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Celebrating The Midsummer Harvest with Juniper and Sauerkraut
by Linda Conroy

Early August is the first of 3 harvest festivals, Lamas or Lughnassad. This festival marks the middle of summer and beginning of the harvest and is usually associated with ripening grain. It also indicates the coming of autumn. These traditions are gifted to us from our ancestors who lived close to earth. Many religions and traditions have incorporated them into their rituals, so they belong to us all. Honoring the harvest in some way connects us to the earth and her cycles.

  Lughnasadh is the first of these, the time when the first grain harvest is cut. The name is derived from Lugh, a Celtic deity of light and wisdom. At Lughnasadh, bread from the first harvest was eaten in thanks. Baking, sharing and eating bead is a wonderful way to celebrate this time of year!!

  Each year on August 1st I bake bread in order to mark this seasonal transition. This year, although unbearably hot, was no exception. I baked a loaf of bread, with a sourdough starter recently gifted to me. I shared the bread with friends and family alike and put some out in the garden in thanks.. This harvest season I am grateful for the food that is being offered by our garden, as well as through our CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) subscription, which not surprisingly doubled in size last week in conjunction with the coming of the harvest. I am eternally grateful for the wild plants that abound and the ways they bless my cells with vibrancy.

There are many rituals and wild plants that I associate with this time of year. I am thankful for the familiarity of these as I ground myself in a new living place on the earth. I stay in tune with the rhythms of the earth through these sacred activities as well as my own cycles. One of my favorite activities this time of year is making sauerkraut. Each year I craft crocks of sauerkraut to be eaten during autumn and early winter. I always add Juniper Berries (Juniperus communis) to my crock and this year is no exception. These bittersweet berries (actually not berries at all, but a portion of the cone) are added to the crock to flavor the kraut as well as act as a preservative.

One day last week an apprentice and I went in search of Juniper Berries. We found an amazing patch of pungent berries and made our way through the sharp prickly leaves. The mystery of this plant never ceases to amaze me. Its unique scent and its ability to maintain in hot dry climates are two things that intrigue me about this plant.

Juniper is a small shrub, 4 to 6 feet high, widely distributed throughout the Northern Hemisphere. Adding to their mystery Juniper berries take two or three years to ripen, so that blue and green berries occur on the same plant.

The berries are used for the production of the volatile oil which is a prime ingredient in flavoring gin as well as luncheon meats. Juniper Berries are used in Northern Europe and the United States in marinades, roast pork, and sauerkraut. They enhance meat (particularly wild game), stuffings, sausages, stews, and soups.

Contemporary herbalists primarily use juniper as to treat bladder infections. It is often combined with other herbs such as uva ursi, parsley and cleavers. Such formulas are said to be most effective when taken at the first sign of symptoms.

Incorporating Juniper Berries into food in small doses can contribute to overall health (for example they are high in vitamin C), yet ingesting it (due to the high essential oil content) in large quantities can be quite stimulating. So I recommend investigating this plant thoroughly before ingesting it for therapeutic purposes.

With that said adding a tablespoon or two to your sauerkraut will only enhance it's flavor, help to preserve the cabbage as it goes through the fermentation process and offer vitamin C to your body in an easily assailable form. Sauerkraut itself is also high in vitamin c as well as vitamin K. I offer the following recipe in honor of the harvest.



  Sauerkraut with Juniper Berries


-non-iodized sea salt (1 TBS for every head of cabbage) *iodine can prevent the bacterial fermentation

-Juniper Berries 1-2tsp for every  5 pounds of vegetables


The fermentation equipment must be washed in hot sudsy water and rinsed well with very hot water before use.

Suitable Containers

A 1-gallon container is needed for each 5 pounds of fresh vegetables. A 5-gallon stone crock is the ideal size for fermenting about 25 pounds of fresh shredded cabbage. Food-grade plastic and glass containers are excellent substitutes for stone crocks.

A large potato masher or similar tool for mashing the cabbage.

Covers and Weights

Cabbage must be kept 1 to 2 inches under brine while fermenting. Insert a dinner plate or glass pie plate inside the fermentation container. The plate must be slightly smaller than the container opening, yet large enough to cover most of the shredded cabbage. To keep the plate under the brine, weight it down with 2 to 3 sealed quart jars or a gallon jar filled  with water. Covering the container opening with a clean, heavy bath towel helps prevent contamination from insects and molds.


Discard outer leaves and any insect-damaged areas. Cut heads in four wedges. Compost cores.. Shred or slice to a thickness of a quarter.

Put shredded cabbage in a suitable fermentation container, and add 1 Tablespoon of salt for each head of cabbage. Mix thoroughly and mash with the potato masher or other tool. Continue until salt draws juices from cabbage.

Repeat shredding, salting, and packing until all cabbage is in the container. Be sure the container is deep enough so that its rim is at least 4 or 5 inches above the cabbage.

Continue mashing until juice covers the cabbage. Place juniper berries in a muslin bag or tea ball. Immerse in liquid.

Add plate and weights. Cover container with a clean towel. Ferment cabbage.

Check the kraut two to three times per week and remove scum if it forms.

Fully fermented kraut may be kept tightly covered in the refrigerator for several months. Some folk's water bath can sauerkraut but I do not suggest this as many of the beneficial nutrients are lost upon heating.

Linda Conroy is a bioregional, wise woman herbalist, educator,wildcrafter, permaculturist and an advocate for women's health.

She is the proprietress of Moonwise Herbs and the founder of Wild Eats: a movement to encourage people and communities to incorporate whole and wild food into their daily lives. She is passionate about women's health and has been working with women for over 20 years in a wide variety of settings.

Linda is a student of nonviolent communication and she has a masters degree in Social Work as well as Law and Social Policy. Linda has been offering hands on herbal programs and food education classes for well over a decade.

She has completed two herbal apprenticeship programs, one of which was with Susun Weed at the Wise Woman Center and she has a certificate in Permaculture Design.

Linda is a curious woman whose primary teachers are the plants; they never cease to instill a sense of awe and amazement.

Her poetic friend Julene Tripp Weaver, eloquently describes Linda when she writes, "She listens to the bees, takes tips from the moon, and follows her heart."

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