Eastern Red Cedars are loaded with plump, blue berries that look ripe for the picking. To be completely correct here, Red Cedars aren’t really cedars — they are junipers, and the berries aren’t really berries — they are cones with a fleshy covering.
Yellow-rumped Warblers and Cedar Waxwings were swarming “fruit”-laden branches at the St. Paul Reservoir the other day. The warblers, in particular, were comical to watch as they attacked the “fruits” which were almost too big for them to get into their mouths.
With their high sugar content (30%) these berries are a great resource for migratory birds. Even their waxy coating can be utilized by the birds, whose digestive systems have been primed to secrete an enzyme to break down the wax esters.
Junipers (and in particular the Eastern Red Cedar) leaves and “fruits” contain other useful compounds, one of which is a fairly potent antiviral against common flu and herpes viruses. Florida’s Seminole Indians used juniper extracts to treat colds, swollen joints, stiff neck and back, eye diseases, fever, headache, diarrhea, etc. In addition to teas brewed to relieve these ailments, juniper berries have been used as flavorings in gin and French Chartreuse liqueur, as well as several wild game recipes.