- Damson European Plum
- Farmers Markets: Damson plums worth preserving
- Growing Damson Plum Trees: How To Care For Damson Plums
- Damson Plum Tree Information
- How to Grow Damson Plums
- 7 Best Benefits of Damson Plums
- Damson Plums
- Nutritional Value of Damson Plums
- Health Benefits of Damson Plums
Damson European Plum
The damson (Prunus insititia) is thought to have arisen through natural crosses in Asia between the sloe (Prunus spinosa) and the cherry plum (P. cerasifera). This is the Wild Damson brought into cultivation and first recorded in 1629.
Several cultivars / varieties were selected and some may still found in Great Britain, Ireland and the United States. Some known varieties in the UK include Farleigh Damson, Shropshire Prune, Aylesbury Prune, Frogmore, Merryweather, Early Rivers and Common Damson
The damson often occurs as a semi-wild hedgerow plant a little like a European version of one of our bush tucker trees.
We know of no reliably named cultivars of P. insititia available in Australia.
Our Damson trees are most likely clones of a tree brought to Australia sometime after the arrival of the First Fleet. It may have been a named variety at the time although these tended to arise towards the latter half of the 19th century. More likely it is simply a common damson, possibly originally raised from seed.
Fruits are not eaten fresh but are flavoursome when cooked or preserved. Flesh is yellow and astringent.
- Pollination Group: self fertile
- Uses: drying, jam, preserves
- Harvest: mid to late i.e. March
Farmers Markets: Damson plums worth preserving
With dark blue, astringent skins, and dry, sour flesh, the ancient plums called damsons aren’t good for eating fresh. When submitted to a process akin to alchemy, however, their tartness and spiciness are ideal for making preserves. Cooked down, the damson’s astringency disappears, and its tannic skin imparts a gorgeous magenta color and rich, spicy flavor, while its abundant pectin confers a lusciously thick and smooth consistency.
Originating in western Asia (supposedly near Damascus, whence its name), the damson is considered by scientists to be an ancestor of the sweeter and larger European plums. It was present by ancient Roman times in England, where it has long been prized as the quintessential culinary plum. Damsons were most commonly grown in northwestern England, both as a fruit crop and for use as a dye in the wool industry. Because sugar was scarce during and after World War II, preserves became a luxury, and the cultivation of damsons greatly declined.
Damson trees were brought to California by the early 1850s and used for home canning and preserves. Damsons have never been much grown commercially here but have made a small comeback recently with the resurgence of interest in artisanal jams.
One passionate amateur preserves maker, Denise Bratton, an art and architectural historian and editor, has scoured the state from Santa Paula to Sebastopol, searching for damsons. She found that they are rare even at farmers markets and that professional damson preservers are loath to divulge their sources.
A few years ago she was delighted to find that Irene Burkart, 88, had five trees on the ranch she founded in 1963 in Dinuba and now operates with her son Richard. He sold some Damsons at farmers markets. They didn’t sell that well and the trees were getting old, so Richard started cutting them down. Three weeks ago, when Bratton visited the farm, she was shocked to find that only two remained, so she decided to buy the whole crop.
She waited there for the harvest, which was exceptionally heavy this year, and had another shock: She had just bought 225 pounds of damsons. She shared half with Kevin West, a former editor at W magazine who is now a master preserver. He writes a blog on preserving called Saving the Season and has written a book by the same title, forthcoming from Knopf in spring 2013.
For the next week Bratton cooked late into the night in her kitchen in Los Feliz, assisted by her housekeeper, working in small batches for best quality. When she finished she had 200 jars, a lot for someone who doesn’t eat much jam.
Current regulations require cooked foods sold to stores, restaurants and consumers to be prepared in commercial kitchens, so she can’t sell them. (The recent signing of AB 1616, the California Homemade Food Act, will allow such sales by home food producers registered with and inspected by local health departments, starting in January.)
So what will Bratton do with all that damson jam?
“This is going to be Christmas presents for everybody I know,” she said.
West cooked his damsons, also in small batches, in a commercial kitchen in Glendale. His smooth damson jam, lightly flavored with bay laurel (“a natural flavor match”) is available at Lindy & Grundy, Standard Goods, Domaine LA, and Atwater Village Farm for $12 for an 8-ounce jar, and by mail order through his blog site. West will conduct a tasting at Lindy & Grundy at 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday.
An earlier visit to June Taylor, the queen of California artisanal preserves makers, inspired West to use a few pounds of the Burkart fruit to prepare a trial batch of damson cheese, which he calls “one of the glories of the English preserving tradition.” Essentially a dehydrated jam, it is similar in style and texture to quince paste and is typically eaten with dairy cheese. It can be molded into intricate shapes and can be aged for five years or more while retaining its vibrancy, like a fine wine.
“It maintains its fruit but also develops darker, mysterious flavors,” said West.
For those who want to make their own damson preserves, finding fruit is tricky but not impossible. Most growers have just a few trees each, so it helps to reserve in advance. The harvest ranges from late August and early September in the San Joaquin Valley to late September in Oregon.
Aside from Burkart, who sells damsons at the Hollywood and Santa Monica farmers markets when his crop is not spoken for, growers include Greenberg Ranch (Bruce and Emily Greenberg) of Santa Paula, at the West Los Angeles farmers market; Blossom Bluff Orchards (Ted and Fran Loewen) of Parlier, at the San Francisco Ferry Plaza and Berkeley markets; Bera Ranch (Frank and Michelle Bera) of Vacaville, at the Napa, St. Helena and Vacaville markets; Hale’s Apple Farm (Dave and Jill Hale) of Sebastopol, at the Palo Alto and San Rafael markets; and Ayers Creek Farm (Anthony and Carol Boutard) of Gaston, Ore., at the Hillsdale market.
The damson, like the quince, may be so out that it’s in again. For their part, Bratton and West dearly hope that their efforts will inspire consumers to seek out damson preserves and persuade growers to plant more trees.
Growing Damson Plum Trees: How To Care For Damson Plums
According to Damson plum tree information, fresh Damson plums (Prunus insititia) are bitter and unpleasant, so Damson plum trees aren’t recommended if you want to eat sweet, juicy fruit straight off the tree. However, when it comes to jams, jellies and sauces, Damson plums are pure perfection.
Damson Plum Tree Information
What do Damson plums look like? The small clingstone prunes are dark purple-black with firm green or golden yellow flesh. The trees display an attractive, rounded shape. The ovoid green leaves are finely toothed along the edges. Look for clusters of white blooms to appear in spring.
Damson plum trees reach mature heights of about 20 feet with a similar spread, and dwarf trees are about half that size.
Are Damson plums self-fertile? The
answer is yes, Damson plums are self-fruitful and a second tree isn’t required. However, a nearby pollinating partner may result in larger crops.
How to Grow Damson Plums
Growing Damson plum trees is suitable in USDA plant hardiness zones 5 through 7. If you’re thinking about growing Damson plum trees, you need a spot where the tree receives at least six to eight hours of full sunlight per day.
Plum trees aren’t too choosy about soil, but the tree will perform best in deep, loamy, well-drained soil. A pH level slightly on either side of neutral is fine for this adaptable tree.
Once established, Damson plum trees require little care. Water the tree deeply once every week during the first growing season. Thereafter, water deeply when the soil is dry, but never allow the ground to remain soggy or to become bone dry. An organic mulch such, as such as woodchips or straw, will conserve moisture and keep weeds in check. Water deeply in autumn to protect the roots during the winter.
Feed the tree once a year, using 8 ounces of fertilizer for each year of the tree’s age. Using a 10-10-10 fertilizer is generally recommended.
Prune the tree as needed in early spring or midsummer but never in fall or winter. Damson plum trees generally don’t require thinning.
7 Best Benefits of Damson Plums
The most important health benefits of damson plums include their ability to improve the digestive system, lower cholesterol, protect against heart disease, strengthen bones, increase energy, optimize sleeping patterns, decrease your risk of certain types of cancer, and boost the immune system.
Damson plums are a rather mysterious subspecies of plums that most people have never heard of, as they are often overshadowed by their slightly larger cousins. They have a similar taste, although slightly astringent in terms of their flavor, but they are found in many of the same culinary preparations. The scientific name of damsons is Prunus domestica subsp. insititia, and in terms of its origins, many think that it came from Asia Minor, although now it is most commonly found in England. It grows wild in certain parts of the United States, but it has become typically associated with British culture, particularly given their historical love of jams and jellies, which damsons are perfect for.
There are far more sugars in damsons than in normal plums, which is why they are so sought after as flavoring agents and ingredients in various pastries, desserts, candies, and even main meals. Damsons can also be made into a form of sloe gin, as well as damson wine, but the main places you’ll find it is in sweet treats! Now, besides the delicious quality of these unusual fruits, what makes them such a positive part of the human diet?
Nutritional Value of Damson Plums
Aside from their high sugar content, which isn’t necessarily a great attribute, damson plums are very high in vitamin C and riboflavin, as well as dietary fiber, but their real value comes in their minerals, including significant levels of potassium, phosphorous, copper, manganese, and magnesium. Furthermore, damson plums have certain antioxidant compounds that have a healthy impact on those who eat them.
Health Benefits of Damson Plums
Let’s have a look at the benefits of plums in detail.
Aid in Digestion
As with the majority of fruits, damson plums are very high in dietary fiber, which is a key part of our digestive health, as it helps to move food through our digestive tract, eliminating constipation, bloating, cramping, and more serious conditions as well, such as gastric ulcers. Fiber can also help to maximize nutrient intake and aid in weight loss efforts since your digestive system will be working at optimal levels.
Improve Heart Health
The fiber found in damson plums is also an excellent way to reduce excess cholesterol, as fiber can scrape “bad” cholesterol from the system and eliminate it from the body, thereby helping to maintain a proper cholesterol balance in the body. Furthermore, the high level of potassium in damson plums acts as a vasodilator, relaxing the tension on blood vessels and reducing the strain on the cardiovascular system.
Increase Energy Levels
The significant levels of copper and iron found in damson plums make them great fruits for improving your circulatory system and boosting your RBC count. Anemia (iron deficiency) can be a major health concern, but copper and iron are two vital components of red blood cells and can keep your circulation at peak levels, energizing the body and ensuring proper oxygenation of the body.
A study published in the Phytotherapy Research by Ezinne O. Igwe and Karol E. Charlton, University of Wollongong, New South Wales, Australia, states that phytonutrients present in the skin and in the natural coloring of the fruit can prevent or even reverse the development of breast cancer cells. As this is the most critical form of cancer in women, adding some damson plums to your plate is never a bad idea!
Aid in Sleep
Historically, damson plums have been praised for their ability to deliver a solid night of restful sleep. This is likely due to the high concentration of magnesium and vitamin C, both of which help to regulate sleep, but people still use damson plums as regulatory sleep aids when you simply aren’t getting enough rest.
The high level of vitamin C in damson plums makes it a very effective booster for your immune system, as vitamin C is one of the main lines of defense against illness, and it also stimulates the production of white blood cells by the immune system to scour the body and keep it healthy.
Increase Bone Health
The optimal combination of minerals found in damson plums, including manganese, copper, iron, and phosphorous make it important for bone health as well, given that those minerals contribute to bone mineral density and the prevention of osteoporosis.
Wonderfully delicious and juicy, plums botanically belong to the Rosaceae family of “drupe” fruits in the genus, Prunus. Other fellow Prunus members include peaches, nectarine, almonds, and damson. Scientific name: Prunus domestica.
The plant is best described as a small tree or large shrub. It is widely cultivated at commercial scale in the United States, Europe, Japan, and China. Several cultivars of plums are grown all over the world which differ in their color, size and growth characteristics. Generally, each variety of the plum tree bears numerous, almost same sized berries between May and September months.
Plum is about the size of an average sized tomato, measuring about 5-6 cm in diameter and weigh about 50-70 g. It has central umbilicated depression at the stem end. Internally, its pulp is juicy, succulent and varies widely from creamy yellow, crimson, light-blue or light-green in color depending upon the cultivar type.
As with other members of the “drupe” family fruits, plum also features a centrally placed single, smooth, flat, but hard pit. Seeds are inedible.
Plums have a sweet and tart taste with a pleasant aroma. Some of the common cultivars are cherry plum, damson, and blackthorn plum.
Health Benefits of Plums
Plums are low in calories (46 calories per 100 g) and contain no saturated fats; however, they hold numerous health promoting compounds, antioxidants, minerals, and vitamins.
Certain health benefiting compounds present in the plums such as dietary fiber, sorbitol, and isatin have been found to help regulate the smooth digestive system functioning, and thereby, help relieve constipation problems.
The total antioxidant strength of plums measured in terms of ORAC (Oxygen radical absorbance capacity) is 6259 µmol TE/100 g. Fresh berries are a modest source of vitamin-C which is also a powerful natural antioxidant. Consumption of foods rich in vitamin-C helps the body develop resistance against infectious agents, counter inflammation and scavenge harmful free radicals.
Fresh plums, especially yellow Mirabelle type, are a moderate source of vitamin-A and β -carotene. Vitamin-A is essential for good eyesight. It also required for maintaining healthy mucosa and skin. Consumption of natural fruits rich in vitamin-A has found to protect from lung and oral cavity cancers.
The fruit also has health promoting flavonoid poly phenolic antioxidants such as lutein, cryptoxanthin, and zeaxanthin in significant amounts. These compounds help act as scavengers against oxygen-derived free radicals and reactive oxygen species (ROS) that play a role in aging and various disease processes. Zeaxanthin, an important dietary carotenoid selectively absorbed into the retinal macula lutea where it is thought to provide antioxidant and protective UV light-filtering functions.
Plums are plentiful in minerals like potassium, fluoride and iron. Iron is required for red blood cell formation. Potassium is an important component of cell and body fluids that helps controlling heart rate and blood pressure.
Also, they are modest sources of B-complex groups of vitamins such as niacin, vitamin B-6, and pantothenic acid. These vitamins acts as cofactors help the body metabolize carbohydrates, protein, and fats. They also provide about 5% RDA levels of vitamin-K. Vitamin-K is essential for the functioning of many clotting factors in the blood vessels as well as in bone metabolism. It also helps in limiting the neuronal damage in Alzheimer’s disease patients.
Selection and storage
Plums can be available year around, but they are at their best between May until September. In the stores, look for fresh fruits featuring rich color and may still have a slight whitish “bloom” on their surface indicating fresh harvest.
Avoid those with excess softness, or with cuts or bruises. Ripe fruits just yield to gentle pressure and feature a sweet aroma.
Slightly hard but mature plums can be kept at the room temperature until they completely ripen. Once ready, they can be placed in the refrigerator but should be brought back to room temperature before being consumed in order to enjoy their rich natural flavor. Dry plums (prunes) can be stored at room temperature for few days.
Preparation and serving method
Wash plums in cold running water just before using. Fresh ripe plum can be enjoyed as is, with its peel.
Incise lengthwise deep into the flesh until its hard seed resistance felt, and then remove the pit. The skin may be peeled off using a paring knife as in apples. However, its peel not only provides good fiber but also carries some of the health benefiting antioxidant pigments. Therefore, just wash the fruit and enjoy without discarding the peel. They can also be baked or stewed.
Here are some serving tips:
Plum sections can be a great addition to salads.
The fruits are being used in the preparation of pie, desserts, jams, and jellies.
They can also be used in a variety of recipes and are usually baked or poached.
Plums contain oxalic acid, a naturally-occurring substance found in some fruits and vegetables, which may crystallize as oxalate stones in the urinary tract in some individuals. Therefore, people with known oxalate urinary tract stones are advised to avoid eating plums. Adequate intake of water is advised to maintain normal urine output even if these people want to eat them.