Years ago I learned that plums grow wild parts of the United States just like apples, but I’d never run across any until this year. The trees were small and scrubby, but they were absolutely covered in plums.
Just like apples, each tree has a slightly different taste in the wild, and some were barely palatable. I came across about a dozen trees, all completely covered. One tree, in particular, had sweet, tender and especially delicious red plums.
Our own cultivated plums come ripe in July and August, but many of these were still a bit under-ripe in the last week of September. They’re late all around, still holding onto their leaves after cultivated plums dropped there’s weeks ago around these parts.
Each plum is the size of a large cherry, with tough skin and soft sweet flesh. I’d say they’re about 1/4 the size of the cultivated plums that we grow in our orchard, and maybe 1/8th the size of the mass market plums that you’d find in the grocery store.
Perhaps their small size is why I hadn’t seen them before? Or maybe they only produce heavily in some years and not in others? None the less, now that I’ve found a patch it’s marked in my mind for next year and hopefully now that I know exactly what I’m looking for I’ll begin to see them in other locations.
I started searching for a good recipe to use them and found that wild plums actually have a lot of traditional medicinal uses. According to Edible Wild Plants of the Prairie they were dried or made into sauces by the Native Americans, and were a common food source mentioned in pioneer journals.
Medicinally, the outside bark was scraped from the roots and boiled to treat cuts and scrapes. This same preparation was drunk as a diarrhea remedy and used as a mouthwash for mouth sores.
It’s always exciting to me when modern science confirms the traditional uses of plants. While it makes sense that wild plums would have medicinal uses just like wild cherry bark, science back in the 1970s confirmed it. According to Medical Botany, wild plum root and bark contain a compound called phloretin which is naturally antibacterial.
I didn’t collect any bark or roots, but I do now have this tasty fruit. They were small enough that I was able to easily pit them with my favorite cherry pitter. The only real thing to keep in mind is that you need to place the plums on the pitter stem side up.
Cherry pits are nearly round, while plum pits are more almond-shaped. This different shape means they need to be pushed out vertically so they don’t rip too much flesh out or lodge in the pitter as they’re removed.
Most of the plums we harvested were eaten straight out of hand, but what remains I’m planning on cooking down into a quick wild plum and honey jam. Recipe to follow soon!