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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. If you are ever in need of damsons there are ample still growing thruout ireland and in my area anyway not many people pick them!!
    many thanks for the great recipes im they are keeping me busy in my maternity leave!!

  2. I’ve just been given 4lb of what my friends thought were sloes; however, they I thouight they looked too big and juicy for sloes so I decided to tasted a couple and no they are definately not sloes as they are not sharp enough. I think they are wild damsons so, I will now go into the kitchen and start making Damson vodka.
    Think I will tell my friends as I would like another batch next year. Hopefully they won’t tell their other friends

  3. Just preparing my Damsons for the vodka right now…waiting for the kettle to boil to wash my glass jars as I write this. Shame some of you are having trouble finding wild Damsons, I literlly have an endless supply where I live in Ireland! CAnt wait til Christmas when I drink this stuff!

  4. I found a row of about 10 spindly trees laden with what seems to be wild damsons – I counted 75 damsons on one branch ! – the peculiar thing is I have been walking my dog past this row of bushes for 18 years twice a day and never before saw any fruit!I always wondered what kind of trees thay were.I feel so lucky as my apple trees( ( I usually make spiced apple jelly) are bare this year possibly due to the minus 17 degree temperatures, snow and frost last winter. Am now going to make damson liqueur and jelly and hope its as good as you make it sound !

  5. Hi all,
    just found a new wild damson supply, never seen so much fruit,cant wait to get going with the vodka,happy forageing.

  6. Is it just me, or are the hedgerows completely laden with fruit this year? Even the sloes have gone mad, and as for blackberries, rosehips, and damsons… for once I even got to the hazelnuts before the squirrels did.

    Easy test for damson ripeness: casually lean against the tree, reach out and give it a good shake. If a kilo or so fall on your head, it’s damson time!

    Steve Parle’s recipe for damson icecream is fantastic – made some this weekend, just substituting half-fat creme freche for the double cream… a complete taste explosion.


  7. my friends and I went foraging today and lended up with 17.5kg of damsons. Think of the possibilities lol

  8. Emma Daniels

    Just tried this recipe for Damson Vodka. Little bit apprehensive to see how it turns out. I have been making some of your jam recipes and they are great as you have an instant result. Going to be a struggle to wait for the 3 months to try this one!!!!

  9. We’re lucky enough to have these in our garden hedge although most of the fruit-bearing branches hang outward over the public footpath so we have to be quick to grab our share! Have also discovered a huge source of sloes in the nearby village this year so will definitely have a go at damson and/or sloe vodka.

  10. Hello Fiona, I checked out the tree near my house.

    I went to it today and I’ve picked some fruit – I think they are wild damsons but I’m not 100% sure. Here’s a photo:

    I’ve put a penny in the shot to give people an idea of size and would appreciate input!

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