Can you eat blackthorn flowers?
It is Spring and the gorgeous white blossoms of Blackthorn have appeared. These early Spring flowers are a welcomed sight and appear before the leaves.
As the saying goes; you can eat anything once! Here I explore the edibility of blackthorn flowers (Prunus spinosa), their flavour and potential benefits, plus a step-by-step recipe.
I was once asked what this flower was by a woman who'd been eating them and enjoying their almond flavour. My reply: They are blackthorn flowers, and that flavour will be the cyanide.
Knowing the plant family, and recognising this as a relative to the plum tree is not enough to assert its edibility. Nor is the fact that the berries (sloes) can be used as food and to flavour drinks later in the year. In fact, the seeds, leaves and bark of sloes and black cherries also contain a compound that can be converted by the human body into cyanide when digested.
Blackthorn flowers have been used as an edible, sugar-coated cake decoration and I've been known to nibble one on a walk. My wild foodie colleague Mark Williams uses them to flavour his Sloe Gin, creating a a double-layered sloe gin cocktail.
Degrees of toxicity
There are many plants and foods we eat regularly that potentially contain toxins. For example; rice (arsenic), potatoes (solanine) and sorrel (oxalic acid).
What matters here is the amount. You'd need to eat more that 25 apple cores (with the seeds) in one sitting to be of risk of cyanide poisoning, apparently. And some say as many as 5000 seeds to be fatal. You know the saying; an apple a day keeps the doctor away. Keeping things in moderation is good.
Why eat blackthorn flowers?
Because of the cyanide content, blackthorn flowers have a lovely almondy scent which intensifies when infused. This can be used in small amounts as a flavouring. Below is a recipe for blackthorn flower syrup that I would only consider using as a wild alternative to shop-bought almond essence. Yes, literally no more than a teaspoon as flavouring (see recipe below). The flowers have been used as a laxative and the fruits are nutrient-rich food, including vitamin C and magnesium
It is not advised to eat blackthorn fruits (sloes) or flowers if pregnant or if living with a specific health condition. Always consult a medical herbalist or healthcare adviser first.
Blackthorn Flower Syrup Recipe
This recipe creates an intense almond-scented syrup, with a bitter after-taste. I quite like the combination of sweet and bitter. It is to be used as a concentrate, you could make a diluted version instead, if you prefer.
- 30 g blackthorn flowers
- 120 ml (8 tbsp) boiling water
- 100 g unrefined caster sugar
Place the flowers in a mug or heat-proof bowl. Pour the boiling water over and leave to steep for at least 2-4 hours. Strain through a tea strainer and place the liquid in a small saucepan with the sugar. Stir over a low heat until the sugar is dissolved (do not boil) and store in a sterilised bottle or jar. Use sparingly to flavour desserts or drinks.