BY Feebee Foran
Lately my foraging habits have taken a huge shift. I’ve gone from having my eyes to the ground as I search for plants, wild herbs, flowers and of course, roots, to keeping head up as I hunt for berries.
The lovely thing about foraging, is that the seasons keep you on your toes, constantly providing new, exciting things to look for. You would think that November wouldn’t have that much going on, as the cold snap makes its mark, but there are treasures in the trees and shrubs that can be used for medicinal purposes, for jams and jellies and (my favourite) for boozy treats.
And with boozy treats in mind, my eyes have been peeled for sloes. The bountiful fruit of the Blackthorn Tree (or shrub), sloes look remarkably similar to blueberries, but definitely aren’t the type of berries you want to add to your morning porridge.
Round, plump and dark blue and full of antioxidants and vitamin C, the flavour of a raw sloe berry is incredibly sharp and will quickly dry out your mouth. Plus, they contain a slight level of hydrogen cyanide, so although a berry or two won’t cause you much distress, higher doses can have toxic effects.
When prepared carefully, sloes have lots of fantastic health benefits that make them well worth dodging the prickly thorns as you forage. In fact, every part of the Blackthorn tree comes with its own special job.
The flowers can be made into a tea, which when gargled can help relieve a sore throat and when drank, can help purify and cleanse the blood.
The pulp of sloe berries can be used for a really effective face mask that aids skin elasticity and helps you look younger. A tea made with an infusion of Blackthorn bark adds vitality to your life, relieving fatigue and is believed to help calm nerves.
Making sloe gin & sloe vodka has become quite the tradition for me. Sloe by name, slow by nature, this alcohol infusion takes its time to make, unlike the quick and easy Rhubarb gin I shared earlier in the season. Patience is important, but I know that when I make my sloe gin at this time of the year, that I’ll have a really special treat for Christmas next year to enjoy on a frosty evening, or to gift as a very coveted Christmas present in 2022.
Sloe Gin (or Vodka)
- 500g ripe sloes
- 250g golden caster sugar
- 1 litre gin (no need for fancy gin)
- Wash the foraged sloe berries, picking out leaves or twigs. Freeze the sloes overnight, removing from the freezer on the day you want to make the gin.
- As the sloes defrost, the skin will crack, allowing the juice of the berries to escape (if you decide to skip the freezing part of this process, you will be tasked with having to pin prick each berry individually to release the juices). Pour the defrosted berries into a 2litre Kilner-style jar, covering them with the sugar. Seal the jar and shake well, at this point the sloes will resemble fruit pastilles as they are covered in sugar.
- Leave them aside overnight to allow the sugar to draw the juice out of the berries.
- After the sloes have been resting in the sugar for about 12 hours, add the gin. Any brand of gin will do here, there is need to reach for the top shelf. Remember, the simpler the better so the gin takes on the flavour of the sloes. If you are using a pre-flavoured gin or one with special botanicals, the flavour of the sloes will be diluted. Lower priced, simple gin works best.
- Seal the jar up, give it a good shake and store in a cool dark place for at least 6 months.
- Once you are ready to drink it, all you have to do is strain the liquid off the berries, bottle it up and enjoy it. Compost the used berries.
- You can drink sloe gin neat, or with a splash of prosecco for a very special cocktail. You can expect a plum and vanilla flavour from your beautiful Sloe Gin Infusion.
- To make Sloe Vodka, simply follow these steps, replacing gin with vodka.
Introducing the Firhouse Craft Market
Over lockdown, so many people developed their hobbies or crafts – baking, making, knitting and drawing to pass the time. All of this practice meant that these hobbies were honed and perfected and in my home village of Firhouse, the emerging talent has been staggering. Over the past few months, a group of skilled hobbiests and crafters joined forces to bring about the first Firhouse Village Market.
Taking place in the Speaker Connolly carpark on the 4th and 18th December from 11am – 5pm, the Firhouse Community Crafts group will host up to 20 stands, showcasing the best of local talent. From delicious jams and chutneys, beautifully crafted crochet and knitwear, pottery, jewellery, woodcrafts, paintings and artwork with so much more, the Firhouse Village Market will kick off the festive season with a great way to pick up local Irish gifts for under the tree.
I am so delighted to be working alongside all of these fantastic crafters and will be joining them with my Forager stand featuring skincare products made from wild herbs foraged from the Firhouse & Bohernabreena area.
This Christmas think local, buy local and support local. Stop by the Firhouse Village Market for your gifts and make this Christmas truly special.
Feebee Foran is a nature enthusiast, allotmenter, milliner and homebrewer. Owner of Forager.ie, Feebee creates skincare and healing products using all natural, locally foraged herbs and plants.
Follow her nature adventures on Instagram @forager.ie