Facts & Folkore:
Also known as the sloe bush, Blackthorn is a deciduous tree which dwells on the edge of woodlands forming dense thickets and hedgerows, often with hawthorn and elder. Historically, Imbolc marks the beginning of spring, and was widely observed throughout Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man - the time of spring sowing, lambing season, and the blooming of Blackthorn. In early spring, the tree bears musk scented small, delicate, white flowers with oval petals clustered into a star shape. Its small blue-black, berries begin to appear after the first frost. The berries are harvested for sloe gin and fruit jam. Bruadar, a Scottish liqueur, is made with malt whisky, honey and sloe berries. Although its flowers are associated with the promise of warmer days, the tree itself is depicted in many fairy tales throughout Europe as a tree of ill omen. Called Straif in the tree alphabet Ogham (from which the English word 'strife' is derived), it has a sinister reputation through its associations with warfare, witches, wounding and death. In Scottish folklore, winter begins when the Cailleach (the Goddess of Winter) strikes the ground with Her Blackthorn staff. And a long hard winter is referred to as a Blackthorn Winter. The wood of the blackthorn is often used for walking sticks and Irish shillelaghs.
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