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Gin and juniper go well together, and gin likely wouldn't be the same if manufactured without these fragrant, pungent berries, but juniper itself has a variety of other uses. In food, for instance, dried, crushed juniper berries add flavor to meat dishes, sauces, stuffing and fruitcakes or preserves. Juniper berries have a variety of medicinal uses as well, and have long been a part of the herbalists repertoire. Additionally, when it comes to warding off the "evil eye" or predatory demons, juniper has long been a stand by, at least in some ancient cultures.
Juniper berries are the ingredient in gin that gives it its distinctive taste. Gin recipes vary considerably and can consist of a wide array of citrus and botanical ingredients, but they almost always include a high percentage of juniper. The traditional way of adding juniper to gin is by first distilling a pure alcohol, then redistilling it with the juniper berries and other ingredients. This process results in what is called "distilled gin." An alternate, though less respected, way to impart juniper flavor in gin is to add essential oils or flavors to the pure spirits by simply mixing the flavoring into the alcohol before bottling. The resulting product is called "composite gin."
Meat dishes such as rabbit, veal, beef, pork and duck can be enhanced with juniper berries as well. It can also be used in sweet and savory sauces as well as stuffing, particularly when prepared to accompany meat dishes. In some of the denser desserts, including fruitcake and mincemeat, the pungent flavor of juniper adds to the mingle of sweet and spicy flavoring. The best way to preserve the flavor of juniper berries for culinary use is to keep dried, whole berries on hand and then crush, chop or grind them right before use.
Medicinally, juniper can help relieve gas and stomach upset, and other digestive problems. Juniper has diuretic properties and is used to treat urinary tract problems as well. Egyptians have been using juniper medicinally as far back as 1500 BC. Romans were familiar with the herb predominately for treating gastrointestinal problems.
As a medicine, juniper berries can be consumed as an extract or a tea. Though generally safe in small doses, long-term use can cause complications. It is best to take any herbal medicine under the observation of a trained herbalist or physician. Juniper should be avoided by pregnant women and people with kidney problems.
Consumables aside, juniper berries have carved another place in history. In Scotland, it was believed that juniper berries could protect people and homes against the "evil eye." This was a term people used to indicate witches. Additionally, in Tibetan culture it was believed that juniper could keep demons at bay.
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