We have recently published ‘Food Forest Plants for Hotter Conditions’: i.e. tropical and sub-tropical regions. We rely on regular donations to keep our free database going and help fund development of this and another book we are planning on food forest plants for Mediterranean climates. Please give what you can to keep PFAF properly funded. More >>>

Follow Us:


Prunus spinosa - L.

Common Name Sloe - Blackthorn
Family Rosaceae
USDA hardiness 4-8
Known Hazards Although no specific mention has been seen for this species, it belongs to a genus where most, if not all members of the genus produce hydrogen cyanide, a poison that gives almonds their characteristic flavour. This toxin is found mainly in the leaves and seed and is readily detected by its bitter taste. It is usually present in too small a quantity to do any harm but any very bitter seed or fruit should not be eaten. In small quantities, hydrogen cyanide has been shown to stimulate respiration and improve digestion, it is also claimed to be of benefit in the treatment of cancer. In excess, however, it can cause respiratory failure and even death. Avoid excessive intake and use recommended doses.
Habitats Hedgerows and woods, usually in sunny positions, on all soils except acid peats[9, 17].
Range Europe, including Britain, from Scandanavia south and east to the Mediterranean, Siberia and Iran.
Edibility Rating    (3 of 5)
Other Uses    (4 of 5)
Weed Potential No
Medicinal Rating    (2 of 5)
Care (info)
Fully Hardy Moist Soil Semi-shade Full sun
Prunus spinosa Sloe - Blackthorn

Prunus spinosa Sloe - Blackthorn


Translate this page:


Bloom Color: White. Main Bloom Time: Mid spring. Form: Vase.

Physical Characteristics

 icon of manicon of shrub
Prunus spinosa is a deciduous Shrub growing to 3 m (9ft 10in) at a medium rate.
See above for USDA hardiness. It is hardy to UK zone 4. It is in flower from March to April, and the seeds ripen in October. The species is hermaphrodite (has both male and female organs) and is pollinated by Insects.
It is noted for attracting wildlife.
Suitable for: light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils and prefers well-drained soil. Suitable pH: mildly acid, neutral and basic (mildly alkaline) soils and can grow in very alkaline soils.
It can grow in semi-shade (light woodland) or no shade. It prefers moist soil. The plant can tolerate maritime exposure.

UK Hardiness Map US Hardiness Map


Prunus moldavica. Kotov. Prunus stepposa. Kotov.

Plant Habitats

Woodland Garden Sunny Edge; Dappled Shade; Hedge;

Edible Uses

Edible Parts: Flowers  Fruit  Seed
Edible Uses: Tea

Fruit - raw or cooked[2, 5, 7, 11, 12, 13, 34]. Exceedingly astringent, it is normally cooked but once the fruit has been frosted it loses some of its astringency and some people find they can enjoy it raw[183, K]. The fruit is more usually used in jellies, syrups, conserves etc and as a flavouring for sloe gin and other liqueurs[183]. Some fruits that we ate in December were fairly pleasant raw[K]. In France the unripe fruit is pickled like an olive[183]. The fruit is about 15mm in diameter and contains one large seed[200]. Seed - raw or cooked. Do not eat the seed if it is too bitter - see the notes above on toxicity. The leaves are used as a tea substitute[7, 183]. The dried fruits can be added to herbal teas[183]. The flowers are edible and can be crystallised or sugared[183].

References   More on Edible Uses

Medicinal Uses

Plants For A Future can not take any responsibility for any adverse effects from the use of plants. Always seek advice from a professional before using a plant medicinally.
Antidiarrhoeal  Antiflatulent  Antispasmodic  Aperient  Astringent  Depurative  Diaphoretic  Diuretic  
Febrifuge  Laxative  Stomachic

The flowers, bark, leaves and fruits are aperient, astringent, depurative, diaphoretic, diuretic, febrifuge, laxative and stomachic[7, 9, 21]. An infusion of the flowers is used in the treatment of diarrhoea (especially for children), bladder and kidney disorders, stomach weakness et[9]. Although no specific mention has been seen for this species, all members of the genus contain amygdalin and prunasin, substances which break down in water to form hydrocyanic acid (cyanide or prussic acid). In small amounts this exceedingly poisonous compound stimulates respiration, improves digestion and gives a sense of well-being[238]. The German Commission E Monographs, a therapeutic guide to herbal medicine, approve Prunus spinosa Sloe - Blackthorn for inflammation of mouth and pharynx (see [302] for critics of commission E).

References   More on Medicinal Uses

The Bookshop: Edible Plant Books

Our Latest books on Perennial Plants For Food Forests and Permaculture Gardens in paperback or digital formats.

Food Forest Plants for Hotter Conditions: 250+ Plants For Tropical Food Forests & Permaculture Gardens.
Edible Tropical Plants

Food Forest Plants for Hotter Conditions: 250+ Plants For Tropical Food Forests & Permaculture Gardens.

Plants for Your Food Forest: 500 Plants for Temperate Food Forests & Permaculture Gardens.
Edible Temperate Plants

Plants for Your Food Forest: 500 Plants for Temperate Food Forests & Permaculture Gardens.

PFAF have eight books available in paperback and digital media.
More Books

PFAF have eight books available in paperback and digital formats. Browse the shop for more information.

Shop Now

Other Uses

Cosmetic  Dye  Hedge  Hedge  Ink  Pioneer  Tannin  Wood

The bark is a good source of tannin[7]. It is used to make an ink[66]. The juice of unripe fruits is used as a laundry mark[66], it is almost indelible[115]. The pulped ripe fruit is used cosmetically in making astringent face-masks[7]. A green dye can be obtained from the leaves[168]. A dark grey to green dye can be obtained from the fruit[168]. The bark, boiled in an alkali, produces a yellow dye[66]. The sloe is very resistant to maritime exposure and also suckers freely. It can be used as a hedge in exposed maritime positions. The hedge is stock-proof if it is well maintained[1, 29], though it is rather bare in the winter and, unless the hedge is rather wide, it is not a very good shelter at this time[K]. Because of its suckering habit, the plant is a natural pioneer species, invading cultivated fields and creating conditions conducive to the regeneration of woodland. Wood - very hard. Used for turnery, the teeth of rakes etc[1, 13, 46, 66]. Suitable branches are used for making walking sticks and are highly valued for this purpose because of their twisted and interesting shapes[7].

Special Uses

Attracts Wildlife  Carbon Farming  Food Forest  Hedge  Hedge

References   More on Other Uses

Cultivation details

Agroforestry Services: Living fence  Agroforestry Services: Windbreak  Industrial Crop: Oil  Management: Standard  Regional Crop

Landscape Uses:Specimen. Requires a well-drained moisture retentive soil[11]. Succeeds in all soils except very acid peats[186]. Succeeds in light shade but fruits better in a sunny position[11, 200]. Thrives in a loamy soil, doing well on limestone[11]. Prefers some chalk in the soil but apt to become chlorotic if too much is present[1]. Thrives on chalk according to another report[182]. Plants are very resistant to maritime exposure[186]. An important food plant for the caterpillars of several species of butterfly[30], especially the larvae of the brown and black hairstreak butterflies[186]. A good bee plant. Plants are shallow-rooted and of a suckering habit, they can form dense impenetrable thickets which are ideal for nesting birds, especially nightingales[186]. Flowers are often damaged by late frosts[186]. Plants regenerate quickly after cutting or after fast moving forest fires, producing suckers from below ground level[186]. This species is notably resistant to honey fungus[88, 200]. Special Features: All or parts of this plant are poisonous, Blooms are very showy. In garden design, as well as the above-ground architecture of a plant, root structure considerations help in choosing plants that work together for their optimal soil requirements including nutrients and water. The root pattern is flat with shallow roots spreading near the soil surface. The root pattern is suckering with new plants from runners away from the plant [2-1].

Carbon Farming

  • Agroforestry Services: Living fence  Simply managed rows of shrubs and trees.
  • Agroforestry Services: Windbreak  Linear plantings of trees and shrubs designed to enhance crop production, protect people and livestock and benefit soil and water conservation.
  • Industrial Crop: Oil  Materials, chemicals and energy include bioplastics, biomass, glycerin, soaps, lubricants, paints, biodiesel. Oilseed crop types.
  • Management: Standard  Plants grow to their standard height. Harvest fruit, seeds, or other products. Non-Destructive management systems.
  • Regional Crop  These crops have been domesticated and cultivated regionally but have not been adopted elsewhere and are typically not traded globally, Examples in this broad category include perennial cottons and many nuts and staple fruits.

References   Carbon Farming Information and Carbon Sequestration Information

Temperature Converter

Type a value in the Celsius field to convert the value to Fahrenheit:



The PFAF Bookshop

Plants For A Future have a number of books available in paperback and digital form. Book titles include Edible Plants, Edible Perennials, Edible Trees,Edible Shrubs, Woodland Gardening, and Temperate Food Forest Plants. Our new book is Food Forest Plants For Hotter Conditions (Tropical and Sub-Tropical).

Shop Now

Plant Propagation

Seed - requires 2 - 3 months cold stratification and is best sown in a cold frame as soon as it is ripe[200]. Sow stored seed in a cold frame as early in the year as possible[200]. Protect the seed from mice etc. The seed can be rather slow, sometimes taking 18 months to germinate[113]. Prick out the seedlings into individual pots when they are large enough to handle. Grow them on in a greenhouse or cold frame for their first winter and plant them out in late spring or early summer of the following year. Cuttings of half-ripe wood with a heel, July/August in a frame[11, 200]. Softwood cuttings from strongly growing plants in spring to early summer in a frame. Layering in spring. Division of suckers during the dormant season. They can be planted out direct into their permanent positions.

Other Names

If available other names are mentioned here

Weed Potential

Right plant wrong place. We are currently updating this section. Please note that a plant may be invasive in one area but may not in your area so it’s worth checking.

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List of Threatened Plants Status :

Related Plants
Latin NameCommon NameHabitHeightHardinessGrowthSoilShadeMoistureEdibleMedicinalOther
Prunus africanaPygeumTree18.0 10-12 FLMNM052
Prunus alabamensisAlabama CherryTree8.0 -  LMHSNM211
Prunus alleghaniensisAllegheny Plum, Davis' plumTree3.5 4-8 FLMHSNM312
Prunus americanaAmerican Plum, American Wild Plum, Wild PlumTree6.0 3-8 MLMHSNM323
Prunus americana lanata Tree10.0 3-7  LMHSNM312
Prunus andersoniiDesert PeachShrub1.8 -  LMHSNM221
Prunus angustifoliaChickasaw Plum, Watson's plum, Hally Jolivette CherryTree3.0 5-9 MLMHSNM313
Prunus angustifolia watsoniiSand PlumShrub3.0 5-9  LMHSNM412
Prunus apetalaClove CherryShrub7.0 -  LMHSNM211
Prunus arabica Shrub0.0 -  LMHSNDM212
Prunus armeniacaApricotTree9.0 5-7 MLMSNM434
Prunus armeniaca mandschuricaManchurian apricotTree6.0 3-9 MLMSNM433
Prunus aviumWild Cherry, Sweet cherryTree18.0 3-7 FLMHSNM424
Prunus besserianaDwarf AlmondTree0.0 -  LMHSNM212
Prunus besseyiWestern Sand CherryShrub1.2 3-6 MLMHSNM412
Prunus bifrons Shrub1.8 -  LMHSNM211
Prunus bokharensisBokhara PlumTree0.0 -  LMHSNM211
Prunus brigantinaBriançon ApricotTree6.0 6-9  LMHSNDM412
Prunus buergeriana Tree9.0 4-8  LMHSNM211
Prunus campanulataTaiwan CherryTree7.0 7-9 MLMHSNM211
Prunus canescensGreyleaf CherryShrub3.0 5-9  LMHSNM312
Prunus capsica Tree0.0 -  LMHSNM211
Prunus carolinianaAmerican Cherry Laurel, Carolina laurelcherry, Laurel Cherry,Shrub12.0 7-10 FLMHSNDM213
Prunus cerasiferaCherry Plum, Myrobalan Plum, Newport Cherry Plum, Pissard PlumTree9.0 5-8 MLMHSNM413
Prunus cerasifera divaricata Tree10.0 4-8  LMHSNM411
Prunus cerasoidesWild Himalayan CherryTree30.0 7-10  LMHSNM222
Prunus cerasusSour CherryTree6.0 3-7  LMHSNM123
Prunus cerasus austeraMorello CherryTree9.0 3-7  LMHSNM313
Prunus cerasus capronianaKentish Red CherryTree9.0 3-7  LMHSNM313
Prunus cerasus frutescensBush Sour CherryTree1.0 3-7  LMHSNM313

Growth: S = slow M = medium F = fast. Soil: L = light (sandy) M = medium H = heavy (clay). pH: A = acid N = neutral B = basic (alkaline). Shade: F = full shade S = semi-shade N = no shade. Moisture: D = dry M = Moist We = wet Wa = water.


Expert comment



Botanical References


Links / References

For a list of references used on this page please go here

Readers comment

Jane Walker   Sat Jan 6 2007

Thank you for providing this information! I especially wanted the propagation info because part of my hedge has died and I cannot find a replacement specimen here in the USA. I am also pleased to see all the uses for this shrub. I planted the hedge for fun because my husband wants to re-enact "Utzi" the "Ice Man" who was found to have sloe in his pouch. My husband is amost all set for his Utzi historical impression now that he has his dried sloe berries.

Gopal Pandey   Tue Jan 22 2008

By the way it is used in homeopathy against bird flu.

Eoin Kelleher   Mon May 12 2008

Yesterday - I was pricked in the knuckle by a blackthorn spine and wow is it now sore / swollen. I think I removed all of the thorn shortly afterwards. Any suggestions, I can barely type?

Christine   Sun Sep 21 2008

Been out today to look for sloes to pick. 2 years ago the bushes were full, but this year and last, not a berry to be seen. The birds can't have got them all! Any answers as to where they might have disappeared to?

David Nicholls   Mon Sep 22 2008

It's possible late spring frosts killed the flowers so no fruit, bad bee weather at flowering/pollination time can cause this in close relatives of Sloe, there have been unprecedented problems with bee populations and health in some areas(caused by a combiation of human activities), I think America particularly. Another possibility is that many trees just don't bare heavily every year, they need a rest perhaps, I think this can be true of Prunus but am not sure.

Mikail Badrzadeh   Wed Feb 4 2009

I have been Collected many taxa belong to genus Prunus from forests of Ardabil province. Diversity of prunus spinosa and its close relative confused me(some photos is attached for you). Please, would you guide me for identifying them. With besr regards, Mikail Badrzadeh (teacher of plant taxonomy in university of Mohaghegh Ardabili)

Auriol Penniceard   Sat Dec 19 2009

A throw away remark in an ancient 'Good Housekeeping' cookery book says that on the continent sloes are made into jams. Following this suggestion, we find sloe jam truly fantastic in gravies, particularly with extensively grazed hill lamb. Use about one tablespoon per portion. For interesting flavour, this surpasses a chef style gravy made with a 'wine reduction'. Freezing the sloes first is convenient and may sweeten them. Cook the sloes until soft enough to remove the stones and puree the fruit. Make the jam with sugar equal to the weight of the pureed sloes (not the fruit with stones)

Add a comment

If you have important information about this plant that may help other users please add a comment or link below. Only comments or links that are felt to be directly relevant to a plant will be included. If you think a comment/link or information contained on this page is inaccurate or misleading we would welcome your feedback at [email protected]. If you have questions about a plant please use the Forum on this website as we do not have the resources to answer questions ourselves.

* Please note: the comments by website users are not necessarily those held by PFAF and may give misleading or inaccurate information.

To leave a comment please Register or login here All comments need to be approved so will not appear immediately.

Subject : Prunus spinosa  
© 2010, Plants For A Future. Plants For A Future is a charitable company limited by guarantee, registered in England and Wales. Charity No. 1057719, Company No. 3204567.