Tart and astringent, tasting almost salty, the sloe fruit are bursting onto the hedgerow with abundance.
They look like overlarge blueberries although they are actually in the plum family; Prunus spinosa. I have been excitedly watching them ripen over the past weeks waiting for the day they can be foraged and while they are still not quite ready, I couldn’t resist plucking a few and giving them a try. I anticipated they would be fruity since they look like a berry. They absolutely were not, instead their heavy astringency gave them a salty quality that actually made them a little refreshing.
Prunus spinosa, also known as blackthorn, is native to Europe and some parts of Asia and has now been introduced in suitable temperate climates around the world. It is a deciduous tree that has strong, flexible branches filled with thorns, hence the name blackthorn. It is often used as a hedge or barrier because of its formidable countenance.
From a culinary perspective, the sloe fruits claim to fame is none other than sloe gin. Sloe gin is traditional liqueur made from fermenting the sloe fruit in gin for a number of months until it is a lovely bright reddish purple. Once the fruit have soaked long enough the liqueur can be poured off and stored in airtight containers and the fruit can be made into other things. They can be dipped in chocolate, made into a chutney, or even a pie filling (make sure you remove the seeds). If you’re not into gin, you can still use the sloe fruit to make jams, jellies, pie filling, or add to soups and stews for a unique twist. Just be sure that you either freeze the briefly first or wait to pick them until after first frost.
From a health perspective, the sloe fruit is AMAZING! Initially, I thought it might be challenging to find anything healthy about the sloe. (Although, I’ve been discovering this year that just about everything that exists in nature has some health property.) But, lo and behold, a search through the pharmacological database revealed some pretty great stuff about blackthorn in general; the fruit, the flower, and the leaves and small stems. The fruit are packed with phytonutrients; most notably several variations of quercetin and kaempferol. Quercetin is beneficial for conditions of the heart and lungs, it is also useful to eliminate histamine overproduction or processing so is useful in allergies and congestive issues. Kaempferol is also beneficial in heart and circulatory issues and works synergistically with quercetin to help eliminate cancer cells in the body. Historically, folk remedies have recognized that blackthorn (including the sloe fruit) are astringent, antioxidant, diaphoretic (inducing perspiration), depurative (elimination of impurities), febrifuge (minimizing fever), laxative, stomachic, and diuretic. Research demonstrates that they are immune boosting, increasing digestive properties, beneficial for systemic inflammation and decreasing oxidative stress. They also possess the potential to stimulate cellular health in already healthy and growing cells while causing mutated or unhealthy cells to deconstruct (that will be the kaempferol and quercetin working together).