could find Juniper Borers are in the wood itself though they kind of resemble them. They are 1-2cm long no more than 5mm in diameter white with a brown head and emerging from some of the berries. I thought to ask here before I tried to find an entomologist to see if you had any advise as to the usability of the cones and how long they will keep or how to keep them from going bad and maybe getting rid of the bugs.
Thanks

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Green Deane November 11, 2013 at 18:36

As far as I know they are used bugs and all.

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Ben Pressman November 2, 2013 at 18:21

How about the red cones of the relatively rare Pinchot Juniper, which occurs in Western Oklahoma? Are they edible?

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Green Deane November 2, 2013 at 19:24

Tull (author of Edible Plants of Texas and the Southwest) impies they are but never says so directly.

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Butch October 19, 2013 at 07:04

Hi, did an 80gal batch of beer and used 12oz of crushed cedar berries from starwest botanicals in the boil for flavor. Despite 2 yeast pitches it would not ferment. Might the berries have killed off the yeast? Thanks.

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Green Deane October 19, 2013 at 15:38

Generally said, no. In fact wild juniper berries have natural yeast on them (and that might be the problem. The provider of the juniper berries might have dosed them with a yeast killer which then did a number on your beer yeast.)

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Butch October 20, 2013 at 13:10

Had wood betony, sweet woodruff, and sweet flag in there also, all of which I’ve brewed with successfully before. Maybe some bad combo? Thanks for your thoughts on this.

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Joyce E Forager June 3, 2013 at 13:24

Thanks again for the wonderful article , Mr. Deane. I make mead as a hobby, and I have used common juniper berries to flavor it. Could you please inform me about the following topics: can common juniper be cultivated here in spite of our Florida heat, and can the berries and foliage of J. chinesis be used to flavor alcohol? I’m guessing that the needles of J. virginica would not be safe to use for seasoning, based on your article. Thanks!

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Serge Graul March 26, 2013 at 11:45

Hello mister Green Deane.

I see in one of my books ,one indien give somme blue berries from the red
cedar,to one men for clean him,for his diabete.
is possible you can talk to me ,were I can find this blue berries.
Thank-you for your help.
sorry for my bad english.
Serge.

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Green Deane March 28, 2013 at 06:55

You can buy juniper berries in stores that sell cooking spices.

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Jason January 22, 2013 at 08:11

Here in Central Texas, we have an overabundance of Ashe Juniper or Mountain Cedar trees. It’s a very invasive species and the bane of range managers and land owners.

How does the Juniperus ashei fit into this matrix? Other than for making fence posts, are there any other uses for this tree?

All the best,
Jason

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Green Deane January 22, 2013 at 08:41

Yes they can be used, sparingly. Here is an excellent article about said (scroll down.)

http://www.utexas.edu/utpress/excerpts/exturrem.html

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Jamie W January 17, 2013 at 19:12

I live in Alabama and have 5 acres full of Eastern Red Cedars (J. virginiana) and didn’t know the berries were edible. What time of year and color should they be before trying one? Thanks!

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pam January 5, 2013 at 21:28

The “cedar trees” we have in the Ozarks I understand are called junipers as well. You seem to be refering to shrubs more than trees. Would the berries of both the “soft cedar” and the one that is sticky as all get out be edible?

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Green Deane January 6, 2013 at 20:33

I don’t know what species those might be (soft cedar and the sticky one) so I can’t say.

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Paul December 2, 2012 at 14:58

I live in the Spanish Pyrenees where junipers grow everywhere. I’m certain they are J. communis. The fruits of these bushes (and trees) though are never blue. When ripe they are reddish to black. The local wild boar seem to relish eating them! All the references seem to indicate that the berries should be blue…… but they are not! Have I identified correctly? BTW they seem to taste ok (only one!).

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Green Deane December 3, 2012 at 06:06

I would be very careful. There are some toxic junipers in Europe.

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Paul December 8, 2012 at 06:08

Hello Green Dean…. thanks for the reply. I took your advice and armed with google translate I searched through the spanish pages on junipers. What I have here (amongst others), is J.oxycedrus. The berries whilst being reddish brown are edible and can be used in the same way as J. communis. Identification is distinct. Apart from the colour of the fruits, the leaves on J. oxycedrus have 2 white stripes running the length of the leave, whereas J. communis only has one white stripe. Isn’t nature great at given us clues once we know what to look for! Finally I’d like to say a big thank you for creating this site. I find the information and videos fascinating and appreciate the time and effort you put into this and your generosity in sharing your knowledge. If you ever find yourself in the Spanish Pyrenees I would be delighted to show you around.

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Leon August 15, 2012 at 04:08

DTP. Isn’t that the thing that’s recommended for treatment of alopecia?

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Green Deane August 15, 2012 at 10:04

No. Two different DPTs. The DPT in junipers is Deoxypodophyllotoxin. The DPT used to treat alpecia is Diphenylcyclopropenone.

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