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768px-Juniperus_communis berries ripe and unripe

Common Juniper (Juniperus communis) with ripe (purple/blue) and unripe (green) berries. This is the one to look for if it grows in your area. (By: Pt GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2)

Season: Spring & Summer

Urban, Rural or Both: Both

Juniper Berries. There are many different trees in the Juniper (Juniperus) family. There are three native Junipers that I know of in the Eastern part of North America, the Common Juniper (Juniperus communis), the Creeping Juniper (Juniperus horizontalis) and a tree called the Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana). It is oddly called a Cedar, even though it is not a Cedar, but a Juniper. Very commonly found in nurseries for sale is the Chinese Juniper (Juniperus chinensis) and hybrids of it with other Junipers. Because of this, this one is commonly found in yards in cities. Hybrids of the Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana) and the Creeping Juniper (Juniperus horizontalis) can be found in Southern Ontario on sandy and rocky sites that get harsh winter winds, such as near lakes.

The "berries" (not really berries technically, but they look like berries - they are really cones) are used as spices and medicine. They are very tiny (about half the diameter of a small pea) and have a blueish "bloom" or dusty surface that wipes off easily when touched.

Caution: Do not use the European Juniperus sabina and Juniperus oxycedrus for food at all. They are sold at nurseries, and the berries are not edible. Also, do not use berries from the commonly sold hybrid known as the Pfitzer Juniper (Juniperus × pfitzeriana). I also strongly suggest not using the Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana) and any of its hybrids, though Native Americans did use this one, there is the possibility the seeds are slightly toxic. I only can recommend three, though there are others that are said to be safe to eat. The three are: Common Juniper (Juniperus communis), the Creeping Juniper (Juniperus horizontalis) and the Chinese Juniper (Juniperus chinensis). The first choice is the Common Juniper (Juniperus communis).

Juniper berries from the Common Juniper are used to flavor Gin, some beers and are used as the spice for sauces for foods. This is not a berry to make a meal of, just eat a couple at a time or use a few for flavoring sauces. Often you will read they are too strong to eat fresh, I don't feel that way. I do eat them fresh. My reasons are twofold. One is that I really like the taste of them, and a few eaten on a walk one at a time is really tasty to me. The taste lingers on for a long time after eating them, and I find it very pleasant. It is a fragrant taste - nothing else like it. I have to admit, when I first started eating them, I wasn't too keen on them. Now I quite like them.

Berries from the Common Juniper are known to reduce inflammation in the body. For a few days after eating them I personally notice a difference, especially with my knees. There is folk remedy for arthritis that is popular now using Gin and Golden Raisins. I've tried it, and it does seem to help. Good quality Gin is made with Common Juniper berries, so I tried just eating the Juniper berries instead, and found the effect was the same to better - and a lot cheaper.

Growing this plant in your home garden:

For detailed growing instructions, go to my Wild Foods Home Garden website Juniper page.

Recipe search on the web here (Google search) and here (Bing search).

USDA distribution map and plant profile for all Junipers in North America here.

The Biota of North America Program (BONAP) distribution map of all Junipers in North America here. BONAP map color key here.

Common Juniper

Common Juniper (Juniperus communis)

Leaves grow like spiky versions of Yew (Taxus) leaves. Yews, which are very poisonous, have berries that when unripe are green and could be mistaken by someone unfamiliar with both - so if you are in the learning stage, compare the pictures of the Yew in the Yew Berry section with the pictures below of the Juniper.

Juniper Berries are almost perfectly spherical, while unripe Yew Berries have a hollow round hole in the bottom that extends to the seed inside. The foliage of the Juniper is scratchy and prickly feeling, while the Yew is soft to the touch - this is an important identifying feature of Junipers. The Juniper is a dusty blueish in color, while the Yew is a dark green with no dusty look. Once you know the difference, you will never mistake them.

Common Juniper (Juniperus communis) range. Distribution map courtesy of the USGS Geosciences and Environmental Change Science Center, originally from "Atlas of United States Trees" by Elbert L. Little, Jr. .


Common Juniper (Juniperus communis). This is a nice example of what a mature Common Juniper would look like. (By: H. Zell GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2)


Common Juniper (Juniperus communis). (By: Chris Cant Attribution 2.0 Generic)


Common Juniper (Juniperus communis) illustration. I find the work from this 1885 book remarkable in the quality of detail (By: Prof. Dr. Otto Wilhelm Thomé Flora von Deutschland, Österreich und der Schweiz 1885, Gera, Germany)


Common Juniper (Juniperus communis) ripe for harvest. These berries (actually they are conifer cones believe it or not) look to be perfect 2nd year ones which have better flavor. (By: MPF GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2)

dried common juniper berries

Common Juniper (Juniperus communis) berries (cones) dried and for sale in Italy in a market. (By: Giovanni Dall'Orto)

Creeping Juniper

Creeping Juniper (Juniperus horizontalis). Also known as the Creeping Cedar.

Creeping Juniper (Juniperus horizontalis) range. Distribution map courtesy of the USGS Geosciences and Environmental Change Science Center, originally from "Atlas of United States Trees" by Elbert L. Little, Jr. .


Creeping Juniper (Juniperus horizontalis). Good example of one and the type of area you are likely to find it. This one is from Newfoundland, Canada. (By: Wayne Ray)


Creeping Juniper (Juniperus horizontalis) drawing. (USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database / Britton, N.L., and A. Brown. 1913. Illustrated flora of the northern states and Canada. Vol. 1: 67.)

Juniperus_horizontalis close

Creeping Juniper (Juniperus horizontalis) close. (By: Lazaregagnidze Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license)

Eastern Red Cedar

Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana). Also known as the Red Cedar and the Eastern Red Juniper. If you have spring allergies, this tree may be something you are allergic too. If you know that is the case, or are not sure, don't touch this tree, as it could leave a skin rash on you. I suggest not eating the berries from this one.

I see this tree most often in gravely, sandy areas that have been left abandoned. Old, unused gravel pits in my area tend to have this tree as one of the earlier succession trees after the grasses and wildflowers. Makes a good windbreak hedge along a country driveway. I've included this one here just to know what to avoid.

Growing this plant in your home garden:

Not a good choice, as the leaves can cause allergic skin reactions with some people, and it causes spring allergies for many. Also, the fruit is not recommended to eat.

Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana) range. Distribution map courtesy of the USGS Geosciences and Environmental Change Science Center, originally from "Atlas of United States Trees" by Elbert L. Little, Jr..


Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana). This is almost always how I have found this tree. In an open field that is no longer tended and with this shape - a classic candle flame shape. (By: Greg Hume CC BY-SA 3.0)


Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana) foliage and berries. Compare foliage with the Common Juniper to tell the difference. (By: Keith Kanoti, Maine Forest Service, USA CC BY-SA 3.0)


Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana). Berries can look like this as opposed to how they look above because these have a powdery white bloom on them that can rub off. Also, the ripe fruit can vary in color, and this picture was taken in full light. (By US FWS)


Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana). This is a good example of where some of the whitish bloom has worn off revealing the true color of the berry underneath. (By: USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database / Herman, D.E., et al. 1996. North Dakota tree handbook. USDA NRCS ND State Soil Conservation Committee; NDSU Extension and Western Area Power Administration, Bismarck.)

Chinese Juniper

Chinese Juniper (Juniperus chinensis). There are many cultivars and hybrids with this one and others, so keep that in mind with the description. If you are going to eat the berries from this one, you must be sure it is not a hybrid with any of the poisonous ones.

Juniper with berries sm

This is a Chinese Juniper (Juniperus chinensis). This is a typical city landscape use Juniper. The blueish, spherical "berries" look basically the same on the native Common Juniper.

juniper up close

This picture shows a tree with both shapes of leaves on the Chinese Juniper (Juniperus chinensis). The leaves that are close with the berry in the center look like White Cedar leaves with a blue hue. But look on the very left side of the picture half way up. You can see the other kind of leaf that looks like individual "spikes" on a center stem. These spiky leaves are often called juvenile leaves, but persist into older trees in shaded areas of the tree - usually nearer the trunk.

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Important Notes when Identifying
Rules & Cautions
Dangerous Plants to Avoid Touching

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