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Fruits of the earth: plants in the service of mankind

Alcoholic infusions

In this account of the ‘native medicinal plants of the United States’ the author compares the juniperus communis (common juniper) with the European varieties he has already encountered and finds ‘the similarity so great, that I do not see sufficient grounds for separating it.’

The common juniper plant, with its blue berries visibleThe common juniper plantHowever, the berries of the European juniper tree are another matter and he notes that the ‘American juniper berries are considerably inferior to the European in strength and flavour.’

The berries of the juniper tree are usually crushed to release their flavour and used as a spice to flavour meat and game dishes in northern Europe. Famously, the berry is also used to flavour gin, and the word ‘gin’ derives from the German or Dutch word for juniper.

Gin, in its various forms and distillations remains one of the most popular spirits available worldwide today and due to its historical representation in works such as Hogarth’s Gin Lane, one of the most potent symbols of alcoholic ruin.

At the other end of the drinking scale, cocktails such as the gin and tonic or the ‘Old Etonian’ suggest a more societally acceptable form of the British use of gin.

The berries from the juniper tree have also historically been put to use in a variety of medical treatments, being used as diuretics in the treatment of dropsy (oedema) and to treat ‘debility of the stomach and intestines’.

The American juniperus communis is shown here.

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