Sloe (Blackthorn)

Sloe also known as Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa) is a thorny hedgerow plant with dark purple berries often sought after in autumn to make warming country wine or gin.

The small tree or shrub also has a firm place in folk history and medicine in the British Isles.

Scientific Name

Prunus spinosa



Botanical Description

Small tree or shrub growing up to 4 m tall. The bark is blackish with spiny black stems, oval-like leaves, and snowy-white flowers. Dark purplish berries appear between August to November.


Deciduous. Native.


Deciduous woodland, hedgerows, river banks, scrub

Parts Used for Food

Fruits, flowers, and leaves.

Harvest Time

The tree blossoms March to April and yield fruit from August to November.

Food Uses

Picking sloes, or blackthorn berries, in autumn, is a well-kept countryside tradition in Britain, Ireland and parts of Europe. The fruit is often made into sloe wine or gin. Sloes are also used to make jam and jelly.

The flowers can be sugared for edible cake decorations and a tea can be made from the leaves.

Nutritional Profile

Fresh sloes contain about 10 mg of vitamin C and 5 mg of vitamin E per 100g. They are rich in other nutrients: 453 mg potassium, 5 mg calcium and 22 mg magnesium per 100g.

The fruit are also very high in antioxidant compounds phenols and flavonoids, and in essential fatty acids, which are thought to bring many health benefits such as reducing the incidence of chronic disease.

Sloe Recipes

Herbal Medicine Uses

The astringent berries and bark have been used to treat diarrhoea, while the flowers have been used as a laxative.

Sloes were also used as remedies for coughs and colds because of their astringency. The peeled bark boiled in water was a gypsy remedy for bronchitis.

Other Uses

This prickly shrub has made an excellent hedgerow for centuries, providing a nearly impenetrable barrier for fields and coasts.

Safety Note

There is little conclusive data on the toxicity of blackthorn, although caution is always advised when using any medicinal herb during pregnancy or when breastfeeding, or when using alongside a prescribed medication for a specific condition. Consult your healthcare adviser first.

The most-reported injury caused by the plant is due to its spiny thorns.


Allen, D. E. & Hatfield, G. (2004) Medicinal plants in folk tradition: an ethnobotany of Britain & Ireland. Portland: Timber Press.

Facciola, S. (1998) Cornucopia II: a source book of edible plants. Vista: Kampong Publications.

Grigson, G. (1996) The Englishman’s flora. Oxford: Helicon.

Sánchez-Mata, M. de C. & Tardío, J. (eds.) (2016) Mediterranean wild edible plants: ethnobotany and food composition tables. New York: Springer.


    • Carla – The gypsies would peel the bark and boil it in water. I would suspect in the way one makes a decoction. Chop the bark up, place in cold water and bring to a boil. As soon as the water starts boiling, turn it down to low and simmer for 20-30 minutes. I usually allow 50g per 500ml of water. But I like strong brews, others would disagree. I strongly advise that you only get the bark from the twigs and branches and not the ‘trunk’, otherwise, you can kill the plant.

  1. Dear Robin,

    I have mixed picked sloes with muscovado sugar and then put them in the freezer. I intend eating them with brandy and cream, after thawing, as I do with the blackcurrants/raspberries I grow.
    Do the stones contain cyanide (as do some other stone fruits) and are they safe to eat?

  2. I’ve picked loads of Sloe berries this year has been a bumper year.
    I put down an upturned umbrella to catch them .
    I’ve semi frozen them and boiled them slowly and strained and them throwing away the stones and strained twice so as to leave a nice, near clear juice can
    I add jam sugar now to make a syrpe? Yours c duffy

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