Sloes (Blackthorn)

Sloes on blackthorn bush (Prunus spinosa)
Sloes are the fruit of the Blackthorn, a thorny shrub with dark purple berries. The berries are picked in autumn to make good old country wine and sloe gin for Christmas.

Table of Contents

Blackthorn: Plant profile

Common names

Blackthorn, Sloe, Sloe Bush, Draighean (IE)

Botanical name

Prunus spinosa

Plant family

Rosaceae (Rose)


Native to Europe, western Asia and northwest Africa, though naturalised in other parts of the world. Very common all over Ireland and the UK, though increasingly scarce in the north of Scotland.

Where to find Sloes

Hedgerow, woodland edges and scrub.

When to find Sloes

Flowers early to late spring and fruit mid to late autumn.

How to identify Sloes

Blackthorn is a small tree or shrub growing up to 4 m, with thorny thin branches. The bark is blackish  The leaves are oval shaped, wrinkled with serrated margin. The flowers bloom in March to April, shortly before the leaves in early spring and are white, with five petals. The fruit ripen in early autumn  and is dark-purple in colour, with a stone in the middle.

Sloe lookalikes

Other plants in the plum family such as Bullace and Damson (Prunus domestica subsp. insititia) have similar fruits, which are a bit bigger and less tart in flavour. However all of them are edible.

The flower can be confused to that of Hawthorn (Crataegus sp.) and may resemble Crabapple (Malus sylvestris) bloom.

Blackthorn bush in bloom (Prunus spinosa)

All about Blackthorn

Blackthorn is one of the most abundant shrubs in British hedgerows. Landowners and farmers traditionally planted them to keep land borders and make cattle-proof barriers, because the thorny nature of the shrub forms impenetrable thickets.

It bursts into life in early spring, when masses of densely clustered white flowers appear before the leaves are unfurled.

Medicinal properties of Sloes

The plant has astringent, depurative, diaphoretic, diuretic and laxative properties.

Culinary uses and recipes with Sloes

The bloom is edible and taste a bit like almonds when infused.

However it’s the Sloe that we are most interested in, which is the deep purple berry that start to ripen in early autumn. It’s technically a fruit and is the smallest and tartest of all the Plum family fruits.

Although it’s extremely tart to eat raw, the fruit is great when infused in alcoholic drinks. The flavoursome Sloe gin is an old favourite but can be used to make pacharan or bargnolino. The fruit leftovers have been traditionally used to make Sloe gin chocolates.

Sloes on blackthorn bush (Prunus spinosa)

Safe foraging of Sloes

Protect your arms when collecting the berries, because the shrub has sharp thorns.

The leaves and seeds (stones) contain hydrogen cyanide and should not be consumed.

Ecological importance of Blackthorn

The leaves provide a food source for the larvae of moth species such as black and brown hairstreak. Flowers are appreciated by bumblebees in spring.

The shrub is used as stock-proof hedging due to its dense, tangled and thorny nature. Several birds nest in Blackthorn bushes, such as chaffinches and yellowhammers.

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Alvaro // Wild Plant Guy

Alvaro // Wild Plant Guy

I am the human behind BritishLocalFood. As a forager and wild food educator, my aim is to inspire you to go outdoors, familiarise with your local plants and make the best of their culinary and medicinal properties, in the hope you'd pass on any knowledge gained down to the next generation.

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5 thoughts on “Sloes (Blackthorn)”

  1. Pick the sloe wash them well i put them in fridge for a day or two wondering how to eat them and then i put about 30 to 40 of them in a saucepanon a hot ring and just covered the top of them with boiling water save cooking time and getle simmered them for approx two hours with a lid on keep to keep heat in at 3 different stages i added 3 good table spoons of raw honey from my keeper bee friend and every so often i would give them a vigorus stir when time was up i left them in pan till next day i then strained the liquid into a small jug and put it in fridge to have as a drink at a later time the sloes went into a basin into the fridge for a day next day i had some apple sauce that i had in freezer cooked many days before once unfrozen i added about 4 table spoons full to the sloes in the dish and a good splash of fresh double organic cream then 3 table spoons of ambroia delux custard stirred it all together dished it out to the family no dry mouth no bitterness a perfect after pudding perfect family complained i should have made more .Warning i left the stones in the fruit at all times we put them i themn a dish as we were eating now there in the garden so we eill have our vrry own sloes in time


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