“When life gives you juniper berries, make gin!”
Gin and Tonic anyone? The berries of the juniper bush lend their distinctive flavour to gin, originally created for medicinal purposes in Europe but eventually becoming the popular alternative to the highly taxed brandy in the British Isles of the 17th century. Whether you take your gin straight or in the classic cocktail, the use of the juniper and its berries goes back to ancient times and figures prominently in folklore. In British folklore, the smoke from juniper was believed to aid in seeing the future. And although dreaming of the tree itself symbolized unluckiness, a dream of picking juniper berries in the winter symbolized prosperity and great honour. A sprig of juniper is part of the regimental uniform of the Atholl Highlanders as a sprig worn in their bonnets. As the clan's plant, a sprig of juniper is ceremonially presented by the Duke of Atholl on his annual inspection.
The classic cocktail, gin and tonic, owes its distinctive flavours to the bitter quinine in the tonic water and the juniper berries of the gin.
Today's tartan, Juniper, designed by Carol A.L. Martin, celebrates the deep blue and greens of the juniper.
In the Scottish Highlands, the names for this shrub or small tree were Aittin or Aiten, and Samh. These words remain in place names such as Attadale in Wester Ross and Samhan near Mull.
It is for its culinary, medicinal and ritual properties that juniper is best known. The berries were ground and added to sauces and especially to game dishes to add the bitter, spicy flavour, or were used to flavour bread and cakes.
But the best known use of the berries is in flavouring gin. In the nineteenth century Highland juniper bushes were prolific enough for their berries to be collected and taken to the Inverness and Aberdeen markets to be exported to the Dutch gin distillers to make the liquor Jenever, from which the modern gin evolved.
To learn more about the threat to the junipers of the Scottish Highland and how this shrub is being managed for preservation, click the leaves and berries.