We have an incredible amount of blackthorn growing on our farm, which is not surprising when you know that the Old English name for our farm name meant “enclosure of the sloe tree hill”. A blackthorn hedge makes a good stockproof boundary, though the suckers it sends out can lead to a hedge several times the original width if not controlled.
In spring, the froth of white blackthorn blossom against the dark, blackish brown bark is a wonderful sight. After the blossom has blown away, the leaves come out and the small fruits, known as sloes, start to form. The sloes ripen at the end of summer, developing a blue bloom that turns purple and then to a glossy black. Sloes are a wild ancestor of our cultivated plums, but take a bite of what looks like a tiny plum and you’ll spit it out straight away as sloes are incredibly astringent.
Despite their inedibility, sloes can be used to make a delicious drink if left in gin or vodka for a few months. They can also be mixed (sparingly) with other hedgerow fruit for jellies and jam, the flowers crystallised for dainty cake decorations (if you have the patience) and the early leaves make a delicious drink.