Winter Medicine -Blackthorn-
Autumn passed with a blink and I can’t believe we already live for over four months in Germany. We finally feel like we settled and got used to our new surrounding. The weeks pass fast. I work from monday to friday so currently there is not much happening under the week, maybe some knitting and reading during the evening hours.
I started to explore the nearby forests, lakes and meadows to get a picture where I can pick the herbs I need next year. And even though it is already cold outside and most of the leaves have fallen, there are still herbs you can pick in winter.
When the days are short and dark, the time of godess hel has started. Nature sleeps and the forces of nature sleep in the dark soil until they awake with new strength in spring. The blackthorn or sloe berry ( Prunus spinosa) is for me one of those dark herbs/ trees perfect for winter medicine.
On the blackthorns branches you can find both forces the black, dark winter forces in form of the berries and the white, light filled forces in form of its blossoms in early spring. In Europe it got used as a hedge tree. The long thorns made it perfect that no intruders and wild animals could reach the farm. But the believe was also that evil witches and spirits could so not reach house and farm animals. The blackthorn was a protector. Its branches got nailed over the entrance of home and barn. In some areas of Bavaria the people still smudge with blackthorn wood during the cold winter months when the gates to the other world are open. The blackthorn is a perfect herb for smudge mixtures during, what we call here “Raunächte” or in english “twelfth night”. But be aware never take blooming blackthorn branches inside, white flowers where often associated with death and no luck.
Since I can remember my grandmother made every winter a liqueur of its berries. To be perfect for winter medicine the berries need to get some frost. A part of the tannins transfer into sugars after a frosty night and the berries are sweeter. I often pick some and put them in the freezer before using. So I can make sure that they are sweet enough. The berries provide us with everything we need during the dark winter month to strengthen our immune system. They contain vitamins, minerals, flavoids, sugars and antioxidants. I either make a tincture ( for medicinal purposes) of it or like my grandma a liqueur ( just to enjoy the taste of those beautiful berries). There are what feels like hundreds of ways to make a sloe liqueur. I will share with you how I do it and my relatives did before.
- one bottle of vodka
- a few handfull sloe berries ( I also added hawthorn berries, and froze all of them over night before using)
- a huge glass you can seal properly
- 3 tbsp sugar ( I sometimes make it without, guess it is then more a tincture then liqueur and of course less sweet)
- spices if you wish like cinnamon, vanilla, ginger….
To start you need of course sloe/ blackthorn berries. I even added some hawthorn/ whitethorn berries because they were still in perfect condition and because this batch will be a christmas present I thought it will be perfect with some extra heart strengthening medicine in it. Make sure to discard any that look bad.
I put my berries over night in the freezer. Make sure to pick them on a dry day if possible. You can even store the berries up to a few months in the freezer. Maybe you want to make different types of batches and make sure to still have berries when it is time.
I very often go after feeling when mixing my potions. In this case I fill the jar up to at least the half with berries. Some pick each berry with a needle but I usually don’t do it and get very good result. If you wish add some sugar and spices and seal the jar. Every second day I give it a good shake. The liqueuer is ready after 4 weeks but it tastes even better when waiting even longer. You can let it sit for up to three months if you wish. When it is ready filter it, bottle it up and of course enjoy!