Cedar Berries: Flavor Profile
Cedar berries aren’t berries at all. Rather, they’re the tiny bluish brown cone of the One-Seed Juniper tree. Used by Native Americans for centuries, cedar berries have numerous culinary and medicinal uses.
The tiny cones are crushed, which releases their sweet and woody pine-like flavor. Cedar berries are closely related to juniper berries, and often serve as a substitute. Yet, cedar berries tend to have a milder flavor, without the bitterness and hints of turpentine of the juniper berries.
Cooking with Cedar Berries
Cedar berries have been used for hundreds of years to season game meat. The Native Americans used cedar for venison and elk, because the berries’ tangy flavor helped mask some of the gaminess of the meat. Today, they’re still used by hunters in dry rubs, although they have many uses in the kitchen, including:
- Stews and Soups – A few cedar berries provide an aromatic and rustic flavor to hearty stews and soups.
- Sauerbraten – Traditional recipes call for cedar berries or juniper berries.
- Pickling – Cedar berries are a great addition to your pickling spice recipe. The berries provide earthy and pine notes, which can help to cut some of the sourness.
- Infusions – Cedar berries provide subtle pine notes and woody tastes to a number of drinks, including gin.
Cedar Berries: Cultivation
There are many varieties of juniper trees that fruit cedar berries, including the Eastern Red Cedar and One-Seed Juniper. These varietals grow throughout the U.S. and Canada, and into Mexico. One-Seed Juniper grows primarily in the Southwest, especially in New Mexico. And the tree is very hardy.
One-Seed Juniper can grow for up to 900 years and it is commonly found in prairies and abandoned pastures. The tree has a shrub-like shape, looking similar to an evergreen hedge, yet can grow up to 30 feet or taller and spread 8 to 12 feet when it reaches maturity. Thanks to its fast-growing nature, the tree is commonly used as a privacy hedge.
The One-Seed Juniper produces bluish grey berries, which are most common foraged wild. They’re about the size of blueberries. Cedar berries must be dried, and the most common preparation is sun-drying the berry. When dried, the berries turn a brownish-blue color. The juniper tree is a “gendered” tree, meaning there are male and female trees. The female trees produce the bluish grey berries each year, which are actually small waxy pods with a single seed.
Cedar berries have been harvested and used for hundreds of years in medicine and cooking. In fact, some Native American tribes called the juniper tree the Tree of Life and used the berries in ceremonies and in traditional medicines. The natives also used cedar berries as a seasoning in stews, as well as rubs for venison, elk and buffalo.
The native traditional of seasoning game meat continues today. Cedar berries are commonly used by hunters, and are in highest demand during deer and elk season in North America.
About Our Cedar Berries
Our cedar berries are wild harvested in northern New Mexico. We work with harvesters in northern New Mexico, where there are abundant cedar forests in canyons and ravines. The One-Seed Juniper tree is native to New Mexico, and grows wildly there. We purchase the dried berries in bulk and hand package them in our spice shop.