Posted by: Glow-worm PJ22 SEP 2011
The blackthorn (Prunus spinosa) is a compact, thorny shrub native to Eurasia. In March the bushes are covered with an abundance of small, musk-scented white flowers, which appear before the leaves. They are followed by the familiar, purple-blue fruits known as sloes, which ripen in autumn, becoming less astringent following the first frosts.
Sloes have long formed part of man’s diet, and have been recovered from archaeological sites up to 10,000 years old.
In medieval times the blackthorn was associated with witchcraft, and in folklore was considered a tree of ill-omen. Witches and heretics were burned on blackthorn pyres, and the devil was said to prick the fingers of his followers with the thorn of the blackthorn tree.
Various parts of the plant have been used in dye-making. The bark has been used to prepare ink, and the fruits produce a water-fast dye for clothing.
Blackthorn has been widely used in traditional medicine. Bark extracts have astringent properties owing to their high tannin content, and juice from the fruits has been used to reduce swelling in the mouth and throat.
It is the flowers that are most often used medicinally, usually in the form of infusions for, among others, their laxative, diuretic and anti-inflammatory effects. Research at the University of Lódz in Poland has revealed in the flowers the presence of the flavonoid glycoside quercetin, which has anti-inflammatory properties, as well as kaempferol, another flavonoid that in preclinical studies has been found to be beneficial in reducing the risk of developing a range of disorders, including some cancers and cardiovascular disease.
All of which provides me with food for thought as I watch my local sloes ripen, and await the first frosts of autumn, ready to add them to my bottle of gin.