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Blackthorn (Sloe)

Edible Edible Autumn Autumn

This bush like tree is no giant. We always look for it around the edges of fields or grassland around woods, or just poking out of hedgerows. The dark bark can help with identification. Earlier in the year it is easy to identify as the flowers come out in late February/March to April before the leaves appear.

Hedgerow Type
Common Names Blackthorn (Sloe), Sloe Bush
Scientific Name Prunus spinosa
Season Start Sep
Season End Nov
Please note that each and every hedgerow item you come across may vary in appearance to these photos.


The leaves are oval with a serrated margin up to 2cm long.


The flowers are roughly 1.5 centimetres in diameter, with five off-white petals; they are produced shortly before the leaves in early spring.


The humble sloe really packs a punch when eaten raw and is so astringent it’s like filling ones mouth with cotton wool. The fruit has a pale ‘bloom’ covering a dark purple to black little plum.


The tough woody tree has dark bark and vicious thorns hence the name blackthorn.


Around the edges of fields and woodland.

Possible Confusion

Other plums.


Sloes are incredibly astringent raw and will suck all the moisture out of your mouth in seconds if you eat them. It’s worth munching the flesh off of one of the small plum like fruits just for the experience, there is a sweetness that comes with it which can be quite pleasant when the fruit is very ripe, and nibbling them can somehow be strangely addictive!

This fruit is mainly used for Sloe Gin, and to my mind that is the best use for them. Once you remove them from your gin they can be added to cider to make Sloe Cider and when removed from the cider they will be much sweeter and quite boozy so can then be used in many ways as a sweet fruit, coated in chocolate they are lovely, but remember to remove the stone!


Protect your arms from the vicious thorns you find on almost all Blackthorns. Collect the fruit in October or November, preferably after they have been exposed to a frost. Alternatively if you are feeling impatient, collect them and freeze at home for the same effect.

Other Facts

The shrub, with its savage thorns, is traditionally used in Northern Europe and Britain in making a “cattle-proof” hedge.

Blackthorn makes an excellent fire wood that burns slowly with a good heat and little smoke. The wood takes a fine polish and is used for tool handles and canes.

Straight blackthorn stems have traditionally been made into walking sticks or clubs. In the British Army, blackthorn sticks are carried by commissioned officers of the Royal Irish Regiment; the tradition also occurs in Irish regiments in some Commonwealth countries.


4 comments for Blackthorn (Sloe)

  1. J.Crane says:

    I have been told that the bushes in my garden are blackthorn it is a really awfully prolific bush and it is taking over my garden it sends roots under ground and shoots up everywhere, I have tried to get rid of it, but fighting a loosening battle, I really hate it.

    1. Eric Biggane says:

      Could you send some photos to admin@wildfooduk as it doesn’t sound like blackthorn but I could be wrong. If you can dig up the roots, that should kill the plant but there are probably viable seeds/stones still left in the soil so you may have to do this for a few seasons to totally eradicate it. The other option is to use the sloes, they make great gin or I use them to make fruit leathers. These can all be found in the articles, recipes or guides on the website.

  2. Sarah Spooner says:

    Are any of the berry plants that might be confused with blackthorn poisonous? I’ve made what I think is sloe gin, the berries and leaves were the same but there weren’t any thorns when I picked them and I don’t want to harm anyone!!

    1. Eric Biggane says:

      The only real look-a-likes are other plum varieties like bullace or hybrids between bullaces, sloes and damsons. If they looked and tasted like sloes, they are or another edible plum variety/hybrid.

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