Common name: Blackthorn, sloe
Botanical name: Prunus spinosa
Family: Rosaceae (Rose)
Worldwide distribution: Native to Europe, western Asia and northwest Africa, though naturalised in other parts of the world.
Local distribution: Very common all over Ireland and the UK, though increasingly scarce in the north of Scotland.
Habitat: Hedgerow, woodland edges and scrub.
Foraging season: Flowers early to late spring and fruit mid to late autumn.
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. The bloom is edible and taste a bit like almonds.
Having said that, we are most interested in the sloes, the deep purple berries that start to ripen in early autumn. They are technically fruits and are the smallest and tartest of all the plum family.
The fruit is too tart to eat raw, but is ideal to infuse 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.