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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.
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 woodland, hedgerows, river banks, scrub
Parts Used for Food
Fruits, flowers, and leaves.
The tree blossoms March to April and yield fruit from August to November.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.