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Common Names :Blackthorn or Sloe
Habitat : Prunus spinosa is native to Europe, including Britain, from Scandanavia south and east to the Mediterranean, Siberia and Iran, western Asia, and locally in northwest Africa. It is also locally naturalised in New Zealand and eastern North America.
It grows in Hedgerows and woods, usually in sunny positions, on all soils except acid peats
The expression “sloe-eyed” for a person with dark eyes comes from the fruit, and is first attested in A. J. Wilson’s 1867 novel Vashti
Prunus spinosa is a deciduous large shrub or small tree growing to 5 m tall, with blackish bark and dense, stiff, spiny branches. The leaves are oval, 2–4.5 cm long and 1.2–2 cm broad, with a serrated margin. The flowers are 1.5 cm diameter, with five creamy-white petals; they are produced shortly before the leaves in early spring, and are hermaphroditic and insect-pollinated. The fruit, called a “sloe”, is a drupe 10–12 millimetres (0.39–0.47 in) in diameter, black with a purple-blue waxy bloom, ripening in autumn, and harvested — traditionally, at least in the UK, in October or November after the first frosts. Sloes are thin-fleshed, with a very strongly astringent flavour when fresh.
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It is hardy to zone 4. It is in flower from March to April, and the seeds ripen in October. The flowers are hermaphrodite (have both male and female organs) and are pollinated by Insects. It is noted for attracting wildlife.
The plant prefers light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils and requires well-drained soil. The plant prefers acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils and can grow in very alkaline soil. It can grow in semi-shade (light woodland) or no shade. It requires moist soil. The plant can tolerate maritime exposure.
Prunus spinosa is frequently confused with the related P. cerasifera (cherry plum), particularly in early spring when the latter starts flowering somewhat earlier than P. spinosa. They can be distinguished by flower colour, creamy white in P. spinosa, pure white in P. cerasifera. They can also be distinguished in winter by the more shrubby habit with stiffer, wider-angled branches of P. spinosa; in summer by the relatively narrower leaves of P. spinosa, more than twice as long as broad; and in autumn by the colour of the fruit skin — purplish-black in P. spinosa and yellow or red in P. cerasifera.
Prunus spinosa has a tetraploid (2n=4x=32) set of chromosomes
Requires a well-drained moisture retentive soil. Succeeds in all soils except very acid peats. Succeeds in light shade but fruits better in a sunny position. Thrives in a loamy soil, doing well on limestone. Prefers some chalk in the soil but apt to become chlorotic if too much is present. Thrives on chalk according to another report. Plants are very resistant to maritime exposure. An important food plant for the caterpillars of several species of butterfly, especially the larvae of the brown and black hairstreak butterflies. A good bee plant. Plants are shallow-rooted and of a suckering habit, they can form dense impenetrable thickets which are ideal for nesting birds, especially nightingales. Flowers are often damaged by late frosts. Plants regenerate quickly after cutting or after fast moving forest fires, producing suckers from below ground level. This species is notably resistant to honey fungus.
Seed – requires 2 – 3 months cold stratification and is best sown in a cold frame as soon as it is ripe. Sow stored seed in a cold frame as early in the year as possible. Protect the seed from mice etc. The seed can be rather slow, sometimes taking 18 months to germinate. Prick out the seedlings into individual pots when they are large enough to handle. Grow them on in a greenhouse or cold frame for their first winter and plant them out in late spring or early summer of the following year. Cuttings of half-ripe wood with a heel, July/August in a frame. Softwood cuttings from strongly growing plants in spring to early summer in a frame. Layering in spring. Division of suckers during the dormant season. They can be planted out direct into their permanent positions.
Edible Parts: Flowers; Fruit; Seed.
Edible Uses: Tea.
Fruit – raw or cooked. Exceedingly astringent, it is normally cooked but once the fruit has been frosted it loses some of its astringency and some people find they can enjoy it raw. The fruit is more usually used in jellies, syrups, conserves etc and as a flavouring for sloe gin and other liqueurs. Some fruits that we ate in December were fairly pleasant raw[K]. In France the unripe fruit is pickled like an olive. The fruit is about 15mm in diameter and contains one large seed. Seed – raw or cooked. Do not eat the seed if it is too bitter – see the notes above on toxicity. The leaves are used as a tea substitute. The dried fruits can be added to herbal teas. The flowers are edible and can be crystallised or sugared.
The flowers, bark, leaves and fruits are aperient, astringent, depurative, diaphoretic, diuretic, febrifuge, laxative and stomachic. An infusion of the flowers is used in the treatment of diarrhoea (especially for children), bladder and kidney disorders, stomach weakness et. Although no specific mention has been seen for this species, all members of the genus contain amygdalin and prunasin, substances which break down in water to form hydrocyanic acid (cyanide or prussic acid). In small amounts this exceedingly poisonous compound stimulates respiration, improves digestion and gives a sense of well-being.
The syrup from sloes is an astringent medicine and used to stem nose-bleeding. It is massaged into the gums causing firmness and so preventing the teeth from becoming loose. And rubbed onto the teeth, it can remove tartar and improve their whiteness, giving them a sparkle. An infusion of the leave in warm water and used as a mouthwash has much the same effect. A tea from the flowers serves as a purgative. It is also recommended for stomach complaints and to stimulate the urinary and intestinal processes. It is also used to clean the skin and remove blemishes. The stone-free fruit is used to make jam to aid the functions of the stomach and stop diarrhea. The crushed fruit (with stones) is used as a base for vaginal rinses and to arrest brewing. A decoction from the bark is used to reduce fever. Although no specific mention has been seen for this species, all members of the genus contain amygdalin and prunasin, substances which break down in water to form hydrocyanic acid (cyanide or prussic acid). In small amounts this exceedingly poisonous compound stimulates respiration, improves digestion and gives a sense of well-being.
Cosmetic; Dye; Hedge; Ink; Pioneer; Tannin; Wood.
The bark is a good source of tannin. It is used to make an ink. The juice of unripe fruits is used as a laundry mark, it is almost indelible. The pulped ripe fruit is used cosmetically in making astringent face-masks. A green dye can be obtained from the leaves. A dark grey to green dye can be obtained from the fruit. The bark, boiled in an alkali, produces a yellow dye. The sloe is very resistant to maritime exposure and also suckers freely. It can be used as a hedge in exposed maritime positions. The hedge is stock-proof if it is well maintained, though it is rather bare in the winter and, unless the hedge is rather wide, it is not a very good shelter at this time. Because of its suckering habit, the plant is a natural pioneer species, invading cultivated fields and creating conditions conducive to the regeneration of woodland. Wood – very hard. Used for turnery, the teeth of rakes etc. Suitable branches are used for making walking sticks and are highly valued for this purpose because of their twisted and interesting shapes.
Known Hazards: Although no specific mention has been seen for this species, it belongs to a genus where most, if not all members of the genus produce hydrogen cyanide, a poison that gives almonds their characteristic flavour. This toxin is found mainly in the leaves and seed and is readily detected by its bitter taste. It is usually present in too small a quantity to do any harm but any very bitter seed or fruit should not be eaten. In small quantities, hydrogen cyanide has been shown to stimulate respiration and improve digestion, it is also claimed to be of benefit in the treatment of cancer. In excess, however, it can cause respiratory failure and even death.
Disclaimer : The information presented herein is intended for educational purposes only. Individual results may vary, and before using any supplements, it is always advisable to consult with your own health care provider.
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