The Cottage Smallholder

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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.

  Leave a reply


  1. Craig Charlton

    Hi all. I think i have just found a row of Samson trees down my local riverbank. Can i send a photo to anyone to confirm what they are?

  2. I’m a sloe gin making virgin. Can anyone offer any good tips?

    • Hi Elaine – this Sloe Gin and Damson Gin recipe is the most popular of all the recipes on this site

    • Dave Sloe

      Use loads of sloes, most recipies call for 250g of sloes per 500ml of gin. I use double that amount and I’ve been told that it’s the best sloe gin people have ever tasted

  3. Alan McDonald

    If I send a photo of leaf and berry could you identify it for me please.

    • Sure, Alan. Fiona will be happy to do her best.

      We don’t store member pics on our server because that would take up loads of space as the years go by.

      Do a Google search for this term:
      photo hosting

      Then upload your pic to one of those free services and post the link here.

      • Alan McDonald

        The link below will show the leaf and fruit.
        The leaf is about 100mm in length with leathery feel the fruit is about 15mm with stone.

      • That link does not display a photo, Alan. Maybe it does for you when you are logged in to Photobucket?

      • Alan McDonald

        Hi Danny, by copying and pasting it on the http: bar and not search bar it will open without being logged into photobucket

  4. Robert Hodgkins

    I have made sloe gin before but I have three damson trees in my garden so I have decided to do damson sloe gin ..I have picked them and frozen them then crushed them ..I bottled them lots of sugar and plenty of gin I will turn them for 14 days then store them for 6 months and by then I should have a very strong drink .. I will let you know what it is like in 6 months..

    • Fiona Nevile

      Look forward to hearing that Robert. I still need to make the Christmas grog!

  5. 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.

  6. 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…

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

  8. 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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