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. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Ilona

    Thanks for dropping by.

    Richard Maybe’s book is well worth getting hold of. I keep mine in my bag at this time of year and it come in very handy.

    Hi Lee

    Yes sloes are early this year. I must get out and try and find some before they’re all gone.

    Lucky you, I’d love a damson tree.

    Hi Ceri

    Plums and sloes are early this year. Great that you are enjoying the site, thanks for leaving a comment.

    • Roger Parker

      I have an orchard in Cowley, East of Oxford, UK. Most of the trees are apples or pears, but there are three true “Damson” trees growing there. In the hedges surrounding the orchard there are “sloes” (Prunus spinosa). At one end, there are two trees which grow “Greengages”, and in the hedge along one side there are trees which produces “Mirabeles” (Prunus cerasifera). There are a lot more wild varieties in this country than many people believe!

  2. Is it me or are sloes going over early. I am in the Vale of Glamorgan. I took a walk out last week to my sloe collecting place and they were shriveled. I have now pick some nice plump ripe ones. Also the wild plumbs I picked were also ready. I am new to this site and I think its just great.

  3. We have a tree in our garden which I thought was a small plum tree but My Mum said it could be a damson. It never bore much fruit until this year, this was due to us chopping the top half off last year. My husband was going to take it out completely but I said lets wait and see what it does after this, if it fruits we’ll keep it and if it doesn’t then it can go. Lucky for me and the tree it did very well after producing loads of fresh branches. I’ve made lots of jam and have just started a batch of damson vodka. This is my first batch of fruit liquer so wish me luck. I’ve also just spent an hour this morning looking for sloes and have managed to find them. They are not the easiest things to find and there were not many on the branches. I’m glad I didn’t wait till October, I think everyone else beat me to it. I’ve kept some of the shriveled up berries to plant in some compost and see if they grow, then I’ll have some in my garden all to myself! Your site is very exciting and useful! Thanks

  4. First can I say how useful your website is.
    I’ve been trying to identify some hedgerow fruit and this ids the only place I have found any useful info.
    At first I thought I had damsons, growing in the hedgerow near our allotment, but they are not black/blue enough, and are round, rather than oval, not a lot bigger than a pound coin.
    There are two or three trees, no-one seems interested in the fruit, so it looks like I am going to be busy making jam/chutney/wine and whatever else I can find a recipe for.
    BTW I’m glad you ceared up the pound coin versus the 5p….I thought it was a 5p!!!!

  5. Fiona Nevile

    Hi James

    It’s a pound coin.

    BTW when this photo first appeared on the blog I though the smallest fruit was a wild damson (not matured) WRONG. It’s a wild plum of a miniature variety!

  6. WRT thorns, while some sloe (blackthorn) bushes are ferociously prickly, I have met a few that weren’t so bad, and which fooled me into thinking they were damsons. I wrote a bit about this here:

    We’re going back this afternoon to have another look, as I sure some of them were damsons!

    BTW, I know it should be obvious, but I assume that’s a Pound coin in the photo, and not a 5p..?

  7. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Celia

    Thanks for that. There’s so much to learn!

  8. magic cochin

    This is very useful Fiona.

    You say that sloes have thorns and damsoms do not, this could be confusing as the old true damsom which sends up suckers (shoots from the ground that are the same as the parent tree) does have long sharp tipped twigs – like giant thorns.

    The newer commercial damson varieties, like ‘Merryweather’ have been crossed with another plum species and produce slightly larger, less intensely flavoured fruits and don’t spread by sending up suckers.

    I think if you find a damson in a hedgerow it would be more likely to be the old type with smaller, darker fruit and the tree will have large sharp thorns.

    Planning to pick our damsoms later today – and I’ll be taking care not to get stabbed!


  9. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Steve

    Thanks for that. I’ve updated the post and put a link to some photos.

    I’ve never seen this plant/

  10. I have always understood that the problem with Sloes is mixing them up with Deadly Nightshade fruit when picking in the wild.

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