Why ‘Blackthorn’?

Blackthorn is an ominous word. It conjures images of pain and darkness, the brambles in Sleeping Beauty, or perhaps a pretentiously named manor house in a Gothic romance. The plant itself, prunus spinosa, also called sloe, is native to northern and central Europe, though it has long been grown in eastern North America. It bears its name due to the inch-long thorns it produces alongside snowy white blooms and later, bitter purple-black drupes which can be used to make sloe gin.

Sloe drupes.

While I myself can be somewhat prickly at times, and therefore am naturally attracted to things that might sting (see also: bees), the choice of Blackthorn is actually related to the Celtic festival Imbolc, also known as St. Brigid’s Day. Traditionally, the celebration begins around sundown on January 31 and lasts through sunset on February 1, which happen to be the two days that separate Adam’s birthday and mine. The holiday was likely less fixed in time in the ancient past, but it coincided with the start of the lambing and kidding season, with the start of spring cleaning, and the blooming of the blackthorn, one of the earliest-blooming plants of spring. Imbolc is one of the four seasonal festivals of the Celts, the others being Beltane (May Day), Lughnasadh (which happens on August 1), and Samhain (aka Halloween). It is also no coincidence that the name I chose for my tiny homestead pays homage to the farm where I discovered my love for agriculture.

No blackthorns currently grow on our property, but that is soon to change. And while I don’t consider myself a neopagan or Wiccan who might be inclined to celebrate the aforementioned festivals, I am definitely not above trying my hand at sloe gin. And as many know, we all get a little religion after a bit of gin.


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