Our juniper berries come from a certified organic region in the southwest of Bosnia, where collecting wild herbs has a long tradition. The untouched nature of the country is home to a great variety of very aromatic and rare plants. The juniper berries are harvested sustainably and the collectors are paid fairly.
Hills, forests and villages that stick like nests to the mountain slopes. The road from Sarajevo to Mostar meanders along a reservoir, becomes narrower and finally flows into a dirt road. At the top of the mountain lies the village of Mustafici, among scattered houses and vegetable gardens for self-sufficiency. The Mustafici family is already waiting for us at one of the houses. Mother Mejra welcomes us warmly – in German. “I’ve had a few summers of asparagus in Germany,” she explains. Now she is almost retired – her grown-up children have long since left the village – but together with her husband Dzemo, the friendly Bosnian continues to collect herbs diligently. Depending on the season, key flowers, lime blossoms, rose hips, porcini mushrooms and juniper berries.
A lot of wind, a lot of aroma
We walk towards the hilltop, above the houses there are wide meadows covered with wildflowers. The violets and primroses are in bloom. At the top of the mountain Mejra shows us the first small juniper bushes. Here the wind blows so strongly that the bushes grow only slowly. This is why the plants develop a particularly intense aroma. Also today it blows violently. At the top of the mountain the bushes are bigger, full of still green juniper berries. Most will ripen by autumn. Juniper berries already grow in the first year and are already large at the end of the first summer, but still green and only slightly aromatic. Only in the second year do juniper berries ripen completely, then they get their fruity-tart aroma and dark violet colour until autumn. Harvesting takes place at the end of October, beginning of November – after the first forest. “One must be careful when harvesting,” says the expert collector, “the shrubs have pointed needles. The Mustaficis therefore harvest only with gloves. They gently brush the berries from the branches, because the fresh fruit is still full of juice and can easily burst. Another harvesting method is to lay cloths under the juniper bushes and then shake the branches carefully. The ripe berries then fall onto the cloths.
Collecting and sorting by hand
The wind’s getting stronger, we’re going back to the village. Mejra shows us the old hayloft, where she and her husband dry the berries on hordes. And the wooden wind sifting with which they sort the berries. “Hand operation”, says Mejra and smiles. “Up here we fill in the harvest, the needles are blown off to the back and the berries roll out at the bottom. Smaller quantities are sorted by the Mustaficis without the device – with a simple trick: If there is enough wind, they let the juniper berries trickle down from a ladle into a bowl, while the wind simply blows the needles away.
A van rattles in front of the house to pick up the raw materials. The driver weighs a bag of juniper berries and checks the quality of the berries. Payment is made in cash. Mejra is happy, now she can give money to her granddaughter for the school trip.