It's the time of year to make sloe gin. The sweet liqueur that's traditional at Christmas and throughout the winter.

Here's an easy recipe that will give you a beautiful jewel-like, inky drink that you can sip on its own, or use it in cocktails.

Watch out for their long thorns.

Where to find sloes 

It's a common species that grows over most of the UK. The National Biodiversity Network's records show the distribution of blackthorn. Or you could grow your own native fruit trees. See what's available from our tree shop.

The number of sloes you will find on a blackthorn bush or tree each year is very much linked to the weather during the previous spring and summer. Too dry and the sloes will be small and shrivelled. Too wet and cold and they will not develop at all. A good crop of plump, well-ripened sloes needs the perfect balance of warmth and water.

Trees woods and wildlife

On the hunt for sloes?

Sloe berries grow on blackthorn, a spiny tree or bush in the rose family. If you want to make sloe gin, you need to know what you're looking for.

See our quick guide

When to pick sloes 

There’s lots of debate about when to pick sloes. For the best flavour, wait until the berries are ripe. They should be a rich dark purple and should squash easily between your fingertips. It's a good sign if they've already started to drop naturally to the ground.

If you're picking them for sloe gin then traditionally you wait until after the first frost. These days, there's no reason why you can't pick them earlier, bag them up and pop them in your freezer to mimic that first frost. The theory behind this is that the frost splits the skins so the juices can flow into your gin without you having to go to the effort of pricking all the berries.

Always take a good field guide with you and please follow our responsible foraging guidelines.

Recipe: how to make sloe gin


  • 1 litre bottle of gin
  • 450g sloes
  • 225g caster sugar
  • 1 large sterilised jar or 2 empty gin bottles


  1. Wash sloes and seal in an airtight bag. Freeze overnight or until you’re ready to make the gin.
  2. Put frozen sloes into sterilised jar or empty gin bottles.
  3. Add gin then the sugar directly onto frozen sloes. Their skins will split which means you can avoid the laborious pricking of each individual sloe berry.
  4. Once the sloes have thawed, seal jar tightly and shake well.
  5. Store jar in a cool, dark place and shake every other day for a week. After the first week you only need to shake it once a week for 2 months.
  6. The liquid should now be dark red and ready for drinking, although you'll find it improves over time.

Serve sloe gin neat, over ice or drizzle over ice cream.

Make a cocktail like sloe royale by adding a drop to sparkling wine or champagne.

How to make sloe vodka

Simply replace the gin with vodka.

What else can you do with sloes?

Sloes are in the same family as plums and cherries so if you're brave you can eat them raw, though they are incredibly sharp and will dry your mouth out before you even finish your first one.

Sloes are best used as a flavouring to deliver a rich plumminess, especially in sloe wine, whisky, jelliy, syrup and chocolate.

Explore more foraging

Get closer to nature this autumn and go foraging.

Top trees and plants for autumn foraging