The Cottage Smallholder

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Wild damson vodka recipe. How to identify wild damsons

Left to right: wild damsons, bullace and eating plum

Left to right: wild damsons, bullace and eating plum

If you have looked up ‘wild damsons’ because you think that you have found some I do hope that you have discovered this highly prized fruit. But not on my patch!

Wild damsons (the ones in the bowl) are the size of a small olive and have the same elongated shape. The dark bluish skins have the same greyish tinge of a sloe or dark plum. The flesh is a yellow orange and the stone small. If you want an instant tongue defuzz bite into one – it is very sharp but not quite as bitter as a sloe. The leaves of a tree are similar to a plum leaf but smaller.

The photo shows wild damsons, a bullace and a dark plum. A cherry plum is smaller than a bullace but larger than a wild damson. A sloe is similar in colour to a wild damson but it is round.

Wild damsons are so hard to find that if you do discover them on a foraging expedition, never share the whereabouts with anyone. I did this once and returned to find the tree bare. To add salt to the wound the fruit was still not ripe. You can leave unripe fruit on a windowsill to ripen but it will not swell or be at its best. Wild damson trees tend to be spindly. They are hedgerow plants. Deep in their ancestry they have sloe and cherry plum relations.

It’s OK leave a sealed envelope for your family to be opened after your death but never divulge your secret. It is the key fruit in one of the best homemade liqueurs know to man or beast – wild damson vodka. Clean tasting, heart hugging grog.

Even Gilbert doesn’t know where my secret tree is located.

There is one couple that does. They spotted it when they came to the Cottage Smallholder party last month.
“There’s a tree out there with small purple olive shaped berries…”
My heart sank.
“Are they wild damsons?”
I couldn’t lie – the couple were new friends after all. The fruit weren’t ripe but generally this doesn’t rein in the keenest foragers.
“You’ve found my secret tree. Let’s share.”
Better half a harvest than none at all.

Over the years I’ve grown with this tree. First just enough fruit for a tiny bottle, then a half bottle moving up through the sizes to a litre bottle of wild damson gin last year. Each one treasured and hidden away in the barn. The gin was very good but I think that the vodka version wins hands down. Sharper, cleaner and fruitier tasting.

I hadn’t had the heart to look at the ‘secret tree’ until a couple of days ago. I glanced up at the tree. It was heavy with fruit. I gathered all that I could reach and my pockets were bulging. Enough for two litres of wild damson vodka and more to make a fine jelly for lamb, turkey or game – if I climb up a wall and use my foraging walking stick to gently pull down the laden branches.

Thank you Chris (aka Paperman on our forum) and Anne. At Easter you’ll receive a slim bottle in the post and before that some interesting and intoxicating wild damson jelly to enhance your Christmas jollifications. And there will be regular bribes to guarantee that your lips are sealed.

Wild damson vodka recipe
Recipe Type: Liqueurs
Prep time: 15 mins
Total time: 15 mins
  • • 1lb/454gm of washed wild damsons
  • • 6 ozs/168gm of white granulated sugar
  • • 75cl bottle of medium quality vodka
  • • Sterilised 1 litre (at least) Le Parfait jar or wide necked bottle with stopper/cork
  1. Wash the wild damsons well and discard any bad or bruised fruit. There is no need to prick the fruit with a fork (but you can if you want to be brutal) just place damsons in either a large Kilner/Le Parfait jar or a wide necked 1 litre bottle.
  2. Using a funnel, add the sugar and top up with vodka to the rim. If you leave a bigger gap the liqueur might spoil with the excess of air.
  3. Shake every day until the sugar is dissolved and then store in a cool, dark place until you can resist it no longer (leave for at least three months, we usually let it mature for a year). If you are planning to drink this after 3 months, have a nip after a month, and top up with sugar to taste.
  4. Some people strain the grog (through muslin/jelly bag) after 3 months and bottle it, leaving it mature for six months. We strain and bottle after a year. Don’t leave the straining process any longer than a year; leaving the fruit in too long can spoil the liqueur, as we found to our cost one year.
  5. Use the leftover fruit to make a great jelly for game or to accompany a dull roast. Or try adding sherry to the fruit. Leave for at least a couple of months. This is cheap jet fuel so beware.


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  1. Living in the Pyrenees we found several wild damson bushes on our land. Last year we made vodka, gin and rum but the best was the vodka. Even my wife loves it and has begged for more.

    Just vodka this year and probably about 6 litres.

  2. After I’ve made my damson vodka, mmmmmmmm you can add the left over fruit
    ( destoned ) to double whipped cream. makes a lovely dessert. you dont need too much of it as its very rich.

  3. Thank you for the recipes. I was giving damsons last year, I didn’t even know what they were before then. I came across your recipe and made the gin and vodka. My partner hated spirits before he tried these recipes, now he’s begged me to make more. And by chance 2 days ago I found wild Damson trees!

  4. Thanks for the recipes ideas…to my luck found loads of trees bursting if any one wants any I’m happy to share location s …being a driver found loads this year

  5. I realise how precious wild damson trees are. Would you be prepared to share the stones that come out the centre, once you have used your damsons, so that I can attempt to grow one perhaps?

    • I’m happy to send you some stones, I’m just about to take my Damson Gin and Vodka off the fruit as it’s been on for 4 – 5 months now. We had few Damsons last year but 6kg the previous year so I froze quite a lot.

      • Hi, I have just seen your reply to my request for damson stones. Thank you, i would love some. I am not sure of how the best way for me to get them from you would be. I can send you a some stamps to post them perhaps? I am in Farnham, Surrey.

  6. Once I have strained the damson vodka is there anything I can do with the vodka infused damsons?

    • remove the stones & spread on a baking tray. melt some chocolate & pour over fruit. leave to set.
      delicious home made liquor chocolate

  7. I have now bottled my damson vodka and gin but at a loss what to do with the remaining fruit, it seems such a shame to throw away. Any ideas ?

    • Fiona Nevile

      There are loads of things that you can do! Damson chocolates, add them to crumble, make tipsy jelly, pour sherry over the fruit and seep for a month (lethal)

    • Jan Phillips

      Use my remaining fruit in fruit cakes. About 1/3 of total (raisins, sultanas etc.)

  8. Christine Shaw

    The wild damson sherry is divine and only a drop is left in the bottle. Any ideas what to do with the fruit as it is now soft and soaked in the liquer?

  9. David Manifold

    Hi, I have been making sloe wine for a while and this year while foraging along my own hedgerows I found three bushes that have fruit that is twice the size of sloes but not elongated like a damson. they are round and the same colour as a sloe but the bush has less thorns and the leaves are twice the size. They do taste like a wild damson and I have used them in a 50/50 mix to make this years batch of wine. What are your thoughts please?

  10. Thanks for the recipe, we have been making damson vodka for a couple of years but I had forgotten the quantities.
    I use scrounged 1.5l bottles from the pub to brew mine and have found that even if the fruit is too big to fit in the neck whole you can still squish it in, it takes about 3 goes to strain but still tastes delicious.
    I have just made mine up ready for my little village wedding in April *fingers crossed this years batch it just as good as previous years*

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