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DAMSONS (Prunus domestica) and SLOES (Prunus spinosa)

In antiquity, Damsons were cultivated around Damascus in Syria, and were brought to the UK by the Romans. Apparently, they used the Damson skins to create a purple dye, as well as presumably eating them.

Damsons seem to be rather rare these days, probably because they are mainly used for jams as they can be slightly “tart”.  Although, in many parts of the Country, you may find them growing wild in old hedgerows, Damson trees are available from specialist nurseries, grafted onto semi-dwarfing root stock making it easier to reach the fruit. On our allotments, there are Damson trees some 8 m high, growing on their own roots, making harvesting the fruit very difficult!!

As the fruits are really a  miniature type of Plum, see Plum for general cultivation details.

Varieties of damsons.

Merryweather Damson.

Produces large, round, juicy acidic fruits from September for culinary use. Self-fertile. The best choice for me.

Shropshire Prune.

Produces small, oblong acidic fruits with good flavour from September for culinary use. Quite prolific and self-fertile.


Pixy. This rootstock produces a tree with a final height of about 3 m height, making it suitable for a small garden.

St. Julien “A”. This rootstock produces a tree which can grow up to 4 or 5 m high.

Storage of Damsons.

They will store fresh for a week or two in the fridge crispator.  For longer storage, they make an excellent stronger flavoured plum type jam and can be bottled. Alternatively, store them in alcohol as in Wine and Liqueur.

SLOES.  Also known as “Blackthorn”, this is a Prunus species which is native to Europe. It hardly seems worth growing them in your garden or allotment, as they are relatively common out in the countryside, particularly in hedgerows. It is probably easiest to spot the location of Sloe trees in the Spring during March and April, when you should see masses of small white flowers on leafless trees or bushes with vicious spines. You could also use the sloe trees to form a barrier hedge with vicious spines and the fruit as an added bonus.

Sloes can be used for making Sloe Gin, a Country wine classic. See Wine and Liqueur.