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Preserving Wild Plums

Wild American plums!
Wild American plums stretch from Minnesota to Texas and everywhere in between. They are a true gift to the people and wildlife of this continent. They are edible, useful, and beautiful.

How do you find them?

Wild plum is one of the first trees to bloom in the spring. They provide pollen and nectar to pollinators. What is the definition of pollinators and why does that matter? Well, we require pollinators (bees, butterflies, bats) to pollinate the flowers of all our fruiting plants. Without pollinators, we don't get fruits and vegetables.

Because they bloom so early (usually a bright white blossom but sometimes pink) they are easy to spot among the other brown and dormant vegetation. They can be found in almost any undisturbed area - usually growing in thickets. In the midwest, I often find them growing along trail edges in heavy soil but find them near the rivers and streams in light sandy soil.

They vary in their size, taste, and bounty. Since they bloom so early, they may not always make plums each year. Bees don't fly in the rain or when the weather is below 50 degrees F. So they don't always get fully pollinated. But when they do...yowza.

They ripen in late summer to early fall. In Minnesota, that is just before fall raspberries. It will vary as they are ripe earlier in the southern states.

They are cold hardy and semi-drought tolerant. They are not browsed by deer or rabbits.

How do you grow them?

Wild plum can be grown from seeds or propagated from clone cuttings. All wild plums are edible, so I recommend trying to grow from seeds. They will vary in size, taste, and color but since they are quick growers, it's worth trying for a better variety, especially if you have a large, wild area to plant.

If you want a sure thing - then look for offspring of "prairie red" American plum. Grow them in almost any average soil. They will flourish in garden soil but will also do well in your marginal woodland edges.  If you buy a prairie red, you could even plant it in your front yard. We have a small cherry tree growing in our front yard and it's wonderful. Even in an association maintained neighborhood, nobody would look twice at a prairie red (in fact, one of my friends has a 20 year old prairie red in his back yard and it is gorgeous!) You just have to prune it in a dominant leader style when it's young and it will be a beautiful tree. Of course, if you are growing them in more wild areas, you can let the plant grow as it wishes.

How do you eat them?

These little babies are delicious! They are sweet and juicy. They are pretty small but the plants can be prolific. The fruit to pit ratio is also pretty reasonable. 

They have just a hint of sour. The skin can be bitter (varies by plant) so if you find one that is bitter, just spit the skin and look for another tree. The color varies from pink/red with an orange/yellow flesh to a light/dark purple with a red/orange flesh. The pink/red orange/yellow are the sweetest tasting.

Wild Plum Recipes

They are great fresh, dried, sauced, baked into desserts, or made into jelly or jam.

We do all of the above.

The first step is to cut out the pit. That's easy to do and if they are super ripe, you can just squeeze it out.

We save all the pits and plant them in various locations....
We freeze a few bags of fruit for use in cakes and muffins.
We freeze some as a puree for smoothies and an amazing egg roll sauce....
We save a bunch for fresh eating.
We use bunch of them for sauce and jam. It's so easy. You do not need pectin or lemon juice. Just sugar and plums.

Just pit and mash them.
Then remove the skins with a foley mill.
I  made 6+ half pints of jam. One jar went to a friend and one went in the fridge for eating right away.

I even made "prunes" or more accurately, "dried plums."

They do not look like prunes from the store. They are orangy/pink and a little tart. But I like them and actually prefer to preserve large quantities this way because it is not dependent on electricity and doesn't add a ton of sugar to our diet.

The fruit leather is a beautiful pink. This is just plums and a little sugar. I like them tart (as they would be without the sugar) but they are good both ways. You can use much less sugar than you would for a jam because  you are not needing the sugar for preservation.

No matter how you slice it, these plums are the bomb.

They are one native food that actually tastes good! I have tried over 30 wild and native edible plants. Some are okay. Some are okay only in a survival scenario. Some would be a struggle even in a starvation situation, and some, like the plums, just rock.


  1. I grew up with wild plum pie, my families favorite! No one has even heard of it, we live in SD, along the Missouri River. Growing up wild plum trees and chokecherry trees were in most shelterbelts!


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