Cedar berries are harvested from a specific variety of juniper tree rather than from cedar trees as the name seems to indicate. This variety of juniper has the Latin name Juniperus virginiana. It is also known as the eastern red cedar. There are over 40 different juniper species, with many being inedible. Cedar berries are not berries in the sense of being fruits, they are actually tiny seed cones.
Juniper berries were in use as far back as the era of Tutankhamen. Archaeologists found juniper berries in his tomb. The ancient Greeks also used juniper berries—they were believed to increase athletes’ stamina. Their use of them was largely for their medicinal value; they were used as a medicine long before being used as food. The Romans used them as a cheap substitute for expensive black pepper imported from India.
In the US, cedar berries were first used by the Native Americans. They were especially the Navajo people.
The wood from the Eastern Red Cedar tree was popular mostly as a construction material in early America and was also used for furniture-making. It was used in the mid 20th century for making pencils as it was one of the few kinds of wood that worked well in pencil sharpeners. The number of trees in the eastern US diminished as a result.
Cedar berries flavor profile
The flavor of cedar berries is similar to that of other juniper berries such as those used in Europe. Its flavor is piney with notes of black pepper. Cedar berries are somewhat less aromatic than the variety used in European cooking and in making gin, but still have much of the same flavor minus the bitterness and turpentine notes.
Health benefits of cedar berries
Like many spices, cedar berries are nutrient-packed, among the nutrients are:
- Vitamin C: Cedar berries are rich in vitamin C, which is beneficial both for strengthening your immune system and for its antioxidant benefits.
- Flavonoids: Along with vitamin C, cedar berries also provide antioxidant benefits in the form of flavonoids. Flavonoids are polyphenols found in plants.
- Glycosides: Glycosides are a subset of flavonoids and offer a range of health benefits including the ability to fight cancer and to protect the liver. They can also provide antioxidant benefits.
Because of its nutrients, you can use cedar berries to treat or prevent health issues like those below:
- Respiratory and intestinal problems: A tea made by steeping cedar berries can be used to treat coughs and colds as well as for treating intestinal worms and preventing vomiting.
- Viral infections: Native Americans used cedar berries as a treatment for measles. Cedar berries contain a compound called deoxypodophyllotoxin that researchers have found to be effective against certain viruses like the herpes virus. This compound may also be effective against the measles virus as well.
- High blood pressure: Cedar berries function as a diuretic. Diuretics are often prescribed for treating high blood pressure. Cedar berries can help to increase urination, which flushes excess sodium from the body.
It should be noted that cedar berries can be toxic if consumed in large amounts. They can cause poisoning or miscarriage.
Common uses of cedar berries
Cooks from different Native American tribes used them in different ways, including as a spice in venison dishes and in soups. They were also used to make a tea or simply eaten raw. Along with being used to flavor food, cedar berries can be used as a natural preservative.