Sloe/Blackthorn – Prunellier/L’Epine Noir
In the winter it is Sloe picking time! Before picking, the berries have to have been exposed to a period of frost or alternatively you put them in the freezer to create a similar condition. Just recently, on a walk at the beginning of February, we came across a Sloe bush that had many berries left on its branches. We tried eating one to see what it would taste like and were surprised, the berries had lost that extreme tartness, they tasted not unlike blackberries. The astringency after eating remained.
Sloes grow all over Europe. It is a dense, deciduous, twiggy, suckering shrub to 4m that forms thickets. The spinosa in Prunus spinosa indicates the pointed, thorn-like spur shoots. The bark is blackish, hence the name ‘Blackthorn’, the young twigs are usually hairy. The leaves are oval, finely toothed and short-stalked. The flowers are creamy-white and appear before the leaves. The fruits are round, 10-15mm, plum-like, black with a bluish bloom when ripe. It belongs to the Rose Family, Rosaseae.
Sloe thickets are a favourite place for nesting birds. This shrub has a longevity similar to that of humans and, if not controlled, is very invasive. The wood makes excellent firewood, it burns slowly without smoke. Traditionally, tool handles were made of the wood and walking sticks and golf clubs from the straight branches.
In herbal medicines the flowers are a soft and safe laxative, especially for children with stomach complaints or constipation. In folk medicine the flowers were used as a diuretic, for blood cleansing and colds.
As a laxative: a soup spoon full of flowers (1/2 if dried flowers are used) to 1 cup of hot water (boiled but let it stand for 3 minutes before use). Pour the hot water over the herbs, cover it and let it rest for 10-15 minutes, strain. This should be taken first thing in the morning before eating or drinking.
For blood cleansing: 1 tbsp of flowers (1/2 if dried flowers are used), to 1 cup of hot water (boiled but let it stand for 3 minutes before use). Pour the hot water over the herbs, cover it and let it rest for 10-15 minutes, strain. Take several cups a day.
Pick the sloe berries after the first frost or freeze overnight in order to break the skins or alternatively prick the skins several times.
Makes about 800ml: 750 ml sloes, 700 ml gin, approx. 55 g caster sugar, a small handful of peeled almonds
Place the fruit in a large sterilised preserving jar (sterilise it in a very hot dishwasher, or boil it in a pan of water for 10 minutes) with the alcohol and sugar. More sugar can be added at the rebottling stage, once tasted. Close the jar tightly and store in a dark place for two to three months, ideally turning it every few days, until sugar dissolves. Strain off the alcohol through a jelly bag or muslin and pour into warm, dry sterilised bottles. If liked, some berries can be returned to the bottles. Seal, label and date. The contents will keep for years, if you can resist.
Bibliography: A Cook on the Wild Side – Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall; Gebruik van farmaceutische en volkse geneeskruiden – L. Vandenbussche & Dr. P. Braekman; Mediterranean Wild Flowers – Marjorie Blamey and Christopher Grey-Wilson; Fytotherapetuisch compendium – J. Van Hellemont; Web – Wikipedia.