The bush can be grown from cuttings or seed. Where low branches touch the ground they may form roots and start another bush.
The bushes have green oval leaves up to 2 inches (5 cm) long, which they lose in the winter, and are renowned for their very sharp thorns. In the spring, they flower with abundant five-petalled white blossoms about ½ inch (1 to 1 ½ cm) wide. Often, it is the first plant to go into flower. The leaves only appear after the blossoms are finished.
The fruit is small, only up to up to ½ inch (1 to 1 ½ cm) wide, and ripens to a bluish-black with a bloom on the surface, like blueberries have. It looks like miniature plums. Inside, they have green flesh, with a single large stone in the middle.
The fruit is very tart and bitter, too tart and bitter to eat out of hand. Some advise that it’s best to harvest them after the first frost, as frost lessens the bitterness a bit, but sometimes small animals and birds will have beat you to them first.
It is usually made into jellies, syrup, jam and liqueurs. In France, it is sometimes pickled like olives.
Eau de vie de prunelle is distilled in France from the fermented juice. 13 pounds (6 kg) of fruit are needed to make 32 oz (1 litre) of it. It ends up 40% alcohol. Homemade versions start with a plain eau de vie, and add sloes and sugar syrup.
Walking sticks are made from the branches of the bush.
The blackthorn bush is native from Ireland and the UK down to northern Africa, and also into western Asia.
1 ½ pounds (700g) of sloes is about 350 to 500 sloes.
Literature & Lore
Christian legend says that the cross of thorns given Christ on the cross was made from blackthorn branches.
It is considered bad luck to bring the blossoms in the house; reputedly if you do, a death in the house will follow.
Irish folklore held that the fairies particularly liked living in blackthorn bushes.
In France, it was believed that the devil would lurk in them on foggy nights.