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Sloes by the canals and rivers

Our ecologists work hard to make sure our waterways are diverse and provide good habitats for a huge range of plants year-round. Take advantage of the sloes growing along our canals during autumn and you could use what you pick to make sloe gin.

Sloes by the canal

Sloes grow on blackthorn trees, which are a very common sight along our network of canals and rivers. Resembling small damson fruits, they are usually turned into sloe gin, a delicious combination of gin, sugar and sloes.

Picking sloes in autumn will give you enough time to make some sloe gin as a Christmas gift, for family, friends or yourself.

Picking sloes

There's much debate as to the best time to pick sloes. Many people say that you should wait until the first frost. However, that may prove too late if a warmer summer has encouraged them to ripen early.

The main thing to remember when picking them is to make sure that they are ripe. If they are bullet-hard then find some plumper sloes or return at a later date.

Don't be tempted to eat them straight from the bush, as they are incredibly sour.

Try not to prick yourself on the plant's thorns. It hurts.

Storing sloes

You can use your sloes straight away or store them in the fridge. However, if you pop them in the freezer for a few days their skins will burst and save you a lot of time later on.

Sloe gin recipe


  • If you've already frozen your sloes, place them in a jar until they come up just over a third of the way. If you haven't frozen your sloes, you will need to prick each one with a pin a few times before adding to your jar.
  • Add your sugar to the jar. How much depends on how much of a sweet tooth you have, but somewhere between 150g and 300g for each litre of gin that you have should do the trick.
  • Top the jar up with gin. It doesn't have to be the most expensive gin but try not to go for the cheapest either. You will taste the difference.
  • Store the jar on its side in a dark place turning it every other day to make sure the sugar dissolves and the gin soaks up the berry juice.
  • After three months it should be good to drink. When you are ready, strain it into sterilised bottles and enjoy responsibly.

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Last Edited: 17 November 2020

photo of a location on the canals
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