Traditional and Modern Use of 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.

Common Name

Blackthorn /  Sloe

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.
Sloe Notebook

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 REF and a tea can be made from the leaves.REF

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.REF

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.REF

Sloe Recipes

Traditional Medicine Uses

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

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.


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.

About The Author

Robin HarfordRobin Harford is a plant-based forager, ethnobotanical researcher, and wild food educator. He is the author of Plantopedia: The Past and Present Uses of Wild Plants.

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    • 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. Very informative. I will make the jam next year. I didn’t know sloes could be used for jam. This year I made sloe gin. Thanks for the information.

  2. Thanks, I was doing a project for school which mentioned sloe berries and I didn’t know what they were.
    This helped, thanks 🙂

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