Damsons, a very British fruit, a relative of the Plum

Estimated reading time: 2 minutes

Damsons, a subspecies of plums, is a small, dark purple fruit that grows wild in Great Britain, with a tart flavour more suitable to cooking. In all the years living in this part of the UK (the south coast of England), I never noticed the damsons growing freely at Hengistbury Head, one of our favourite walking spots along the water.


We first spotted them a couple of weeks ago, picked some and brought them home. They were very, very tart, as they should be and so I made some quick jam with them. Yesterday, we went armed with a carrier bag, ready to do battle and came back with a bag full of them! What a harvest!

So what are damsons? They are similar to plums, for which I’d initially mistaken them, but are generally very, very tart. They are smaller than plums, are a vibrant purple when young and mature to a dark purple, bordering on black. The interesting thing is, many of them were rather edible from our harvest yesterday. These were the ones that were extremely soft.

Many folks stopped off to talk to us as we were pillaging picking, and it really was marvellous because the old folks had so many interesting things to say. One of the old ladies mentioned that yes, if you leave them long enough, they will eventually get a little sweet.

Another old lady taught me how to make some damson gin! Here I had visions of jam, pies and cheesecakes, and she spoilt all that by mentioning gin! It just has to be done! I wonder if I have enough to make the cheesecake too!

The name damson refers to specifically the fruit that grows in Great Britain. According to Wiki:

“The name damson comes from Middle English damascene, damesene, damasin, damsin, and ultimately from the Latin (prunum) damascenum, “plum of Damascus”. One commonly stated theory is that damsons were first cultivated in antiquity in the area around the ancient city of Damascus, capital of modern-day Syria, and were introduced into England by the Romans. The historical link between the Roman-era damascenum and the north and west European damson is rather tenuous despite the adoption of the older name.”

4 thoughts on “Damsons, a very British fruit, a relative of the Plum”

  1. Christine Tatum

    Do you have any jam still hanging around? I’m heading that way. Better yet, did you make any gin??

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