Juniper berries a source of wild yeast and more

Most of you know i grew up with some unique information i like to share and Juniper berries is a well kept secret. That greyish appearance on the outside is yeast and yes the berries are edible. The berries are used in certain gin mixed drinks as well. That yeast can be used for liquor yeast or bread should you need to know. I mentioned part of this before. Some day not to far away the people who knew these things may not be around. I’m one of the last if not the last in my family to know how certain things work.


Thanks for the reminder Clark. It’s good information to tuck away, never know when you’ll need it. Actually, I should try start a few different batches (of the fruits you mentioned, I would have Juniper, Juneberies, & grapes) to see how it goes. I keep a sourdough starter already, so a few more would hardly be noticed.
And thank you for sharing the knowledge you have - that your mom, grandma, and other family members have passed down to you over the years. We all benefit from that. It is priceless!


Those were the sorts of things grandparents knew…even if they didn’t get to the 8th grade, they were smarter than high school graduates these days…and knew a lot more useful stuff, rather than useless stuff. Then again, imagine how many lazy and stupid settled the west or made it to Orgon (not many). You’re right, the knowledge of living off the land may become life and death issues on around a curve in the road ahead.


When this information is gone there will be no getting it back. Like the things i grow are unique so were the people and the skills they had. Ever wonder how the ancients built pyramids or other things they did? That information and much that was more important was destroyed in the dark ages. Much of the knowledge in the world was destroyed through history but i pass on all i can from family and friends. My family was secretive with much of their information because it gave them an edge they needed to survive at the time. My grandmother knew every plant and how and what to use them for. My grandpas people were equally as clever. My grandpa said i was the last one in my family of all the grandchildren who knew what i did. Unfortunately my grandmother and great aunts and other members of her family knew things that died with them. Never met anyone who knew how they did what they did but my grandpa and many otvers saw it. As my grandma aged her eyesight was failing and she could no longer see . She had a cat that she mistakenly thought was in the back of a tall truck so she grabbed him and sat him down on the ground petting him several times. She was concerned about him but that cat was no cat it was a 30 pound racoon who she grabbed and sat on the ground without being harmed. Family members watched her walk feet past a large panther unharmed. She was a unique tough as the wilderness she came from. I asked her about the panther once she said yes Clark i saw him several times its not that i was not afraid but he was afraid to and we did not want to hurt each other. She said not everyone in her family was like that. She spoke of a small girl in our family who could ease the back up on a honeybee hive and take out honey and eat it as she played with the other children. She said the bees were highly aggressive it was just something she had that gave her that ability to do that. My grandpa talked of my great great aunt once scaring a large group of 20 men by making a group of objects appear in a yard. He said the objects were spliit rails for a split rail fence. He was a small boy at the time and said odly you could see through them like a projection. When i asked how she did it he replied i dont know it was a Cherokee secret she told noone but her daughter who died with those secrets. The knowledge they had is lost forever they wrote nothing down. The little i know were not their best secrets. The tribe did not know how she did it only a select few in the tribe. Her brother did go to oklahoma and was part of the tribal counsel im told. He did not have her knowledge.


I like to make a smreka with juniper berries. If you haven’t tried it, give it a go. Smreka: Fermented Juniper Berry Juice - Balkan Lunch Box

It is amazingly good considering the lack of sugar in it.


Clark, enjoy your grandma and the racoon story, so funny!:joy::joy:


great story Clark. animals can sense your fear so seeing she wasnt afraid of it , it didnt fear her. i had a cousin like that. he pet a moose on the nose and helped a cub bear get his head out of a mayonaise jug while the mother was only 50 yrds away. like they understood each other. he was part micmac indian from my mothers side. :wink: i agree theres many things that are lost when our elders pass so its important to pass on what we have learned from them. i lost my grandmother last summer . she was 93. one of the best foragers ive ever known. every spring we would go out as a family to harvest dandelion greens and fiddleheads. we canned and blanched them so we had some all year. didnt have to do it as we all had big gardens but it was a tradition that went back centuries. something about the 1st greens of the year. wed go catch trout out of the stream and have fiddleheads and fresh fish. the summer was broke up by what was ripe for the picking. strawberries around the 4thof july, raspberries late july and blueberries , hazelnuts and beechnuts in aug. great memories!


Yes poke greens, dandelion and others were traditions in my family. Every spring my mother and grandma took me to harvest with them as a small child. My mother still harvests greens.
Odly the cherokee knew things others cannot imagine dandelion is a detoxifier. They knew things with a glance. Once my family said look at that poor man the veins in his ears were telling of his death. They did not tell him but he died shortly after. These stories were given to me by previous generations. They said when you see veins in the ears or veins closer to the top of the skin the heart is failing. The veins are trying to get blood throughout the body. True cherokee who actually knew the secrets are gone now for the most part. I do not believe its easy to tell im 1/16 cherokee but every cherokee i ever met knows and im not sure how. One grabbed me at the elbow shook my arm at a store once and said hello brother. I said you have me confused he said no your part cherokee. I was very surprised he appeared to be african american and cherokee. Later that day i asked my mother about it she said yes he is cherokee i said mother how can this be he doesnt look like us and she said well our tribe adopted his great great great grandparents in the 1800s. I said our tribe adopted people? She said yes its where everyone went who had no place to go she remembered the stories of the adoptions from that time. She said yes he is cherokee from Oklahoma. My family did not go to the reservation but my relatives did. The army and others knew my family was cherokee but could not make them go because they lived with white people but the army did try to.persuade them to go to Oklahoma. They told my family to go and live with their people on the reservation but my family said these meaning the white people are my family. We have unclaimed land there we will never claim. In the places my family was from they were hated at times but then frequently contzcted when needed.


People in other parts of the world have different methods to do the same thing. Keep in mind many ancient people used starchy foods like a potato to catch wild yeast and sugar. So lets say they were making vodka which is illegal or bread which is legal tbey would cut up and boil down a potasto or two with a couple of teaspoons of sugar let ot cool to room tempature in a mason jar. You could place the jar in front of an open window to capture yeast. Multiple youtube videos exist on this. Potato water is used to make vodka or potato bread.

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Any fruit its worth noting contains some type of yeast on the peel and every yeast has a different flavor. So do you need bread or alcohol yeast at all? No you really dont but a good yeast can be hard to find.

According to Drunken botanist book 3 are known to have toxins
Red cedar Juniperus pinchotii
Mountain Cedar uniperus ashei
Juniperus sabina

Also states These go back during the Triassic period 250 millions of years to when most the continents where together during the super continent Pangea so (one of) the edible one’s can be found on multiple ones USA EUROPE ASIA .

juniperus communis (4th link)

Juniperus sabina

J. communis

I use Wild yeast
Below I go on a Little explaining about using wild yeast,
but I also have to explain misconceptions of sulfites ,
and yeast dying which is not true they are only stunned
when the sulfites get exposed to Oxygen , and are bound
(even if you add a quarter pound in 5 gallons when you only add 1/16 tsp per gallon )

Although for certain practice one could also boil fruit,
and add clean un boiled fruit to start a yeast culture
if they felt some fruit could be spoiled with Vinegar in the large batch of fruit…

I almost feel as I am rambling about wine, So I decided not to write all that other stuff
about bound sulfites , Yeast making sulfites etc. A bacteria coming back after being stunned
Such as (LAB) lactic acid bacteria
(to make Sharp acid found in apples malic acid turn to Latic acid found in milk in grape wine)
it is all Nature , and even Microorganisms like LAB can survive, and come back in wine
When Sulfites that even yeast make become bound by Oxygen,
but LAB is not a bad thing in grape wine all the time, and has happened naturally for a long time…



Do you use any of these in your brewing?

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Once in a while I’ll pick and eat a couple berries. but have not used them in brewing beer (or anything else).

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We use juniper berries in a spice mix for smoking and drying meat.


I’ll have to look into that some more…I’ve been cutting some junipers for fence posts…and berries are plentiful…even picking a few to nibble on as they aren’t too astringent this time of year.


Just picked some for your post I nibble on them
I may try something soon

But I have to say using wild yeast A trick is using less sugar initially
let the yeast grow a day or two, and then add all the other sugar
this gives lower yeast counts a better change to multiply
(can be good if you need to but I do not do most of the time )

Also We have a place In IL. you can buy over stocked food for cheap (good hope Joliet )
I’d never Normally of bought it but one of the high priced tea’ s was really good
it had Juniper the first Ingr. (so it is the most in the blend) mixed with other herbs
(I like it without sugar BEST,
but at first thought it was one of those “herbal tea’s” with no flavor
until a tiny sugar is added taste well both ways though – Note I DO NOT add sugar to real tea )

Here is Ingr.

Aloha Beauty Tea

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The berries are used in certain gin mixed drinks as well.

About gin this company lists some of the Ingr.
A coincidence I saw this looking up something unrelated

Not a fan of the types of gin I tried, but sure did like that Tea
I should try some of the different styles of gin maybe something more bitter,
(I also Nibble Aborvitae (flat cedar leaves good breath freshener )

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Strongly encourage people to be cautious of wild plants like polk. In the place where some of my family are from its not unusual for people to die from misunderstandings in food. There is a new generation of people who moved in from far away. Most people believe they know more than they do. As an example my family and other old families are sometimes spied on while picking polk. People misunderstand words like Sallet they think we are saying salad. Sallet is the old word for salad but its cooked. When we speak to each other we know the plant is harvested young in the spring before poisons increase. There is a world of difference between toxicity levels. Here in Kansas the polk has higher amounts of poison its location specific. Polk is a very poisonous plant never think otherwise. We know it can kill us so when we eat it we Boil it pouring the water and poison off several times. So we boil pour , add water boil pour off again and again. It’s still poison! When we slip in the woods grab polk and tell Noone people get the idea we are getting over on them . We are in fact trying to prevent them from hurting themselves. See this article below

"Recently, while visiting me in Brooklyn, my mom’s eyes went twinkly as she noticed all the wild pokeweed growing around the neighborhood. A woolgathering reminiscence of her childhood in Texas spilled forth: cooking and eating the onion-infused greens straight from the pan; her stoic anticipation as her mother added vinegar to the last dregs of poke-broth, knocking it back like a shot of whiskey.

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She was surprised to find that my New England–bred boyfriend had never heard of the poisonous, towering perennial weed, with its oblong leaves and magenta berries and stalks. Despite the fact that the kudzu-like Phytolacca americana sprouts up all across North America, poke sallet, a dish made from the plant’s slightly-less-toxic leaves, is a regional thing, popular only to Appalachia and the American South. The leaves must be boiled in water three times to cook out their toxins, and, as aficionados will tell you, it’s well worth the extra effort.

But if pokeweed is so toxic, why did people start eating it in the first place? In a word, poke sallet is survival food.

The towering, perennial, poisonous pokeweed can grow up to 10 feet tall. Wendell Smith

According to Michael Twitty, historian, Southern food expert, and author of The Cooking Gene, poke sallet was originally eaten for pure practicality—its toxins made it an allegedly potent tonic. “Back in the old days, you had a lot of people who walked around barefoot,” Twitty said. “They walked around barefoot in animal feces all the time. Most of our ancestors from the Depression backward were full of worms.” So then, poke sallet acted as a vermifuge, a worm purger.

Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center cites research showing that raw pokeweed has medicinal properties that can help cure herpes and HIV. That said, there are no clinical trials that support the use of the cooked dish as such, or as any kind of medicine, but its devotees swear by its curative qualities. Pokeweed remains a popular folk medicine, but it hasn’t been widely studied, so its healing properties remain, officially, purported.

This isn’t food that’s cooked as a dare or to be showy, like say, Japanese fugu, one of the world’s most poisonous fish, now served at Michelin-starred Suzuki in New York City. According to Nicole Taylor, chef and author of The Up South Cookbook, poke sallet is a stretch food, and it happened to be the first fresh vegetable to rise from the ground in the earliest days of spring. “When you look at foraging, that’s only what they call it now. People who were poor and people who were formerly enslaved—they had to figure out what to cook, and what to eat. You can trace different wild foods back to those folks. People who are looking for food to get by are more likely to eat poke sallet than someone who had means to eat other things.”

Though mostly obscure to the mainstream, poke sallet, which is sometimes referenced as “polk salad” or “poke salet,” has occasionally dipped its toe into the pop culture pool. Most notably, in the lyrics of “Polk Salad Annie,” by Tony Joe White, released in 1968: “Everyday for supper time / she’d go down by the truck patch / And pick her a mess of polk salad / and carry it home in a tow sack.” The song about a rural Southern girl and her family peaked at Number 8 on the Billboard Top 100 in 1969, and was later remade by Elvis in 1970, and put into regular rotation at his live shows. Country legend Dolly Parton even mentioned in her memoir that she would use crushed poke berries for lipstick as an adolescent, since her parents forbade her from wearing makeup.

Handling pokeweed is no joke. Twitty remembers messing with poke berries as a youngster, and the aching in his juice-stained hands that ensued. Using pokeweed in the kitchen requires caution—it can easily get you sick, with symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea, convulsions, and rapid heartbeat . Twitty says everyone he’s met with a connection to poke sallet says the same exact thing about it: “It will clean you out from the top of your head to the bottom of your feet.”

Yet the threat that pokeweed consumption can cause death appears to be rare. New Hampshire’s recently retired state medical examiner, Dr. Thomas Andrew, told the Concord Monitor of only one deadly incident occurring during his 20-year career. A young landscaper supposedly took a bite of raw pokeweed, mistaking it for a wild parsnip, and died 45 minutes later. One passionate pokeweed detractor, Jean Weese, a professor and food safety specialist at Auburn University, cautions strongly against consuming any amount of pokeweed, cooked or uncooked. Over email, she said she hasn’t heard of anyone dying from ingesting it, but she’s received many messages over the years from people claiming serious illness.

Poke weed is prime for eating when it’s young and green, before it’s sprouted its noxious, calling-card berries and magenta stems. Mike Gras

Foraging’s resurgence, and popularity with a set that may enjoy, say, kombucha on tap and artisanal poutine, means poke sallet is being introduced to a new cohort of eaters—who may have little to no connection to the dish’s history as survival food. In New York City, you can even learn to track down pokeweed in its prime (when it’s young and green, before it sprouts its noxious, calling-card berries and magenta stems) with a trained expert like Leda Meredith, author of “The Forager’s Feast: How to Identify, Gather, and Prepare Wild Edibles.”

Even so, it’s scarcely found on restaurant menus across the U.S., a contrast to other co-opted survival foods like okra, polenta, and grits that now proliferate on menus hawking “elevated southern fare.” Though people have been eating meticulously prepared pokeweed for centuries in the U.S. (and even longer in Africa, where the Phytolacca species is also native), the liability of accidentally poisoning a patron is not a risk many chefs are likely to take, to speak nothing of the labor-intensive task of gathering and processing the leaves.

But such chefs do exist. There are a few exceptions who delight in the greens, with their subtle, hard-to-pin-down, vaguely asparagus-meets-spinach flavor, and they serve it on their menus as both a means to educate people about regional foodways and delicious vegetable in its own right. There’s Winston Blick, a Baltimore-area chef who played around with poke sallet on the menu at his now-shuttered restaurant, Clementine (according to City Paper ), and Chef-owner Clark Barlowe, of Heirloom Restaurant in Charlotte, NC, who grew up eating the dish. It’s appeared on his all-local, Appalachian-only menu in many iterations over the years—blanched with popped sorghum or black walnuts and peanuts, grilled, and dressed with a house-made vinegar.

Sheri Castle, a Chapel Hill-based produce expert, said she wouldn’t be surprised to hear of finding pokeweed at a place like the Union Square Farmers Market in New York CIty, but could only list one chef she knew of (Barlowe) who cooks with it. Taylor said it’s definitely not something she’d expect to see at a farmers market, and laughed when asked about who might be eating it these days, saying, “I think people who are eating it now are definitely not young people.” At the many poke sallet–themed festivals that take place across the region each year (like the Harlan County Poke Sallet Festival in Kentucky, you’d be hard-pressed to find a plate of the mess. Poke sallet is merely a totem.

Will pokeweed soon find itself hailed as a beloved “it-green”? Probably not. But it’s not so far-fetched to think that on my mom’s next early spring visit, she might be able to dine on her favorite dish without having to gather the poke leaves and prepare them herself. Like Castle told me, “If you want to save a food, you have to eat it. I really believe that. If the last person who ever has a taste memory of something is gone, then we have lost our baseline.”

Better read this article Poke Weed | North Carolina Ghosts
" Pokeweed, also called Polkweed, is a herb indigenous to North America that can grow up to ten feet tall, and is noticeable for its purple-tinged leaves and berries that ripen to a dark, vivid purple. The plant, its berries, and its root are toxic and can cause symptoms ranging from vomiting to death. So if you are even thinking about trying anything you are about to read, that’s a really bad idea. We can’t stress this enough. Poke can kill you.

Despite its potential for harm, Poke berries and poke root were used as medicine and even food for centuries throughout the southern United States.

Medicinal Uses

The plan’t medicinal uses seem to have been introduced to the Europeans and Africans by the indigenous peoples in the early days of settlement. Appalachian tradition held that the medicinal uses of the plant were learned from the Cherokee.

A salve of poke root, sulfur, and lard was used to treat scabies, a parasitic skin infection. The poke here may be an Appalachian addition to an old Irish treatment for scabies, which just involved the sulfur and lard. Either way, the procedure was remembered to be highly unpleasant from those who had undergone it, with the combination of the horrid rotten egg smell of the sulfur and a burning sensation caused by the poke.

Pokeweed was also used in various forms to treat rheumatism, thrush, and whooping cough. Poke was also used to “thicken the blood,” which, while it might sound the most mysterious, is probably also the most effective of these uses. “Thin blood” is a regional description of the tiredness and weakness caused by vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Pokeweed draws unusually high amounts of iron from the heavy clay soil it prefers to grow in, so it may actually have been helpful in addressing iron deficiency, particularly because the prescribed treatment involved eating massive amounts of it.

Poke Sallet

Poke was also a food, generally a food of poverty. The toxins in the plant can be rendered inert by lengthy boiling, although even in its detoxified form the plant can still cause vomiting, cramping, and sever diarrhea when eaten. Again, do not try this at home. The leaves of the plant were boiled, and then fried in lard, sometimes along with some eggs and served with vinegar to make poke sallet, sallet being an archaic form of the word salad. This dish was brought to the wider attention of the nation by singer / songwriter Tony Joe White in 1969 with his song Polk Salad Annie, and to even wider attention when Elvis preformed it on his 1970 Live at Las Vegas TV special. Poke Sallet was such a widely consumed foodstuff that canned polk salad was sold in the South in the first half of the 20th century.

Poke berries have also been brewed into wine, although most accounts this was a wine which was sought after more for its medicinal value, particularly as a treatment for rheumatism, than for its flavor.

Pokeweed and Witchcraft

Perhaps unsurprisingly, a plant that was potentially poisonous and that was seen to be foraged by women also had associations with magic and witchcraft. It was thought that the Pokeberry would bloom unnaturally every year on the night of January 6th, Old Christmas or Twelfth Night, the day Christmas was, and is, celebrated in Amish and Pennsylvania Dutch communities.

Poke was also cited as a way to kill a witch, although not by serving it to her. According to an account from Ashe County, a blast from a shotgun loaded with Poke berries was a sure way to kill a witch.


Cavender, Anthony Folk Medicine in Southern Appalchia University of North Carolina Press, 2003

White, Newman Ivey the Frank C. Brown Collection of North Carolina Folklore Duke University Press, 1964

Wigginton, Eliot, ed. Foxfire 2, Anchor, 1973"


Thanks for the information on Pokeweed. I have it growing on my property and pull it out when I see it but there is always more showing up. I didn’t know some people eat it after processing. Unless in starving I’ll skip eating it. I already have enough variety in my diet.

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It’s not ‘polk’ your’re talking about, right?

Glad some of the North Carolina universities are researching poke.
I’ve eaten it for over 60 years and never had a
bad reaction to it.

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