Blackthorn - Prunus spinosa

Blakcthorn - Prunus spinosa - flowers

Main features

  • Found in woodland, hedgerows, gardens and parks

  • Reaches 7m

  • Leaves are oval in shape, wrinkled, and serrated

  • Leaves broaden slightly on the top half

  • Bark is very dark coloured

  • Many long thorns present on twigs

  • Flowers are white in March to April

  • Fruit is purple-black with bluish cast

  • Fruit appears in Autumn 

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Blackthorn - Prunus spinosa

Edible tree - novice

Other common names: Sloe, Sloe Bush


Scientific name meaning: Literally meaning plum tree, Prunus is a Latin word. Spinosa is from the Latin Spina, meaning thorn or spine

Season Flowers early Spring, Fruit Autumn

Habitat - where will I find it? Blackthorn can be found in hedgerows, woodlands, parks and gardens.

It is a native of Britain, Europe and North Asia

Description - what does it look like? A low-growing tree reaching around 7m, with thin branches. 

The bark is very dark coloured. Long thorns emerge from the twigs.

Leaves are oval shaped, wrinkled and serrated. The leaves broaden slightly on the top half.

Flowers are white, with five petals and in bloom in March to April. They are followed in Autumn by small dark purple fruits containing a single stone. The skin of the fruit often has a blueish cast

Possible lookalikes Bullace and Damson. Fortunately, the fruit of both of these is edible. 

Blackthorn, however, has a considerable number of thorns compared to Damson and Bullace

Use as a food The fruit is often used to make Gin liqueurs. It is too astringent and bitter to eat raw.

Cooked, the fruit is used to make jams, jellies, syrups, ketchups and chutneys.

The flowers are also edible and have a mild almond flavour

Use in herbal medicine Has been used to treat flatulence, diarrhoea, muscle spasms and fevers

If you are suffering from any ailment or need medical advice, please see your General Practitioner

Other uses The traditional wood for making Irish shillelaghs, it is used to make other walking sticks. Different coloured dyes can be made from several parts of the tree. Its thorns make it excellent stock hedging

Hazards The leaves and seeds contain cyanogenic glycosides and hydrogen cyanide. The seeds/stones, leaves, barks, stems and twigs should not be consumed

Importance to other species Provides a valuable nectar source for pollinators, and abundant food source for birds. The leaves  provide a food source for the caterpillars of The Lackey, Magpie, Common Emerald, Small Eggar, Swallow-Tailed and Yellow-Tailed moths, as well as Black and Brown Hairstreak butterflies.

Several birds nest in blackthorn hedges and feed off these caterpillars and other insects living on the Blackthorn

Always stay safe when foraging. You need to be 100% sure of your identification, 100% sure that your foraged item is edible, and 100% sure that you are not allergic to it (it is good practice to always try a small amount of any new food you are consuming). If in doubt, leave it out!

Blackthorn - Prunus spinosa - fruit