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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. Lorraine Tomkins

    I have wild fruit in the garden but not sure what it is, they look like plums but have thorns on branches. It is self planted tall hedgerow type of bush. The fruit is slightly smaller than. Plum. Any idea what they are, safe to eat or cook with???

    • Fiona Nevile

      Hi Lorraine, Could you upload a photo please. They sound like wild plums or bullaces to me. They could also be wild damsons – which are about the size of a sloe and very sharp tasting. If you can t upload a photo could you tell me what colour they are?

  2. Kevin Payant

    I am making some festive brew for Christmas. Decided to forage the abundance of wild berries this year. Found Sloes, bullaces,blackberries and have made a mixture with Hortus Gin. I have added varying quantities of sugar and also added a teaspoon full of muscovado sugar with the castor sugar as an experiment. I shake once a week now and the fruits of my labour seem to be looking good. Fingers crossed for a merry festive holiday.

  3. 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?

  4. 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

    • Roger Hall

      Pick your sloes wash them in some sort of baby’s bottle sterilising fluid in a bowl of water. Swirl around for about 5 to 10 minutes and pick out any leaves or other bits of wood (sometimes you may see a very few grubs)
      Drain through a plastic sieve and rinse well under cold running water.
      Dry off as much water as possible by rolling the rinsed sloes in a clean drying up cloth.
      Get a bowl in which to place the sloes.
      Either take a clean needle or for authenticity us a big thorn from the sloe bush and prick each sloe several times in different places on the skin.
      Place into your clean bowl until all sloes have had their skins punctured.
      Buy the cheapest bottle of gin you can find . If in the UK try Lidl for your gin.
      Sterilise another bottle- clear glass will allow you to see the beauty of the purple colour as the sloesgive up their skin colour.
      Pop about 1/3rd of the clean empty bottle with your sloes.
      Now pour in a second 1/3rd of ordinary granulated sugar.
      Fill the bottle with your fresh gin and put the cork/top of the bottle, making sure it is well sealed.
      Place your bottle somewhere that allows you to frequently shake up the bottle to dissolve the sugar into the gin.
      Many contemporary gin producers are selling flavoured gin. I also add some juniper berries (obtainable from most supermarkets) lately I have also been adding half a handful of crushed lavender blossoms and maybe 6 whole cloves, some cinnamon stick, and a few thin slices of ginger.
      Try your sloe gin after at least 3 months soaking without my added flavourings as you can then add the additional flavours to any other bottles you manage to make.
      Pour your first sloe gin about Xmas time and recall with closed eyes the warmth of the early Autumn sun on your back as yo were picking those spit curdling berries that are now wonderfully fragrant to eat separately with dark chocolate.
      Have a wonderful time making your 2017 sloe gin.

  5. 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

    • Roger Hall

      Bite into the smallish berry that you think is a sloe and the sloe will tell you it is a sloe from the way it curdles your spit. Once you have done this you will know what I mean.
      By the way, sloes have some pretty formidable thorns to help identify it.

  6. 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!

  7. 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.

    • Roger Hall

      I agree with Veronica. Bullace are a rare and fabulous long forgotten fruit that makes superb Bullace gin.

      Try looking up “Bullace” as there seems to be a mispronunciation.

  8. 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…

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

  10. 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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