Eastern Red Cedar Berry

Ark of taste
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The eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana) is native to eastern North America that grows in a range of soils and can tolerate adverse conditions. The tree can endure occasional flooding as well as drought. The eastern red cedar is referred to as a pioneer species, which means it that can be the first tree to repopulate cleared, eroded, or damaged land. It can grow to a height of 20 meters with a spread of 2-6m at maturity. Male and female cones grow on separate trees: The male cones are yellowish brown while the female cones are shaped like a berry with 1-3 seeds in each. Juniper berries are not real berries, but female cones that appear berry-like.

Juniper berries have been used for centuries as both food and medicine. Some Native American cultures referred to the eastern red cedar as “the Tree of Life.” The berries were used for ceremonial rites, medicine, and consumption, added as seasoning to many roasted meats. Colonial craftsmen used the eastern red cedar wood as a building material for both furniture and fencing. The wood is easy to work with and has good rot resistance. The young leafy twigs of the eastern red cedar were listed in the US Pharmacopoeia from 1820-1894 for their health benefits. The wood was used in the pencil industry until the 1940s, when supplies became exhausted and the industry switched to the more plentiful western cedar varieties. Eastern red cedar is a dependable choice for landscaping and can be used on farms as a windbreak or in urban settings as privacy hedges.

Eastern red cedar berries are an underappreciated food. Although the eastern red cedar is not endangered, it isn’t easy to find the berries in abundance due to their botanical qualities. In ideal growing conditions, the berry flower occurs in the first year and the cone turns green in the second year and blue when ready for harvest in the third year. Eastern red cedar berries are related to common juniper berries but are superior in flavor. They are mild without the turpentine notes and bitterness of common juniper. They are almost sweet with a woodsy, piney flavor. Whole berries should be kept in an airtight container and placed in a dry, cool spot away from direct sunlight. The berries can be eaten dried, fresh, chopped, or powdered. These berries can be somewhat difficult to find, and should be gathere from places where the environment is clean. Organic farms can be good foraging locations, but be sure to ask permission from the landowner before harvesting the berries. Pregnant women should not eat juniper berries.

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