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Gin botanicals

Gin is an alcoholic drink that is defined by its use of the juniper berry to give it its unique flavour. However, other than legally having to contain juniper in order to be classified as a gin, distillers are free to add whatever other botanicals they wish in order to infuse and enhance their product. This freedom makes gin one of the most diverse liquors to produce as the list of botanicals to add is almost endless. Here is a list of some of the most common botanicals found in gin and their flavour profiles.

Juniper berries

Juniper is the primary botanical used in making gin. The bitter-sweet taste of the juniper berry must legally be the dominant flavor on the nose and palate of any gin. Juniper berry is actually not a true berry but in fact a tiny cone. These cones have unusually fleshy and merged scales, which gives them a berry-like appearance. Juniper forms part of a seed plant family called conifers. This is also the same family as pine cones.

Juniper is said to bring through flavor notes such as pine, herb, resin, and wood. There are numerous varieties of juniper berry each with its own complex flavor profile however the most common variety used in gin is Juniper Communis. Juniper was initially used for medicinal purposes for treating ailments such as stomach ache, arthritis, diabetes, and auto-immune disorders. However today it is most commonly known for gracing consumers’ palates in the form of a delicious gin cocktail.


Coriander is the second most popular botanical used in gin after juniper berries. On a molecular level, coriander and juniper have a common component called alpha-pinene which is probably the reason they pair so well together. Although it comes in various forms, the coriander seed is the most commonly used by gin manufacturers. The seeds are most often lightly crushed prior to being distilled to release their pungent aroma. Coriander is said to add a nutty, spicey, and slightly citrusy flavor to gin.

Angelica Root

Angelica otherwise known as wild celery is a herb that comes from the same family as coriander (Apiaceae). It is the third most common gin botanical. Although the whole plant can be used the most common component used in gin is the roots. Once distilled angelica root adds an earthy, woody, and herbaceous flavor to the gin. Apart from gin, angelica has also been used in other alcoholic drinks such as vermouth and absinthe.


Citrus is one of the most common gin botanicals. There are many citrus varieties however the most common citrus fruits used are oranges, lemons, limes, and grapefruit. The main portion of the fruit used by distillers is the peel as this contains the majority of the fruit’s essential oils which are responsible for its classic citrusy aroma. The bulk of this oil is in the form of “limonene” which is also a component in juniper berries. This may be why they complement each other so well. Fresh citrus peel is usually preferred to dried peel however this is not often readily available for distillers producing large quantities.

Orris Root

Orris root is the root of the Iris flower. The seeds are sown and allowed to grow for 3-4 years until the roots have reached the required size. After this, they are dug up and removed from the rest of the plant and set to dry. The drying process can take up to five years! Orris root is usually used is small pieces or in a ground-up powder. Although it has a smell similar to violets, its main use in gin is not for its taste. Orris root acts as a ‘fixative’ which is a compound that equalised vapor pressures and subsequently aroma volatility. This means it helps prevent the aromatic compounds of other botanicals from evaporating too quickly and thus being lost from the final product.

Liquorice Root

Liquorice root is a sweet, woody root originating from India and South Europe. It has long been used as a sugar substitute in cooking and as an antacid and digestive aid in medicine. But today its most common use is in gin. Most often used in powder form, the root gives the finished gin aromas and flavors similar to that of aniseed. It also is said to add to the oiliness of the drink increasing its smoothness and viscosity. It is also occasionally used in other drinks such as Jagermeister, Vermouth, and Sambuca. This is one of the most popular gin botanicals.

Grains of paradise

Grains of paradise is the seed from the Aframomum melegueta plant. It is harvested to produce a spice with peppery and citrus notes. Its taste is not dissimilar from black pepper, however, it is milder and more aromatic with hints of cardamom, coriander, and ginger – to which it is closely related. Grains of paradise have long played a role in the production of alcoholic beverages including beer, malt liquor, and aqua vitae. They are also often included in African cuisine and spice mixes – this is no surprise as they originate and are cultivated in West Africa.


Closely related to grains of paradise, ginger is a plant with a long historic background. Originating in the Middle East it was one of the first to be traded amongst ancient civilizations. It has been used for both culinary and medicinal purposes. Used either fresh, dried, or in a ground powder, ginger root imparts pungent aromas and flavors. These include sweet notes of lemon, cardamom, chili, and pepper. The spicy-sweet aroma translates well through distilling making it a very popular botanical in gin production.


Considered one of the most expensive spices in the world, cardamom contains the bulk of its flavor in its seed pods. Depending on when you harvest the pods either when it’s green or black will alter the flavor profile. Once distilled with gin, green pods leave a grassy, sweet, spicey, eucalyptol, and lemon-like taste. The black pods leave a smokier taste on the palate. Cardamom has a very distinguishable taste that makes it very popular in cuisines around the world. Due to its strong flavors, it would probably suit a spiced gin best.


Cassia bark also known as Chinese cinnamon is a sweet wood that comes from an evergreen tree originating in Asia. It is a relative of cinnamon which originates from Sri-lanka and it is very similar in appearance and taste. Cinnamon and cassia are often used interchangeably, however, Cassia bark is slightly sweeter and fiery than cinnamon although less aromatic. When used in gin it has earthy tones and a sweetness that is often perceptible towards the end. It will often be found in scroll or powder form.


Allspice berries or pimento as it’s often known are the berries from a tree cultivated in the Antilles, southern Mexico and central America. It got its name from European explorers who described the taste as being a combination between pepper, nutmeg, cinnamon, and cloves. The small ruddy berry has a common component to cloves called eugenol. It can be very pungent so careful use is adviced.


Cubeb is cultivated in Indonesia for its berries and oil. It is also known as ‘tailed-pepper’ because of its tell-tale stem attached to the berry. Once the berry is dried it looks and tastes similar to black pepper however it has more complex flavors. When combined with gin some distillates present floral qualities such as lavender and other more subtle notes of lemon and pine. This flavor profile pairs well with other common gin botanicals such as juniper and citrus. However, it should be used in moderation as too much can quickly overpower the other botanicals and dominate the taste.


Lavender is a common floral used in gins. The striking purple flowers are harvested for their sweet, herbal, and menthol taste, and aroma. It has long been used as a fragrance and even in cuisine. However, the essential oils are potent and can quickly overwhelm if not used sparingly. When used in a gin, lavender acts as a beautiful compliment to other botanicals such as cubeb and juniper. It adds a fresh and herbal element to the drink. However if too much is used it can quickly start to taste and smell artificial and soapy.


Chamomile is a daisy-like plant with a beautiful white flower with a bright yellow center. The plant is often associated with tea because of its long use in medicine for sedation and relaxation. Chamomile is a popular floral to use in gin because of its ability to withstand the heat of the distillation process without disintegrating, unlike other flowers that are more delicate and become putrid quickly. The flower also adds a light floral taste to the gin with notes of apple and hay. It is most likely to be found in its dried form.


Hibiscus is often recognized around the world for its striking flowers. The main component used in gin is the petals which offer a tart, berry-like flavor similar to cranberry or pomegranate. They also impart a striking red-purple colour which can be used to add pigment to the drink. However, over time the colour can fade from bright pink to pale yellow so distillers often opt for alternative colorants when creating a ‘pink gin’.


Jasmin is a plant that grows well in tropical to sub-tropical climates. It produces a small white flower with a pleasant aroma. Jasmine flowers have a fresh and sweet quality that is pleasant on the palate. The blossoms are often soaked in hot water and drunk as a tea. They are also used extensively in the perfume industry for their fragrance. In gin, they offer subtle, sweet, and floral notes.


Aniseed is the seed from the anise plant which is native to the eastern Mediterranean region and Southwest Asia. Anise is from the same family as celery, angelica root, and coriander. It contains a chemical compound called anethole which gives it its particularly distinct taste. Aniseed has a sweet taste similar to liquorice. It has long been used in alcoholic drinks such as ouzo, sambuca and even gin.

Star Anise

Star anise, not to be confused with aniseed is a plant with star shaped pods. It is completely unrelated to the anise plant although it has a very similar in flavour – hence where it got its name. Star anise comes from an evergreen tree in Asia as and contains the same key flavour component as aniseed called anethole. This compound gives it a sweet liquorice-like taste and aroma. Star anise is much cheaper than aniseed making it the more popular of the two.

Calamus Root

Calamus or sweet flag by which it is often known, is a tall flowering herb indigenous to South Africa. It has long been used in traditional medicine to treat digestive complaints and pain. It has also been used to make candy by cutting up the root into small pieces and boiling them in sugar. The taste of the roots has been described as gingery, spicey, and bittersweet. It pairs well with botanicals such as ginger and nutmeg as and is often found in spiced gins.

Marshmallow Root

Marshmallow root is a plant that is indigenous to Africa and has been used for many years for medicinal and confectionery purposes. Ancient Egyptians would make a sweet confection from the root which evolved into today’s commonly known marshmallow. However modern marshmallow sweets do not contain any marshmallow root. When used in a gin marshmallow root provides a sweet and subtle flavor with hints of earth and wood.


Caraway seeds are the dried edible fruit of the caraway plant. They are often used in the culinary world for flavoring various foods such as rye bread, curries, and soups. They can be used whole or ground up although whole seeds tend to be more popular. In the spirits industry caraway is often used as a gin botanical that imparts earth, peppery and citrus flavors similar to anise.


The fennel plant grows as a white bulb with a fine leafy head. The vegetable is sometimes used for culinary purposes however more commonly used is the plant’s small brown seed. The seed has a liquorice-like taste along with the component anethole which is found predominantly in anise. Thus they are often used as complements of one another. It has a strong herb-like and vegetal quality that works well in absinthe however it has also become more popular in contemporary gins.


Honeybush (Cyclopia) is a shrubby plant that is indigenous to South Africa. Commonly grown in the Eastern Cape, the plant is harvested mostly for its leaves and bark which are used to make tea. The woody plant produces small white flowers that have a sweet, honey-like aroma and taste from which it gets its name. Honeybush has become one of the very popular gin botanicals used in South African gins to add a sweet, floral, slightly roasted flavour.


Redbush or Rooibos as it is commonly known is a fynbos plant closely related to honeybush. It is indigenous to South Africa and is mostly grown in the Western Cape. The shrub is harvested mainly for its leaves and bark which are used to make a traditional herbal tea known to have many health benefits. When used as a gin botanical the flavor comes through as sweet, woody, and nutty. It is a popular botanical used in fynbos gins originating In South Africa.

There are many other gin botanicals however these are some of the most common ones. Making your own gin can be an extremely fun and rewarding activity. What are your favorite combinations? We would love to hear from you – you can contact us on our Instagram or Facebook page or by sending us an email at