Gin botanicals: local or not?

When you try to compare 100 gins, many of them seem similar for a typical gin lover, but specialists see massive differences between them.

There are many similarities because the heart of all gins is the same - in essence, gin is a juniper-flavoured spirit. However, in addition to juniper, distillers use a wide variety of other botanicals to give their gin that unique taste.

Many gin makers import all their ingredients and claim they are combining the best herbs from all over the world.

At the same time, we can find most botanicals we need from around the home. We pick ourselves our juniper berries, birch leaves, wild thyme, lilac blossoms and several other herbs. In northern Europe, we could also use local fresh basil, rosemary, angelica, lemon verbena, blackcurrant leaf or rose petals.

Foraging in 2019 - Tarmo and Maarit are Heading to the nature to pick some herbs. Photo by Kristina Mägi

Foraging in 2019 - Tarmo and Maarit are Heading to the nature to pick some herbs. Photo by Kristina Mägi

The idea of the local garden has proliferated in popularity, and so, naturally, many local producers source increasing amounts of their botanicals from what the locals.

For example, Edinburgh Gin uses 14 botanicals from local gardens, and advises to look out for the slightly vegetal fennel (both seeds and leaves) and sweet cicely, alongside exotic plants such as Piper Leaf, Tasmannia Lanceolata leaf and Tasmanian Mountain Pepper, all grown and freshly picked just a few miles from the distillery.


There are hundreds of different botanicals used to flavour gin, like the Nordic ginger we use for Lahhentagge Ösel Dry, but the following are the most commonly used:

Juniper berries

The main ingredient of all gins usually comes from the Mediterranean (Italy, Serbia, Macedonia), or even from India. A few producers source their juniper berries from Eastern Europe, but the most popular juniper berries are often considered to be from mountain slopes in Tuscany and Macedonia. The European berries tend to be darker, smaller, and more costly than Asian ones.

"Juniper berries are fragrant and spicy with a bittersweet taste and overtones of pine, lavender, camphor and overripe banana topped by a peppery finish," Difford's Guide, one of the most prominent drinks industry publications, describes the taste palate.

Coriander seeds

The second most common flavouring in gins, Coriander seeds come from countries like Morocco, Romania, Moldavia, Bulgaria and Russia.

"The essential oil in coriander is linalool, and this is mellow, spicy, fragrant and aromatic with candied ginger, lemon and sage taste," according to Difford's Guide.

It provides a sophisticated citrus top note to gin, although there are claims some distillers use the citrus peel as a cheaper alternative to coriander.

Angelica and orris root

Both of these roots are often used in gins to marry together the volatile flavours of other botanicals, giving length and substance to the taste of the spirit.

"Angelica has a musky, nutty, damp woody/rooty (forest floor), sweet flavour with a piney, dry edge and I find it generally reminiscent of mushrooms," says Difford's Guide.

Picking orris roots is a special kind of art - you harvest 3-4-year-old plants, then they are stored for 2-3 years to allow the flavour to develop. Eventually the well-dried root is very hard and it requires grinding.

Lemon and orange peel

Lemon and orange peels add freshness and citrus-nodes to the taste of gin, containing a high proportion of the fruit's' flavourous oils.

Most distillers source their citrus peels from Spain where the fruits are still hand-peeled and hung out to dry in the sun.