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Search Results for: Economic botany | Search the catalog for: Economic botany

Plant Answer Line Question

Keywords: Juniperus, Economic botany

Our microdistillery is going to be making gin. I'd like to know which species of juniper to use for the berries which will flavor it. Also, someone said that the berries were toxic. Is that true? Any other information about the use of juniper as a flavoring would be helpful, too.


Here is what Amy Stewart says about the use of juniper for gin in The Drunken Botanist (Algonquin Books, 2013):

"The juniper most widely is J. [Juniperus] communis communis, a small tree or shrub that can live up to two hundred years. They are dioecious, meaning that each tree is either male or female. The pollen from a male shrub can travel on the wind over a hundred miles to reach a female. Once pollinated, the berries--which are actually cones whose scales are so fleshy that they resemble the skin of a fruit--take two to three years to mature. Harvesting them is not easy: a single plant will hold berries in every stage of ripeness, so they have to be picked a few times a year."

North Carolina State University's Poisonous Plants database lists juniper as having low toxicity if consumed, and simultaneously describes the fleshy cones ("berries") as both poisonous and edible, which I understand to mean that if you ingested large quantities of them it might be unwise, but there is a long tradition of using them for flavoring.

A 1998 article by J. Karchesy of the Department of Forest Products at Oregon State University discusses the uses of juniper for specialty products:
"The juniper berry oil of commerce is an essential oil produced by steam distillation of Juniperus communis berries. This oil is composed mainly of monoterpenes, including a-pinene, myrcene and sabinene as major components, lesser amounts of sesquiterpenes and other volatile compounds. Commercial production is carried out in several European countries including Italy, France, Germany, and Austria. Perhaps the most famous use of this product is to flavor gin and alcoholic bitters. It is generally recognized as safe for human consumption (GRAS) and also finds use in many other food products such as frozen desserts, gelatins,puddings, and meats."

Date 2017-05-12
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Plant Answer Line Question

Keywords: Arundo donax, Noxious weeds--Washington, Invasive plants, Economic botany

I know that synthetic reeds are used in making some woodwind instruments like oboe and bassoon, but what plants are the source for the natural reeds? Is there a difference in sound quality between synthetic and natural reeds? Can the plants be grown in the Pacific Northwest?


There is an article entitled "Wind driven: A bassoonist nurtures reeds from rhizome to riff," by Diana K. Colvin, published July 21, 2005 in The Oregonian. Oregon Symphony bassoonist Mark Eubanks grows Arundo donax in the Portland area. He says that the plants grow best in areas where the temperature does not drop below 10 degrees. They are also sensitive to drying winds and ground freezes. They perform well in areas where grapevines would thrive. His reed-making business, Arundo Reeds and Cane, has since been sold, but the company website offers a history of how Eubanks started it.

Another musician in New Jersey, Lawrence J. Stewart, has also made reeds from the plant. Musicians' opinions on the sound quality of natural vs. synthetic reeds may differ but, in his experience, the sound seemed "very resilient and vibrant." Unlike synthetic materials, the structure and therefore the sound of the reeds made from plants can vary widely. An article ["Anatomical characteristics affecting the musical performance of clarinet reeds made from Arundo donax L. (Gramineae)"] from Annals of Botany, vol. 81, Issue 1, found that "good musical performance was associated with reeds with a high proportion of vascular bundles with continuous fibre rings, and bundles with a high proportion of fibre and a low proportion of xylem and phloem. Significant differences in these anatomical characteristics were also found between reeds originating from cultivated plantation plants when compared to reeds produced from agricultural windbreak plants."

This plant has been used for woodwind reeds for quite some time. According to "Arundo donax: Source of musical reeds and industrial cellulose" by Robert Perdue Jr. (Economic Botany, Vol. 12, No. 4, pp. 368-404), it may have been used in making flutes shortly after the late Stone Age.

The invasiveness of Arundo donax is essential to take into consideration. It is on Washington State Noxious Weed Control Board's quarantine list. It is also considered invasive in many other parts of the country, including California. If you can salvage reeds that are being removed from a natural area and put them to musical use, so much the better. But I cannot recommend cultivating a stand of Arundo donax for any purpose.

Date 2017-08-15
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May 31 2018 13:14:08