In celebration of World Gin Day, we are taking a foray into the botanical Juniper as it is an essential component of both gin, and Penhaligon’s zingy Juniper Slingscent. Nothing says summer more than a G&T, so it's only right that World Gin Day should fall in sunny June, and it's the juniper that makes it quite so refreshing. We have been drinking gin for hundreds of years and that love affair is as strong as ever today with so many new distilleries and gins springing up every year.
Where does it come from?
Part of the conifer family, juniper does grow in Britain and in particular it flourishes on the mountains and heaths of the Lake District, North Wales and Scotland. However, no commercial distillers use homegrown berries. They do not grow large and fleshy here, so they are imported from Umbria in Italy or Macedonia, where they become rich and oily in the sunshine. After two years of growth, the berries ripen in early autumn, turning from green to a very dark blue, and that is when they are ready to be gathered.
How does it smell?
The essential oil smells fresh and herbal, with juniper's fragrant berries giving off a bittersweet scent that is reminiscent of pine.
Why is it used in a perfume?
For a fragrance, Juniper brings a clean, green and unusual note. As with gin botanicals, in the perfume it blends well with cardamom, cinnamon, Angelica and orris. These days we treat botanicals as mere flavourings or scents but juniper, and other ingredients that make modern gin, had serious medical purposes before the eighteenth century gin craze.
London herbalist and physician Nicholas Culpeper argued in his most popular work, The English Physitian in 1652, that there was ‘scarce a better remedy for wind in any part of the body, or the cholic, than the chymical oil drawn from the [juniper] berries’. Culpeper also recommended juniper for improving sight, and for a whole range of other ailments. To him, the berries were an all-purpose wonder drug. They were ‘admirably good for a cough, shortness of breath, and consumption, pains the belly, ruptures, cramps and convulsions. They give safe and speedy delivery to women with child, they strengthen the brain exceedingly, help the memory, and fortify the sight by strengthening the optic nerves; are excellently good in all sorts of agues; help the gout and sciatica, and strengthen the limbs of the body.’ It seemed there was little Culpeper thought juniper could not do.