Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa) Identification

Blackthorn / Spring / Summer / Autumn / Edible

Blackthorn is a fairly common member of the Prunus family, it is normally found as a shrub but it can grow as a tree up to 6m tall.

Common Names

Blackthorn, sloe

Botanical Name

Prunus spinosa   

Scientific Classification

Kingdom – Plantae

Order – Rosales

Family – Rosaceae

Physical Characteristics for Blackthorn


Deep green, oval, serrated up to 2cm long.

Blacthorn, shot of the leaf-Dmitry Makeev, CC BY-SA 4.0


The flowers appear in spring before the leaves, 1.5cm across, with five off-white petals.

Blackthorn, close up of the flowers in spring-forager James


Dark blue to black fruit 1-2 in diameter with a pale ‘bloom’

Blackthorn, close up of the fruits or sloes-forager James


Dark brown/black with vicious thorns hence the name blackthorn.

Blackthorn, shot of bark and spines-Nefronus, CC BY-SA 4.0


It’s typically found on the edges of woodlands and meadows or in hedgerows.

Known Hazards

Beware of the long thorns. Thick gardening gloves are recommended.

Could be Confused with…

Other members of the Prunus family for example Damsons but they are all edible.

Edible Uses

Famous for making sloe gin but can be stewed and added to pies and crumble etc. A jelly made from the fruit is nice served with pork or game.

Leaves can be used to make teas.

In the 19th century the French used the pickled, unripe fruit as an olive substitute.

The berries are best after the first frost but if you are impatient you can freeze them yourself at home.

Notes on Herbal Uses

The berries are high in antioxidant compounds phenols and flavonoids which are thought to have many health benefits.  The berries have been used to treat diarrhea whilst the flowers can be used as a laxative. The peeled bark boiled in water was an old remedy for bronchitis.

Extra notes from the Foragers

Blackthorn wood burns slowly with a good heat and little smoke. The wood takes a fine polish and is used for tool handles and canes.

The wood has also traditionally been made into walking sticks or clubs including the famous Irish shillelagh.


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