Blackthorn / Straiph

blackthorn and robinBlackthorn is the sister tree to hawthorn. With winter sloe berries and snowy blossom before the leaves, it is a guardian through the winter. It symbolises the closeness of body and spirit, and the way death is followed by renewal. It is a bitter-sweet species.

This is a poem about my grandmother, who waited through years of war, fearing that my grandfather might not return.

blackthorn

puckering sour
the spiny bush squats
hushed in tart stillness
smelling of the memories
bottled in the larder

she sits in the kitchen
keeping her hands moving
thumbs circling like two small animals
taking it in turns to stroke
each other’s aching shoulders

she will wait all winter
as days darken and death prowls
knuckles swelling
as the bitter sloes
loosen in their jar

until one cold march morning
when her airman
lands on the prickly doormat
and the suckering stems
break into blossoms of snow

Mandy Haggith

 

Snippets of Lore

Blackthorn is the 12th letter of the Gaelic tree alphabet representing P, controversially, as there was no P in the alphabet until recently. For an explanation of why Blackthorn stands for P see http://mandyhaggith.worldforests.org/index.asp?pageid=359149

Blackthorn’s latin name is Prunus spinosa. In modern Gaelic, draighneag (pierce), airne (sloe) or sgitheach dubh (black hawthorn).

Blackthorn’s fruit is called sloe. They are very high in Vitamin C.

To get a taste of the bitterness of sloes, nowhere better to start than Vicki Feaver. http://www.spl.org.uk/best-poems_2006/feaver.htm

Too much sloe gin may be too much of a good thing.

Sloe gin infused with pennyroyal and valerian was the original ‘Mother’s Ruin’.

Blackthorn is the ancestor of all plum trees.

Sloe stones have been found in Neolithic cairns and crannogs.

The Ice Man was carrying a sloe, presumably to eat.

Sloes are better flavoured if frosted, or dried then rehydrated.

Sloe jelly is best made with apples.

Sloes are good for the bladder, kidneys, stomach and lung complaints.

Sloe juice and bark gives indelible ink.

Sloes gives a pinky purple dye, and blackthorn bark produces a red or orange dye.

Blackthorn bark can be used to reduce fever.

Use blackthorn leaves for tea. It’s good for tonsils and larynx.

And another moody blackthorn poem, this one by Louis McKee, coming into blossom. http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/the-blackthorn/

Blackthorn produces beautiful snow white blossoms early and before the leaves come.

Blackthorn’s leafless stems, in flower, evoke a place between death and life.

Blackthorn blossom is unlucky indoors (maybe for the same reason as hawthorn?)

A tisane of blackthorn blossom ‘purges to the depths’.

Rough weather in March is called a Blackthorn Winter.

Blackthorn is the sister of Hawthorn: Blackthorn governs Nov-April, Hawthorn governs May-Oct.

Blackthorn wood is hard and good for walking sticks and weapons. Best walking sticks are blackthorn entwined by honeysuckle.

Irish sheleilaigh sticks are made with blackthorn wood.

Blackthorn trees give good shelter for birds to nest in. It makes excellent hedges.

Blackthorn is supposed to never exceed 13 feet.

Proverb: Better the bramble than the blackthorn, but better the blackthorn than the devil.

Blackthorn helps you see beyond negatives to opportunity.

Blackthorn time is Hallowe’en (Samhain), when nature god Daghda mates with Morrigan, goddess of psyche, & veils between body & spirit thin.

A hero fleeing from giants needs a magical blackthorn twig which will sprout into a thicket!

Blackthorns were believed to spring from the blood of Norse invaders.

A blackthorn thorn tipped with poison is a subtle weapon known as ‘a pin of slumber’.

Blackthorn is associated with Sleeping Beauty – after pricking her finger, the castle was thorn-bound until love came.

Witches stick blackthorns into wax effigies of their enemies.

Blackthorn was used for pyres when burning witches.

Blackthorn was believed to have been used for Christ’s Crown of Thorns, hence unlucky.

For fertile fields, make, wear, then burn a blackthorn crown and spread its ash.

Blackthorn represents the inevitability of death, and of dark secrets.

Evil fairy-folk stole babies – and hid them in blackthorn bushes.

‘Many sloes, many cold toes’ – presage of bad winter ahead.

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