And so we move on to "J", and for this letter, I could have chosen jasmine, but preferred juniper berries instead, because they are a lot more accessible as a spice and not nearly as often discussed in this blog.
Most of us are probably familiar with juniper’s refreshing, woody and peppery aroma through gin. And gin is wonderful indeed - probably one of the most refreshing and interesting alcoholic beverages ever created. But there is more ways to enjoy juniper besides in gin and tonic.
Juniper (Juniperus communis) is a small conifer tree (or a shrub) that is generously widespread across the Northern Hemisphere - throughout Europe, Asia and North America. Its berries are in fact the tree’s cones, which only have 3 or 6 scales which are often fused, concealing this plant’s seeds. They are called berries because of their glossy, dark blue-black appearance. They take as long as 2-3 years to ripen and turn from green colour to blue-black.
Juniper is an unusual spice: it’s the one and only truly European spice (native to Europe than then imported from tropical countries). In fact, the highest grade berries that are used for culinary purposes are collected in Macedonia and Albania. Its main culinary use is in rubbing, marinades and sauces for wild game, as well as salmon. It is also traditionally used in sauerkraut and in various cooked cabbage dishes (i.e.: red cabbage with apples).
Juniper has valuable medicinal properties as an antiseptic and anti-bacterial. It was considered a cleansing, purifying plant and was used as such by the ancient Egyptians, who burnt it in their temples, and in Ayurvedic medicine. Juniper is especially powerful in cleansing the urinary tract of cystitis and infections - which might be why it is associated with male sexual health and partly why it’s considered an aphrodisiac. Native Americans used juniper berries as a contraceptive (don’t try that at home!), and to suppress appetite. It might also lower blood sugar and there was some research in its aids in controlling insulin levels in type 2 diabetics – but there are some concerns about it lowering it too much... In aromatherapy, it is used for similar effects as it has been in Europe since medieval times (in the concoctions that preceded gin): cleanse the body of toxins, cellulites, reduce inflammation, treat gout and rheumatism, clear cystitis and the like, and chase away colds and flu.
Gin is a component in several alcoholic beverages. The berries contain dextrose, which can be easily fermented to produce alcohol – a Juniper “brandy” (and in fact, many juniper essential oils are not actually steam distilled, but are a by product of this process). The Dutch and Belgians are known to be the first to create gin, along with other herbs and spices such as coriander, citrus peel and caraway - a concoction that was originally designed as a stomachic aid and to treat colds, gout etc. In this regard gin is not unlike most European liquors (and probably has been around in a different version as early as the 11th century). The name “gin” originates from “jenever” – juniper in Dutch or “genièvre” in French). Gin began as a medicinal concoction to treat stomach ailments, pain relief for lumbago (back pain) and it made its way to England after the 80 year war in the 17th century – the English soldiers discovered that it relaxes them before battle, leading to its title “Dutch courage”. Ironically, what began as a medicine for good health, has become a real problem in London – where gin was cleaner than water, and the entire city was intoxicated beyond belief, and it has become infested with home stills for poor quality gin flavoured liquors (usually highly sweetened to mask the vile aroma of turpentine which was often used in the drink rather than the true juniper berries). A far cry from the elegant and sophisticated London dry gins we can enjoy today. London has absorbed so much gin, to the point that theatre performances had to be cancelled because not only the audience but also the actors were too drunk to carry the shows… That is the historical reason for various regulations and rules that popped up regarding gin in 18th century London (and the various gin classifications and rules).
In skin and body care, juniper oil is used in soaps and aftershave for men because of its beautiful clean fragrance. It is also used in cosmetics to treat acne and oily skin.
But we’ve digressed far from the topic of this article: the aphrodisiac properties of juniper. First, in logical and analytical terms - in aromatherapy, juniper is used for it’s beneficial properties to the nervous system: it reduces anxiety, nervous tension and alleviates stress-related symptoms. It also lowers the blood pressure and reduces anxiety – all good things that can ease a less-confident person into a more relaxed state of mind. It has protective attributions in folklore and myth, and whether the person using it possesses this knowledge – feeling protected and secure certainly can help boost self esteem and other emotions that nourish personal relations and intimacy.
Juniper’s sensual aspect is subtle and not quite as easy to interpret as an aphrodisiac. It has a dry, elegant, spicy aroma that is not nearly as harsh as other coniferous notes, and that’s where its charm lies. The berries bare striking similarity in size and shape to those of allspice; and this is also true to their aroma. There is a peppery, warm yet clean dryness to them, which makes them smell sexy and masculine.
For the foodies among you – you must try at least once in your life the Espionage chocolate bar I've created with CocoaNymph. It has smoked salt and juniper and is like nothing else that ever touched your lips. Juniper berries can also be beautifully incorporated into your own personal mélange of Ras El Hanout.
The Sexiest Gin & Tonic Ever
2oz Gabriel Boudier’s Saffron Gin
3oz Blood Orange or Vanilla Bean Dry Soda
Slice of blood orange, for garnish
Use juniper berry oil in a relaxing, purifying bath blend with oils such as frankincense, cardamom, green cognac and ginger. In a diffuser in the bedroom, you may place a drop each of juniper, cypress and clary sage to create a clean, fresh atmosphere and clear the space for new love.
“Gin & Tonic” Silly yet Sensual Bath or Massage Blend
1 drop green cognac absolute
2 drops juniper essential oil*
2 drops lime essential oil
Add to a bath or to 1oz almond oil for a fun-tastik massage.
Please note: Essential oils are highly potent materials so use with care! Juniper oil is counter indicated for pregnant women, children under 12, as well as individuals suffering from kidney disease or cancer. This may also be true for cooking with the berries, so check with your health practitioner before indulging in a juniper overdose!
Interesting info about using juniper berries in cooking
History of gin
Culinary uses for gin
Perfumes containing a respectable proportion of juniper berry are mostly masculine, as it adds a woody, elegant note that is clean and dry - to the point that it almost gives perfumes a masculine character by default: Bon Zai, Bois d'Hiver, Coriolan (Guerlain), l'Herbe Rouge, Ormonde Man (Ormonde Jayne), Polo (Ralph Lauren), Rebellius, Sombre Negra (Yosh), Terre de Bois (Miller Harris) and too many others to keep count of...