poetry and prose about place

Ground Juniper (Juniperus communis L. var depressa Pursh)

with 8 comments

Last fall, when I made our Christmas wreaths, one of the greens I gathered was Ground Juniper.  It was so prickly and difficult to handle, I decided not to use it again.  However, since I am now looking at plants from the point of view of edibility, I want to take another look at the Common Juniper bushes growing on our lake property.

Ground Juniper (Juniperus communis L. var depressa Pursh) is a low, evergreen shrub, growing in bogs and on barren soils in abandoned pastures.  The specific name of Ground Juniper, communis, means ‘in clumps’. The branches of Ground Juniper take the form of a dense, oval mat, spreading horizontally across the ground.

Ground Juniper is also known as genévrier in French.  The name of the spirit ‘gin’is derived from this word since the oil of the Juniper berry is used to flavor gin.

The needles of Ground Juniper are a yellowish-green.  They are flattish, three-sided and have a whitened stripe on the lower surface.

one branch of the shrub turned over to show the white stripe on the underside of the needles

The bluish, waxy berries are actually cones.  They are light green at first and mature over three years to a dark blue.  The berries of Juniper appear covered by a whitish powder.

The berries of Ground Juniper are woody and hard, but edible in small quantities as a spice for meat, especially game.  They have a resinous odor and a sweet taste, and are crushed, dried and ground to release the flavour.

The young berries and young leaves can be also boiled in water for ten minutes and then steeped for another ten minutes to make a tea.

The berries are known for their medicinal properties and so should be used sparingly and with caution.

1. never eat any plant if you are not absolutely certain of the identification;
2. never eat any plant if you have personal sensitivities, including allergies, to certain plants or their derivatives;
3. never eat any plant unless you have checked several sources to verify the edibility of the plant.



Ground Juniper (Juniperus communis L. var depressa Pursh)


boughs spread horizontal,

hug the ground


cones disguised as berries,

leaves as needles

all, dusted with powder


waxy berries glow

like blue planets, offer themselves –

we harvest, reach, mindful of sharps

and moon-dust, the true distance

between pasture and sky


meat spiced with wooden berries, ground

and sorrows drowned in jiggers of gin



©  Jane Tims    2012

Written by jane tims

July 2, 2012 at 8:41 am

8 Responses

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  1. I love the poem. I would imagine the berries make an interesting spice.

    I was wondering if you were going to include alcohol (just noticed that you mentioned it the comments). I’ve used some interesting things (such as the spring growth of needles from the Norway spruce although the original recipe is from Canada and a non-alcoholic beverage is sometimes made from spruce needles) in my homebrewed beers and meads.



    July 10, 2012 at 7:31 pm

    • Hi. I am coming to your house (mead sounds interesting). Actually I have not written about these but there is a possibility. I do make a blackberry brandy every year and it disappears mysteriously in theraputic uses. I like to imagine I’m Toad at Toad Hall (Wind in the Willows) sipping my cordial by the fire. Jane


      jane tims

      July 10, 2012 at 8:56 pm

  2. Love the poem. Re nutritional opportunities, I think I’d stick with the gin!


    Jane Fritz

    July 3, 2012 at 12:08 pm

    • Hi. I was never sure if I should include alcoholic beverages in my work on ‘growing and gathering’. I encounter the use of plants for this purpose very, very often! Jane


      jane tims

      July 3, 2012 at 4:54 pm

  3. Would you know if the berries of other Junipers are used this way also or is it just the Ground Juniper – We have many Junipers around here but I’ve never seen one like this.



    July 2, 2012 at 10:51 pm

    • Hi. I find the leaves/needles of the various junipers look quite different (there are over 50 species!). According to my brief reading on the subject, juniper berries of any of the species are used as a spice. Jane


      jane tims

      July 3, 2012 at 4:52 pm

  4. Seems like the ground juniper would make a good ground cover, especially on a slope. I love this image, “waxy berries glow like blue planets.”

    I transplanted a Norfolk Island Pine to a bigger pot this morning and got a few “sharps” in my hand, too. It was an impulse buy at the supermarket several Christmases ago and seems to be thriving in my living room.


    Barbara Rodgers

    July 2, 2012 at 6:15 pm

    • Hi. I think nurseries sell Juniper as ground cover. I’ve seen a Norfolk Pine since my brother uses one for a Christmas tree. I have a Douglas Fir seeding in my living room, a gift from a friend. It is only a foot and a half high, but I hope it will continue to thrive and grow the roof off my house!!!!!! Jane


      jane tims

      July 3, 2012 at 4:49 pm

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