|Wild Plum Quick Facts
|North America from Saskatchewan to New Mexico east to New Hampshire and Florida
|Reddish-yellow to purple
|Round, red plums nearly 1 inch diameter
|Vitamin A (39.86%)
Total dietary Fiber (25.53%)
Vitamin C (18.44%)
Vitamin K (15.00%)
Wild plum is a deciduous multi-stemmed shrubs or small single-trunk trees that grow about 15 feet (4.6 m) tall. The plant is found growing along roadsides, by railways, alongside fencerows, in swamps, on rocky hillsides, woodland borders, savannas, thickets, power line clearances in wooded areas, in the moist edges of forests, and in abandoned fields. The plants prefer medium- to coarse-textured, acidic to mildly alkaline soils. It grows in sandy to loamy soils in the Intermountain West and sandy loams and fine sandy loams in the Great Lakes states. In southeastern Michigan, it grows in coarse-textured, well-drained soils. It grows in rich, often calcareous loams in the Southeast.
Roots are shallow, widely spread, and send up suckers. Trunk may reach 12 inches (30 cm) in diameter. The thin spreading branches are covered in a rough reddish-brown bark. Barks are initially reddish gray, smooth with numerous horizontal lenticels, later becoming rough with irregular ridges and exfoliating curling strips. Twigs are slender, reddish brown, later developing an exfoliating gray film, leaf scars raised. Buds are reddish to gray and sharp pointed, some twigs are modified into large thorns up to 3 inches in length.
Finely serrated leaves are alternately arranged, oval to oblong, and 2 to 4 inches long by 1 to 2 inches wide. The leaves have a wrinkled, dark green appearance on top and are smooth with pale green coloration underneath. Their leaves have pointed tips and narrow bases. Leaves turn pale yellow to electric red in the fall.
Flower & Fruit
The small, white five-petaled flowers of the wild plum appear in mid-spring before the leaves emerge. The showy, 1-inch flowers have a strong sweet fragrance that some people find unpleasant. Their flowers are arranged in clusters of 2 to 5 flowers called umbels. Flowers are followed by edible, round, red plums nearly 1 inch diameter during late summer to early fall. Exactly, the fruit are drupes or stone fruits like peaches and mangoes. When ripe, the reddish-yellow to purple fruit are covered in a powdery white bloom or yeast. They have a tough skin and a bright yellow tart-flavored pulp. Each plum has a large slightly flattened stone or pit with two ridges along each side. Inside each pit is a solitary seed.
This species is usually grown for ornamental value and not for fruit production, however. Although the plums can be eaten raw, the quality is somewhat poor. The fruits are perhaps better used for preserves and jellies. Nowadays the fruits are eaten fresh, canned, preserved in jams and jellies, baked, and made into fruit roll-ups. It is propagated by seed, but the rate of spread by seed is quite slow.
Traditional uses and benefits of Wild Plum
- The Omaha scraped and boiled the bark from the roots of the wild plum and applied it to abrasions.
- The Cheyenne mixed the crushed fruits of the wild plum with salt to treat mouth disease.
- They also crushed and boiled the small rootlets and the bark of older wild plum with the roots of the scarlet thorn as a diarrhea remedy.
- The Mesquakies used the root bark of the wild plum to cure canker sores around the mouth.
- Native Americans produced a decoction from the inner bark which they used to treat oral sores, skin abrasions, digestive problems, and throat infections.
- Blooms were used to treat sore gums, loose teeth, and mouth ulcers.
- Poultice of the inner bark is disinfectant and is used as a treatment on cuts and wounds.
- Bark is astringent, diuretic and pectoral.
- It has been used to make a cough syrup.
- An infusion has been used in the treatment of diarrhea, kidney and bladder complaints.
- An infusion of the twigs has been used in the treatment of asthma.
- Tea made from the blossoms is used for stomach complaints and as an appetite stimulant.
- Juice of the fruit is used for inflammations in the mouth and throat, and plum jam works well as a mild laxative that is especially safe for children.
- It also works well as a mild laxative which is much easier on the body than any medication, and just as effective.
- It is a culinary plant, cultivated for fruit and as an ornamental, but it is not usually grown in commercial orchards.
- The Cheyenne ate the plums fresh, dried, and cooked in desserts.
- Fruits were also used in medicines.
- Branches were used to make the altar for the Sun Dance.
- Green dye was made from the leaves, a dark grey dye was made from the fruit, and a red dye was obtained from the roots.
- The Omaha bound together the twigs of the wild plum and made them into a broom.
- The Teton Dakota used the sprouts or young growth of the wild plum as a wand in the “waunyampi” ceremony.
- Wild plums have been used for erosion control because they have extensive suckering root systems.
- Their root systems can also aid in stabilizing roadsides, banks of rivers, and drainage ditches.
- Wild plum has been used as an ornamental plant in residential landscapes.
- Wild plums have toxic substances in all parts of the plant except the fruit’s skin and flesh like many other Prunus species such as cherries and peaches.
- They contain a precursor to cyanide called hydrocyanic acid which can breakdown into cyanide once consumed.
- Children are cautioned to avoid the large thorns on the terminal branches of some trees.
- Consuming large quantities of fresh plums can cause gastric upset and diarrhea.
Wild Plum Sauce
- 1 pound whole wild plums (or pitted regular plums)
- 3-4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tablespoon fresh ginger root, minced
- 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper (use less if you like)
- 1 tsp soy sauce (or salt to taste)
- 1/4 teaspoon shallot or onion salt (optional)
- As needed: sugar or other sweetener and/or vinegar
- Pick over the plums to remove any stems or debris and rinse them well. Place in a saucepan and add water just to barely cover them. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer until skins have burst and plums are soft, about 20-30 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool for a few minutes.
- Place a colander over a bowl. Put the plums in the colander and press with the back of a spoon to squeeze out the juice. (You could also do this in a cheesecloth bag.) Allow the plums to drain until all juice is removed.
- Heat a saucepan over medium-high heat. Sauté the minced garlic and ginger in a tablespoon of water for 2 minutes, adding more water if needed to prevent sticking. Add the plum juice and the remaining ingredients. Bring to a low boil and simmer until mixture reduces and thickens by almost half. (It took mine about 15 minutes.) Tastes to see if any sauce is sweet or sour enough; if not add sweetener or vinegar to taste.