Wild plums are a delightful foraged treat you can find in many parts of the United States. They’re usually smaller than the cultivated varieties you might find in the store but they can still be sweet and tasty. There are a few different kinds out there but be on the look out for this treat.
We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites. We are also affiliates for others and only endorse products we support. You can read more about our disclosure policy here.
What are wild plums?
Throughout the United States there are several different varieties of wild plums. They are also known as sloe plums, chickasaw plums, hog plums, American plums and more names. Wild plums are a surprising treat in late July and through August. It is a stone fruit in the family of many cultivated fruits such as peaches, apricots and cherries (along with the normal plums you see in the store).
Wild plums are usually smaller and much more tart. They are native to the United States but they are more common in the southern and eastern parts of the country. When you are looking for them in the wild, there are a very characteristics you should look for to identify them correctly.
How to identify wild plum trees
It is essential that you correctly identify any wild plants you plan on using in any way. Especially this is important if you plan to consume anything. Be sure to find a local botanist or send in samples to your local extension office if you are unsure. We have had a local forestry people come out and help us identify plants that are edible within the forest near us.
Here are some of the characteristics of wild plum trees you should look for. First, they are a stone fruit. This means that there is a hard pit in the middle. That is an important component of this fruit and is essential to identifying. When I have harvested wild plums, they have always been quite small. Just the size of nickel up to a quarter. They are also wild which means they are not selected for flesh over seeds and skin. There is a thicker skin, larger pit and less flesh than the grocery store varieties.
Bark, flowers, leaves
The bark, flowers and leaves can help you identify as well. Flowers are usually white, off white or yellowish and show in March and April. If you start tracking trees then that will help you when they are ready in August. The bark is rough, grey to brown but the new growth branches are brown or brownish red. Different subspecies of wild plums will differ in minor ways but are similar enough to be helpful in identifying.
Wild plum trees are also more shrub-like than tree like but the varieties I have been gathering from are quite tall. Though like many edge species they are near the borders of forests. These areas tend to be a transitional or disruptive area meaning that fast growing, advantageous species will take over quickly including hedges like wild plums, dewberries and american beauty berry.
Wild plums are relatively easy to identify. They are definitely defined by their pit. However, there different kinds that grow here in the United States. Check out more from USDA below on the different kinds:
These maps should help you discern what kind of wild plum you are interested in and where they might locate them.
How to use wild plums
My personal favorite is wild plum jelly. Because these plums tend to be very tart and a little bitter, they lend themselves perfectly to a tangy and sweet jelly that is amazing! The forager chef has an excellent post on identifying, determining ripeness and using wild plums as food.
The interesting thing about wild plums is that they can be sweet or tart. It is hard to know the varieties you found, what they will be. Some forager suggest waiting until the frost to harvest but in my experience most of them have already fallen. In my experience, they never get sweet. Which is why I cook them and use them in other ways.
The wonderful thing about wild plums is that you can use them like you would other plums. Making a syrup or jelly out of the plums and then mixing that with other herbs, spices and wine can be used to to top meat. A plum reduction can be delicious!
Pin for later:
You can find me and others at the hop!