Blackthorn

Traditionally used to treat diarrhea and oral inflammation, ancient folklore associates blackthorn with witchcraft and ill omens.

Quick Facts
General Information
  • Common name(s)Blackthorn, sloe
  • Scientific namePrunus spinosa
  • Plant typeShrub
  • Native regionEastern or Central Europe, Central Asia
  • Main producer(s)China
  • Main Economic UseCulinary, Living fence
Blackthorn

Blackthorn is native to Europe, western Asia, and northern Africa. After blackthorn charcoal and its fruit seeds were found in an archaeological site near Dublin, it has been argued that the herb's use dates as far back as the 13th century. The history of blackthorn is rooted in the United Kingdom, as blackthorn was traditionally used as a "cattle-proof" hedge to keep the cattle inside the perimeter of the land. Blackthorn was also commonly used as a wind and snow screen for land because of its density. Blackthorn is still studied today, as it thought to possess many medicinal properties.

Medicinal and Nutritional Information

Quick Facts (Medicinal and Nutritional Information)
  • Medicinal actionAnti-inflammatory, Digestive
  • Key constituentsTannins, phenols
  • Medicinal rating(2) Minorly useful plant
  • Safety rankingSafety undetermined

Health Benefits of Blackthorn

The diuretic, laxative, astringent, and anti-inflammatory qualities of blackthorn have given this herb recognition for its medicinal uses in the following ways:

  • Treating inflammation of the mouth, throat, and gums

  • Treating diarrhea and urinary problems

  • Promoting regular digestion and relieving constipation

How It Works

Did you know?

Tannins have strong antiseptic, antidiarrheal, and anti-inflammatory actions.

The primary compounds that are responsible for blackthorn's health benefits are tannins, flavonoids, and phenolic acids. Tannins have strong antiseptic, antidiarrheal, and anti-inflammatory action. Flavonoids and phenolic acids possess antioxidant properties that inhibit oxidation and protect cells against free radicals. Blackthorn fruit and dried flowers hold most of the plant's medicinal benefits.

Other fruits with anti-inflammatory properties are cherry and melon, while kiwi and pineapple share similar digestive properties.

How to Consume Blackthorn

Quick Facts (How to Consume)
  • Edible partsFruit
  • Edible usesBeverage

While blackthorn is more commonly known for its industrial and culinary uses, it can also be consumed in medicinal preparations that concentrate its healing benefits and can be easily prepared at home.

Remedies

Main preparations: Tea, gargle

  • Tea. An infusion can be brewed from one to two grams of dried blackthorn flowers. One or two cups can be taken per day.

  • Gargle. A blackthorn gargle is made by brewing an infusion of two to four grams of dried fruit. Fresh fruit juice can also be gargled. This is used to reduce mouth and throat inflammation.

Food and Drink

Blackthorn is most well-known for its common use in making gin, most commonly called sloe gin. The fruit is steeped in a jar of gin and sugar for at least three months to produce a uniquely-flavored liquor. Wine, juice, and cider are also beverages commonly flavored with blackthorn. Additional alimentary uses of blackthorn include fruit pies, jams, dyes, and syrups.

Buying

Blackthorn is usually consumed in processed forms, such as juices, gins, syrups, jams, and pies because it is quite bitter on its own. In addition, blackthorn is  made into supplements for medicinal purposes because of its anti-inflammatory, diuretic, and astringent properties; though uncommon, these supplements can be found online.

Blackthorn products are becoming more widely available in the U.S. due to the herb's increasing popularity.

Growing

Quick Facts (Growing)
  • Life cyclePerennial
  • Harvested partsFlowers, Fruit
  • Light requirementsFull sun
  • SoilChalky or lime-rich
  • Planting timeSummer
  • Propagation techniquesCuttings

This thorny shrub, with white flowers and dark branches, is native to Europe and western Asia, but it can also be found in New Zealand and eastern North America. It naturally grows in hedgerows and woodlands, where it can form dense stands. Blackthorn is a relatively low-maintenance, slow-growing shrub that is though and resilient once established.

Growing Guidelines

  • Blackthorn can be easily propagated from softwood cuttings or from seed.

  • Blackthorn grows best in full sun and tolerates most soils, as long they are well-drained, except the acidic ones. 

  • It requires moderate water and occasional pruning.

  • Blackthorn naturally spreads by suckers, as well as by bird- or animal-sown seed. Regular weeding is necessary in order to prevent uncontrolled growth.

Additional Information

Quick Facts (Additional Information)
  • Other usesFuel

Plant Biology

Blackthorn is a woody, deciduous shrub that can grow up to 20 feet (6 m) in height. It is characterized by dull green leaves, white flowers, dark bark, and showy blue-black, spherical fruits. Blackthorn fruits are very similar to plums, a close relative.

  • Classification
    Blackthorn, or Prunus spinosa, is a member of the Rosaceae family, among other economically important species, such as apple (Malus domestica), apricot (Prunus armeniaca), blackberry (Rubus fruticosus), pear (Pyrus communis), and plum or prune (Prunus domestica).

  • Related Species
    There are several species related to blackthorn that are also used medicinally. The most well-known related species are plum (Prunus domestica) and wild cherry (Prunus avium), which were used traditionally for their diuretic and astringent properties. Other relatives of blackthorn are morello cherry (Prunus cerasus) and black cherry (Prunus serotina).

Economic Data

Blackthorn is widely used to make a variety of products, but its main economic value lies in the food and beverage industry. The high economic value of blackthorn can be attributed to the commercial sale of the raw and its wide use in making gin, wine, preserves, and various desserts. China leads the world production of sloe, yielding over 6 million tons in 2012.

Other Uses

Blackthorn bark makes good firewood because it burns slowly and provides ample heat. Blackthorn wood is also commonly used for tool handles and canes for walking. The shrub is also used as a living fence to keep cattle within property lines.

Bibliography