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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. Tony Jackson

    Just picked a small tubful of Bullace, distinct from Damsons as the bush/tree does have thorns, distinct from Sloes as they are ‘just edible’ not astringent and bitter tart like sloes & they’re 2x 3x the size of Sloes. I’m going to make some Bullace Vodka :) along with my Blackberry Vodka… Roll on Christmas!

  2. Stephen Spark

    Have just completed a successful couple of days picking sloes, damsons and plums, all growing wild along the same footpath but ignored by almost everyone. The sloes are slightly harder, smaller and definitely more bitter/tart than damsons, which have a glorious, deep, rich flavour. Here at least both the sloe and damson hedges have thorns, but they are not too difficult to avoid. The productivity of the plants varies a lot from year to year. Last year was very poor for sloes after the hedge was cut; this year was better, but other bushes had very little fruit. The damsons were particularly good in quality and quantity after three thin years. Blackberries were a total washout in this part of Surrey, and elderberries were scarce too. But the plums are abundant and magnificent. So now we are well stocked with damson jam, sloe gin, plum jam and plum brandy!

  3. I’ve made sloe jelly in the past using the sloes remaining after making sloe gin. It’s been successful to a point.

    There’s next to no flesh on the sloes, just a big seed inside, so they can add flavour but not really bulk or texture. They’re extremely tart – especially at this time of year because they won’t be ripe until late September / October and they’ll still be tart then. Personally, I’d stick to making sloe gin with them (or sloe rum using Bacardi) and go get some more blackberries. Or use apples to bulk up the blackberries.

  4. Clare peters

    Just been wild fruit picking, picked what I thought were wild damson, turns out I have picked slow berries. Can I still add them to my blackberries to make jam. I have only ever heard of slow gin.

  5. Simon Gascoigne

    I went to a local attraction and there were loads of plants that had a thorny stem purple flowers and the fruit were very much like tomatoes can you give me some idea what they are?

  6. Hi
    I have picked what I belive to be sloes (but am new to picking so don’t want to poison myself!)
    They were growing very high in the hedgerow and

    Is there a facility here to upload a photo for someone to identify?

  7. Susanne

    I was picking cherry plums to make wine and a passerby told me that they also make excellent jam.

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