How To Use Juniper To Create A Wild Yeast Starter

The average person doesn’t give much thought to yeast – after all, yeast is yeast, right? We use it to make bread, it’s used to create alcoholic beverages, it comes in a package from the store. What more is there to know? Like many of our modern conveniences, there is a wild partner to it – and harnessing the power of wild yeast is easy to do.

Yeast is everywhere around us, even out in the bush. It is on fruit, berries, herbs, plant matter; plants such as juniper (Juniperus communis) and Oregon grape (Mahonia aquifolium), and the bark of many trees have wild yeast on them and are commonly found throughout forests in British Columbia. Juniper is particularly plentiful nearby, so that is what I chose to use to create my wild yeast starter.

Gathering enough berries (or in the case of juniper, the so-called berries are actually female seed cones, but for the sake of this article, they will be referred to as berries) to make a small batch of wild yeast starter is as simple as collecting a handful here and a handful there. For my starter, I picked a pocketful while out on an early morning moose hunt.

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How to use juniper to create a wild yeast starter. Credit: Raeanne O’Meara.
Credit: Raeanne O’Meara.

To make a wild yeast starter, you will need:

  • 1 part cane sugar
  • 1 part berries
  • 3 parts water

*I had only gathered around 3/4 cup of juniper berries, so I used 1/2 cane sugar, 1/2 cup juniper, and 1 1/2 cups water.

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Mix all the ingredients together in a mason jar. Cover with cheesecloth/coffee filter, secure with a rubber band, and tuck away in a warm, dark place, stirring several times a day. It should start to get nice and bubbly within a week, but if you find that your starter seems a bit sluggish, you can give it a little boost by feeding it a bit of extra cane sugar. A healthy starter will have a “lively” aroma to it, and an unhealthy starter…well, it’s not going to smell good, and should be discarded.

Now that the task of creating a wild yeast starter from juniper has been conquered, I look forward to trying it out in a variety of different applications – I foresee some wild yeast sourdough experiments in the future, and eventually would love to tackle some small batch wildcrafted beer!

As with every foraging foray, please be sure to properly ID the plant that you are gathering, and make sure that you are foraging in an area free from pollutants. Only collect what you will use, and leave some for the Earth, wild critters and other foragers.