Juniper berries grow on trees (they are actually fruit) – some of these trees are very very old. The trees are part of the cypress family. The berries take more than 2 years to ripen. They grow in cooler more temperate climates than most spices.
Like many other spices it also had medicinal uses in olden times – in this case to ward off plague and snake bite. There are references to juniper trees in the Old Testament as places of refuge. Juniper is believed to help blood circulation and to keep you young – if only, that were true!
In cooking, Juniper berries are most often used with venison, pork or beef dishes. Often used in pates or terrines.
I'm not a gin drinker but I still occasionally use Juniper berries in my cooking.
In Germany Juniper berries are included in sauerkraut recipes.
Idea – add a few crushed berries to chocolate desserts. Add to stuffings for pork or duck. Try adding a hint of juniper to an apple crumble.
The berries are usually crushed before being added but I have used them whole in the liquid in which corned beef was cooked – but beware the outside of the meat will be stained quite dark by them.