The juniper berry tastes like how a pine tree smells - sharp, resinous and clean. If you've ever had a gin and tonic, or a traditional martini (as opposed to one made with vodka or sake), you'll recognise the taste of juniper, which is the main flavour component of gin. The so-called "berry" is actually the cone part of the juniper shrub, which is part of the cypress family. In areas where the plant grows (primarily in mountainous regions throughout the world, including Europe and India), the juniper berry is often used fresh. For longer storage, though, the berries are dried and cured. Before using them in a dish, crack or bruise the berries, to release their flavour.
Juniper oil is extracted from the berries and is used in holistic health treatments as a diuretic, to relieve stress and to help with joint and skin problems.
In the kitchen, juniper is often paired with strong tasting meats to counteract their gaminess and heaviness. For a marinade for venison, mutton or wild game, combine crushed juniper berries with red wine, bay leaves, peppercorns, garlic and shallots, then mix with the meat, which should be lightly salted. After you cook the meat, strain the marinade then simmer the liquid with something sweet (to balance the acidity), such as red currant jelly, sugar, honey or maple syrup. Season to taste with salt, then drizzle the sauce over the meat before serving. I also like to flavour home-made sauerkraut with crushed juniper berries.