Canadians are not known to brag, but when it comes to our Canada plum versus the American plum, it’s time to puff up our chests. Of course, we want to forget that the Canada plum often is referred to as the Horse plum, and that is far too close to horse chestnuts or horse apples for comfort!
The Canada plum grows particularly well near the edges and headlands of clearings, partly because of the sunlight/shade mix and partly because of the tendency for bears and racoons to raid a plum tree just as the fruit is ripening, and then spreading the seeds as they defecate along pathways. But the Canada plum also is especially good for pollinating other plums, and often is used to pollinate hybrids and domestic plums.
It is a juicy, sweet tart fruit – more tart than most plums, requiring less acidity in jams and preserves. In the spring, masses of whitish pink flowers adorn the trees, yet the fruit does not ripen until late in the summer. And, in contrast to the beautiful flowers and tasty fruit, the tree itself is a gnarly neighbour, with its spiny like twigs thwarting many predators.
The wood, though, is hard and brittle, and, with its beautiful graining, makes excellent small woodwork stock. That, I admit, seems wasteful, given the value of the live tree versus a dead one.
The nutritional worth of the fruit is obvious. Eaten fresh, plums, although on the smaller side, are juicy and flavourful. Plum jam forms well and thick, and will be consumed well before commercial alternatives. Plum sauce – a staple with Chinese egg rolls – is an enticing supplement to wild game and pork. Plum preserves, made with the stone removed, are quality dessert or aperitif items. Dried, the fruit is an excellent source of energy on hikes, although if not sufficiently dried, they can begin to ferment in heat! That leads to another excellent use for plums: wine making. Plum wine beats any commercial wine for vibrancy and taste, as well as providing a good source of antioxidants.
However, a word of caution here: plum seeds (stones) should never be consumed, as plum seeds contain significant amounts of cyanide to cause harm.
There are enough medicinal uses and health benefits to the Canada plum to make it an excellent addition to the diet, and to the winter larder. As mentioned, they are high in antioxidants. Like their domestic cousins, wild plums work well as a laxative. They are high in fibre. They are astringent and antispasmodic. Plums relieve indigestion, and act as a mild sedative. Tinctures made from root bark scrapings can be applied to wounds to assist in cleansing. Infusions made from root scrapings and ground up tender shoots is a good quality mouthwash and to cure mouth cankers. The North American natives used these tea infusions as a digestive system cleanser in spring, while contemporary herbalists use the same infusions to treat urinary tract infections and kidney stones.
Like most wild-harvested plants, plum is a good source of natural health maintenance, and the fruit should be sought out as August winds down, and the less tough root shoots trimmed in early spring.