The first frosts have chilled the landscape, turning the view outside our window to a scene of subtlety and wonder.
After the first frost is the perfect time for picking rosehips which are now a lovely deep red and a little softer and sweeter, perfect for syrup making.
It’s also the best time for picking sloes which are so abundant here in the hedgerows right now, though they wont be around for much longer. Blackthorn, which gives us the sloe berries, is a tree surrounded by folklore and long associated with witchcraft, darkness, winter and the waning moon. The berries and the leaves make valuable astringent remedies and the flowers are said to have a mildly laxative effect, though I have never tried them so can’t offer any more information than this.
The berries can be made into a syrup by simmering gently with a little water, straining and mixing with honey to taste once it has cooled. It’s a good idea not to heat honey too much as it destroys the enzymes and, according to Ayurvedic medicine, turns it to poison. You could also heat the juice again with sugar to make a traditional syrup though this would negate somewhat the immune supporting effects of the berries. Take a spoonful daily as an invigorating tonic or to aid in convalescence.
The Blackthorn, Prunus spinosa, bears such impressive thorns they are referred to in both its English and botanical names. It’s good to take care when picking sloes as they are fairly savage and wounds from them can easily turn septic.
This year I am attempting to make sloe gin with honey rather than sugar. This method seems to have worked well with the damson vodka I made a couple of months ago (and sneaked a little taste of last night!) but as sloes are far more sour and astringent than damsons we’ll see if I get away with it in the gin. As sloe gin is said to be best after six months it might be a while before I can report back on this recipe! Eating sloes raw is never a pleasant experience as my dear friend Sascha, who helped me with the harvest, demonstrates below.