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A quick guide to identifying some hedgerow fruit

Photo: Wild cherry plums

Photo: Wild cherry plums

I’ve had quite a few emails recently about identifying hedgerow fruit so I thought that it might be helpful to post some of the pictures that I have. Sloes, wild damsons, wild cherry plums and bullaces all came from the same family – albeit distant relations. They all have stones and the bushes have similar leaves.

Photo: Sloe on a branch

Photo: Sloe on a branch

The main problem seems to be differentiating sloes and wild damsons as they are both small and dark. Sloe bushes have sharp thorns and wild damson trees do not. Damsons have longer stems so hang and look more like a tiny plum. Sloes have shorter stems and hug the branches more.


Steve pointed out (see comments) that sloes can be confused with Deadly Nightshade – you can see some photos Deadly Nightshade photos here.

 Wild plums taste like domestic plums (from sharp Mirabelles to sweet Victorias). Wild bullaces taste like greengages. Wild damsons are very sharp and sloes taste almost bitter.

Photo: Wild plums and bullace

Photo: Wild plums and bullace

Of course the best pocket guide to hedgerow foraging is Richard Maybe’s Food for Free (Collins GEM). It’s now on offer on Amazon for under £3.00.

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  1. amy towne

    apparently the berries i asked about are bullaces..i hope they are ok because i have put them in my gin..

    • Your friend is generous — bullaces are the best wild plums you can (not) buy! They make really fabulous jam, and I’m sure your gin will be excellent too.

  2. amy towne

    a friend has given me some berries to mix with gin.they are bigger than sloes with a stone..i was alittle apprehensive but he assures me that he has used them last year and they make as good a drink as sloe gin..someone the berry is called balese or something similar..any ideas what they may be…

  3. What colour is the flesh of a ripe sloe berry

  4. I’ve just discovered a group of wild damson hedges and used them to make damson gin and also damson and apple crumble. It’s delicious . The tiny plums are beautiful .

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