There have been some questions specifically regarding Juniper species and edibility.
The type of juniper berry is important, there are supposedly several types of edible juniper. In addition to J. communis, other edible species include Juniperus drupacea, Juniperus oxycedrus, Juniperus phoenicea, Juniperus deppeana, and Juniperus californica.
Juniperus communis is what we have been using here in the U.S., and that is what is commonly available at the store. We realized when we returned to the U.S. and started brewing our own Smreka that it had a (although delicious) slightly different flavor than the distinctly sour beverage we had in Sarajevo. We are trying to find out what the commonly used species of Juniper is in Bosnia and Herzegovina and we will let you know once we know.
We think the berries can be used fresh or dried, but one should do their own research. One thing to note about using herbs in general is that more of a fresh herb is usually needed to get the same medicinal or flavor effects than when using dried herbs. From what we read online about Juniper, the opposite may be true. Also, our Smreka recipe is based in volume and not on weight. This is worth mentioning because fresh Juniper berries will weigh more than dried Juniper berries, which will effect the recipe. We have never seen fresh Juniper berries available for sale. If you are harvesting your own berries it is very important to know what species you are working with (as there are over 40 and only some are considered edible). Also, Juniper berries take years to ripen, so pay attention to that aspect as well.
The jury seems to be out on whether Juniper toxicity must be considered. We are not experts, and certainly one should do there own research. My conclusion is that one should try it out and if you experience any discomfort stop consumption.
Initially we did not say anything in this regard as our initial research regarding toxicity convinced us that it is not a concern. Nonetheless some say there is a risk to the kidneys. The following study shows that indeed there is no toxicity, yet some people do complain of discomfort so use your own judgment.
“The nephrotoxicity of juniper oil … was evaluated in … rats after oral administration. Two … slightly different oil batches were tested for 28 days with 100, 333 or 1000 mg … resp. 100, 300 or 900 mg … juniper oil/kg. Additionally terpinene-4-ol … was tested in a dosage of 400 mg/kg. Neither of the tested substances induced changes in function or morphology of the kidneys at the tested doses, and they were revealed to be nontoxic.”
Schilcher H, Leuschner F., The potential nephrotoxic effects of essential juniper oil., Arzneimittelforschung. 1997 Jul;47(7):855-8.