Plant-Lore

Collecting the folklore and uses of plants

Blackthorn

1.  Every year our Mayor, even if being re-elected, is presented with a Black Thorne Stick carefully chosen from the stunted said trees on the Sandwich Marshes and fashioned by our Town Sergeant, to ward off the Ravenging Hordes (the French) since 1457, when 4,000 came over here and pillaged our town and killed our Mayor, a giant of a chap called John Drury.  The Mayor always wears black to respect this, even after 660 years.  We are now twinned with the town of Honfleur, from whence the Ravenging Hordes came! [Sandwich, Kent, April 2017].

2.  [From an ‘old boy’ who had been a farmer, Crawley Down, West Sussex] When blackthorn flowers in February there will be snow in March or April [e-mail, April 2014].

2014-07-22 17.42.193. Sloe gin:    For every two pounds of sloes use two pounds of sugar and a bottle of Gordon’s gin. Make this when the sloes are ripe. Just bottle it all cold. The sweet purple drink will be ready for Christmas, but is better stirred and left for the following year. Grandmother made this every autumn [Childwall, Liverpool, April 2013].

4. [Somerset, 1940s] Sloe wine was a wonder drug – for adults – as it cured everything. As it was home-made, it wasn’t considered to be alcoholic, so even the strictest chapel-goer drank it [St Marychurch, Devon, August 2011].

 
5. We have just been experiencing the Blackthorn Winter. The weather always turns cold when the blackthorn comes into bloom on the hedgerows [Letchworth, Hertfordshire, May 2001].

0026. My mother, who sadly died last year at the age of 88, would never allow blackthorn into the house as she deemed it to be unlucky [Rolleston-on-Dove, Staffordshire, February 1998].

7. What I remember from my childhood in the twenties and thirties in Longbridge Deverill, Wilts … Sloe gin – three years old at least – for colds and coughs. Strongly recommended! [Aldbury, Hertfordshire, February 1998].

8. Blackthorn flowers when winter returns (Somerset, 1946) [Leamington Spa, Warwickshire, January 1993].

9. An old wise tale claimed that blackthorn (Prunus spinosa) should not be used as firewood [Skibbereen, Co. Cork, January 1993].*

01310. Sloe wine was used as an internal astringent to stop diarrhoea, or the ‘gyrrh’ as my dad called it [Penzance, Cornwall, October 1991].

11. ‘When the blackthorn is white, sow barley both day and night.’ This comes either from south Wiltshire or from mid Hants (Whitchurch area). I learnt it working on a farm 1942-4 in S. Wilts. The farmer and family had come from mid Hants in 1909 [Salisbury, Wiltshire, February 1989].

* This contributor consistently used the term ‘old wise tale’, instead of the more usual ‘old wives’ tale’.

Images: main, Tooting Common, London Borough of Wandsworth, February 2014; upper inset, Ingrebourne Valley Local Nature Reserve, London Borough of Havering, July 2014; middle inset, Bosham, West Sussex, 17 May 2015; lower inset, sloes (blackthorn fruit), ‘foraged in Kent’ on sale at Borough Market, London Borough of Southwark, 15 October 2015.