The Blackthorn: Thorns, Pricks and the Ice Queen

Sometimes you are given a teacher out of the proverbial blue, and if you blink, you could miss the lesson they give to you.

I’ve been wanting to meet a blackthorn tree* for a while know. Reading a lot of Forest Witchery books had me pining to learn more about the hedgerows of my homeland. My birth name being that of another prickly tree has always made me associate closely with spiky plants, or perhaps that name just matches me closely. I have been told many times how prickly my personality is.

Now, the blackthorn is traditionally used as a fence or hedge to keep cattle in or out, due to its thorns. Magically, it is associated with curses or baneful magic, which is often really protection magic against people who think that they are entitled to take what they want from you, and don’t expect you to fight back.

The blackthorn is no hawk or snake, it is content to mind its own business and wears thorns to stop animals eating its flesh. The blackthorn does not strike me as something used for ‘evil’ curses, especially when there are many fast-growing and invasive plants that steal the nutrients from other plants that could be used that way.

Whether a spell is a curse or a binding/protection working depends entirely upon how much the cursee believes themselves to be the undeserving victim.

We went foraging on my 20th birthday, and we stumbled across a tree with what my mother and my Uncle swore blind were blueberries, and what I and my Grandmother thought perhaps might be sloes, that rare British treat. We took some, since either sloes or blueberries would make decent alcohol, which was the purpose of our visit.

I double checked what the berries were before I prepared them, just in case they were actually something poisonous, and found they were sloes.

And there it was. The blackthorn.

Somehow, countless people have failed to mention that the blackthorn produces sloes, that famous rural secret. Despite knowing about the two, I’d never managed to find anything that connected the two.

Sloes are special. They have a sharp, astringent taste which is only really palatable after the first frost. Due to their popularity and the fact that they aren’t really farmed in any extensive way, it is recommended to take them as soon as they are ripe, and simulate that frost by shoving them in the freezer for a bit.

If you want to turn that sharp, almost bitter fruit into that gorgeous gin, you first have to freeze them half the death, and then you must take a clean pin or needle and prick each berry multiple times.

This is a long process, and if you go too fast you will end up stabbing your own fingers. The sloe has a very large stone, thick skin and very little actual fruit, so the needle often bounces off.

Then you must add sugar and a decent base gin, and bottle them for at least six months, agitating the bottles almost daily at the start of the process. As with all alcohols, the longer you leave it, the better it tastes.

It may be obvious, but I feel akin with the sloe, and with the blackthorn. I don’t know who persevered with such an off-putting fruit to find its true beauty, but I thank them.

A sloe is a sloe, and must be treated like one. If you treated a sloe like a blackberry, you would be a fool. If you treated a blackberry like a banana, you are equally silly.

I don’t see why people are any different.

Some people not only survive a sharp frost, but need one to live. Some people need to be pricked and needled till they are bloody to give up something of themselves. Some people need sugar and activity and excitement in short bursts, then a long dark wait. Some people are prickly and hard to hold, some people are bitter and sour and stony until you know and understand them. Some people are thick skinned and will never be soft, even after the frost and the needles and the darkness. Mellowing is simply age and experience, not a loss of power.

Some people are born to thorns and ice and darkness, and that’s more than okay. Daffodils are lovely, but the world would be boring and barren if that’s all that was allowed to survive. Stop trying to turn blackthorn hedges into wildflower meadows. Accept each person and plant for what it is, and what it was put on this Earth to do.

If you don’t like the gin, don’t drink it.

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