MISSOURI GIRL EATS WEEDS
Wed, 09/02/2020 - 1:34pm admin
Ann J. Hines, PhD
Along with poke sallet, sassafras tea, wild grape juice and persimmon cookies, wild plum jelly is one of the beloved tastes of my childhood. Just the memory of the sweet tart flavor of plum jelly makes my mouth water! I have fond memories of making jelly with my dad in our little house in the woods out past Hutton Valley. And at Christmas, I would look forward to little jars of plum jelly, homegrown canned green beans, and apple butter (made with her own tart apples from the back yard) as gifts from my grandmother.
You’ll notice Missouri’s native wild plum blooming in the spring, their showy white flowers decorating the barren landscape. Much smaller than plums you find in the grocery store, wild plums are about the size of a crab apple. You might even think they are large cherries. When they are red, it’s time to harvest them. They will still be very firm, so let them sit on the counter for a few days to soften before using them. If you’ve never eaten wild plums, you may be unimpressed when you first try one. They are very tart, but packed with flavor! Adding sugar makes for a very flavorful pies, jelly or syrup.
Like many wild foods, wild plums are high in vitamin C and antioxidants. And as we’ve discussed in this column before, antioxidants are good for everything from protecting the heart to preventing cancer. Plums also have a high dietary fiber content and ample vitamin K. They have a low glycemic index, so the simple sugar they contain is processed slowly by the body.
The bark has astringent and pectoral properties, making it useful as a cough syrup. The inner bark has been used as a tea to treat skin conditions and mouth sores, and for cuts and burns. Like last week’s elderberry, the leaves and stones (seed) contain a compound that can form hydrocyanic acid, so while these have been used medicinally, too much can cause a toxic build-up in the body.
Besides its medicinal and food value, native wild plum has many other beneficial uses. A member of the rose family, wild plum flowers can be used in creating perfumes. Dyes can be made from the leaves, fruit and roots. Leaves make green, the fruit creates grey to green, roots make red, and the inner bark makes a yellow dye. The wood is valued for smoking meat, particularly for poultry and pork.
Native wild plums are beneficial to wildlife; the brambles form cover for quail, and the fruit are a favored food for deer, turkey and other mammals. Growing about 10 feet tall, sometimes the bushy trees form thickets, which create windbreaks and help prevent soil erosion, particularly along river banks. While they tend toward a bushy growth pattern, they can be pruned to a single stem to create a tree. Since they are native to our area, they are well-adapted to our poor soil and don’t require watering once they are established. They will produce fruit in about 4-5 years.
Let me know if you find wild plums this week, and what you decide to make with them!
An avid student of natural health since 1987, Ann is a Missouri native, health coach, triathlete, and collector of rocks and children. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org