Blackthorn’s associations with difficulties – and overcoming difficulties – come from its early spring blossoming, which was observed to coincide with periods of particularly harsh weather. Long and difficult winters came to be known as Black Thorn Winters. Common names for Prunus spinosa, the blackthorn, include heg-pegs, hedge-speaks, snag-bush and snags – for its thorns. This hedge speaks. An old name for blackthorn is straif, believed to be the origin of the word strife. Its dazzling early spring flowering, on leafless dark-thorned branches, is understandably recognised as a symbol of hardship overcome.
Its fruit, the sloe, has long been used for medicinal and culinary purposes and with the revival of wild food foraging, sloe gin has become a popular home brew. Sloes are rich in tannins, fruit acids and vitamin C. Although too astringent to be palatable raw, they are gently detoxifying, diuretic and mildly laxative as a syrup.