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Articles - A Healthy Diet:

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Chilly temperatures improve the flavour

If you walk along the woodland edges in late autumn, you'll very likely see small steel-blue fruit hanging on thickly on the branches of untidy-looking bushes. These are sloes and the best time to harvest them is after the first frosts, because cold improves their flavour. Low temperatures destroy some of the tannins that give sloes their astringent effect. The very sour sloes make interesting jam, fruit juice, wine and liqueurs. Their flavour combines well with milder-tasting apples and pears.

The plant is common throughout Europe

The sloe (Prunus spinosa) is also often called blackthorn. Botanically speaking it is part of the rose family. The thorny bushes grow throughout Europe, usually on the edges of woods and forests, beside roads and pathways and on stoney slopes. It's often planted as part of hedgerows, because its thorns deter stock. It grows best in sunny sites and alkaline soil. Even in winter it's not hard to identify with its black bark and its reddish-brown, hairy twigs. Clouds of small white flowers, smelling faintly of almonds, open in April, well before the leaves appear. Opening so early in the year, blackthorn flowers are a valuable source of nectar for bees and early-flying butterflies. Around 20 species of birds, like tits and warblers, eat the fruit. The red-backed shrike, now a very rare bird, likes to build its nest in dense blackthorn thickets and to maintain a larder of insects and other prey impaled on the thorns

Health benefits, picking sloes

The blue fruit have an effect and are used in natural medicine to treat urinary tract infections and digestive problems. They're also thought to stimulate appetite and energize people. Hildegard von Bingen, the medieval herbalist, advised sipping 5 tablespoons sloe juice stirred into in a glass of water for more energy, A tea made of sloe blossom is said to be a good treatment for colds. Among other beneficial substances, sloes contain flavonoids, vitamins C and B1, magnesium, tannins and bitter substances.

 

The time to pick sloes is from late October to December, depending on the temperatures. If you don't want to wait for the first frosts, pick any time the berries are ripe and put the berries in your freezer overnight. It's a good idea to wear sturdy gardening gloves to protect your hands from the sharp thorns. And leave a good share of the berries hanging on the bushes – the birds and small mammals rely on them for food in hard winters.

Source: Heike Kreutz, www.aid.de