Herbs & Plants

Prunus insititia

Botanical Name : Prunus insititia – L.
Family  Rosaceae
Kingdom: Plantae
Order: Rosales
Genus: Prunus
Subgenus: Prunus
Section: Prunus
Species: P. domestica
Subspecies: P. domestica subsp. insititia

Synonyms:     Bully-bloom (for the flowers). Bullies, Bolas, Bullions and Wild Damson (for the fruit).
(French) Sibarelles.

Common Name :  Damson or damson plum,Prunus domestica subsp

Habitat:  Common in England in thickets, woods and hedges, though more rare in Scotland and probably not wild north of the Forth and Clyde. Common in South-East Europe and in Northern and Central Asia.

Prunus insititia is a tall shrub, sometimes developing into a small tree about 15 feet high. Resembles the Blackthorn or Sloe (Prunus spinosa), but is less thorny and has straight, not crooked branches, covered by brown, not black bark, only a few of the old ones terminating in spines, the younger ones downy. It has also larger leaves than the Blackthorn, downy underneath, alternate, finely-toothed, on short, downy foot-stalks, and flowers, white like those of the Blackthorn, but larger, with broader petals, borne in less crowded clusters and not on the naked branches, but expanding just after the leaves have begun to unfold.

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The globular, fleshy fruit, marked with a faint suture, has generally a black skin, covered with a thin bluish bloom, and is similar to the Sloe, but larger, often an inch across, and drooping from its weight, not erect as the Sloe. Occasionally yellow varieties are found.

Seed – requires 2 – 3 months cold stratification and is best sown in a cold frame as soon as it is ripe. Sow stored seed in a cold frame as early in the year as possible[200]. Protect the seed from mice etc. The seed can be rather slow, sometimes taking 18 months to germinate. Prick out the seedlings into individual pots when they are large enough to handle. Grow them on in a greenhouse or cold frame for their first winter and plant them out in late spring or early summer of the following year. Cuttings of half-ripe wood with a heel, July/August in a frame. Softwood cuttings from strongly growing plants in spring to early summer in a frame. Layering in spring.

Edible Uses:      
Edible Parts: Fruit;  Seed.

Fruit – raw or cooked. More acid than a plum but it is very acceptable raw when fully ripe, especially after being touched by frost. The fruit is about 3cm in diameter and contains one large seed. Seed – raw or cooked. Do not eat the seed if it is too bitter – see the notes above on toxicity.

Constituents:  The volatile oil expressed from the seeds contains benzaldehyde and hydrocyanic acid. These substances are also present in the young leaves and flowers.

Medicinal Uses:
Febrifuge;  Purgative;  Styptic.

The bark of the root and branches is febrifuge and considerably styptic. An infusion of the flowers has been used as a mild purgative for children. Although no specific mention has been seen for this species, all members of the genus contain amygdalin and prunasin, substances which break down in water to form hydrocyanic acid (cyanide or prussic acid). In small amounts this exceedingly poisonous compound stimulates respiration, improves digestion and gives a sense of well-being.

Other Uses  
Dye;  Hedge;  Hedge;  Shelterbelt.

A green dye can be obtained from the leaves. A dark grey to green dye can be obtained from the fruit. Trees are fairly wind resistant and can be grown as a shelterbelt hedge.

Requires a well-drained moisture retentive soil. Succeeds in light shade but fruits better in a sunny position. Thrives in a loamy soil, doing well on limestone. Grows well in heavy clay soils. Prefers some chalk in the soil but apt to become chlorotic if too much is present. Occasionally cultivated for its edible fruit, there are some named varieties. It has been derived in cultivation from the bullace, differing in having a sweeter fruit. Damsons can be grown successfully against a north facing wall. Most members of this genus are shallow-rooted and will produce suckers if the roots are damaged. Plants in this genus are notably susceptible to honey fungus.

Known Hazards :  Although no specific mention has been seen for this species, it belongs to a genus where most, if not all members of the genus produce hydrogen cyanide, a poison that gives almonds their characteristic flavour. This toxin is found mainly in the leaves and seed and is readily detected by its bitter taste. It is usually present in too small a quantity to do any harm but any very bitter seed or fruit should not be eaten. In small quantities, hydrogen cyanide has been shown to stimulate respiration and improve digestion, it is also claimed to be of benefit in the treatment of cancer. In excess, however, it can cause respiratory failure and even death.

The information presented herein is intended for educational purposes only. Individual results may vary, and before using any supplements, it is always advisable to consult with your own health care provider


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