American Plum (Prunus americana)

Common Name Latin Name Plant Family
American Plum
Prunus americana

A green dye can be obtained from the leaves[168].

A dark grey to green dye can be obtained from the fruit[168].

A red dye can be obtained from the roots[257].

This species is widely used as a rootstock for cultivated plums in North America[160].

The tough, elastic twigs can be bound into bundles and used as brooms for sweeping the floor[257].

Trees often grow wild along streams, where their roots tend to prevent soil erosion[226].

Wood – heavy, hard, close-grained, strong[82]. It weighs 45lb per cubic foot[227]. Of no commercial value because the trunk is too small[227].

  • Medicinal Use

    A tea made from the scraped inner bark is used as a wash to treat various skin problems and as a mouth wash to treat sores[213]. A poultice of the inner bark is disinfectant and is used as a treatment on cuts and wounds[257].

    The bark is astringent, diuretic and pectoral[257]. It has been used to make a cough syrup[257]. An infusion has been used in the treatment of diarrhoea, kidney and bladder complaints[257].

    An infusion of the twigs has been used in the treatment of asthma[257].

    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[238].

  • Edible Use

    Fruit – raw, cooked in pies etc or used in preserves[1, 2, 55, 62, 183]. The flesh is succulent and juicy, though it is rather acid with a tough skin[85, 159]. The best forms are pulpy and pleasant tasting[183, 227]. The fruit is best cooked[159], and it can also be dried for later use[85]. The fruit is about 25mm in diameter and contains one large seed[200].

    Seed – raw or cooked[85, 183]. Do not eat the seed if it is too bitter – see the notes above on toxicity.

  • Cautionary Notes

    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.

Cultivation & Habitat

Seed – requires 2 – 3 months cold stratification and is best sown in a cold frame as soon as it is ripe[200]. 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[113]. 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. Difficult, if not impossible. Softwood cuttings from strongly growing plants in spring to early summer in a frame. Difficult, it not impossible. Suckers in late winter.
Thrives in a well-drained moisture-retentive loamy soil, doing well on limestone[11, 200]. Prefers some lime in the soil but is likely to become chlorotic if too much lime is present[1]. Succeeds in sun or partial shade though it fruits better in a sunny position[11, 200]. Trees are probably hardy to as low as -50¡c when fully dormant[160]. A fast-growing but short-lived tree in the wild[229], it is cultivated for its edible fruit in N. America, where there are many named varieties[1, 11, 46]. It flowers well in Britain but rarely fruits well here[11]. Most members of this genus are shallow-rooted and will produce suckers if the roots are damaged[238]. Plants often produce suckers at the roots and form thickets[227]. The branches are brittle[101]. Plants in this genus are notably susceptible to honey fungus[200].
N. America – New York to Florida, extending westwards as far as the Rocky Mountains.

Become ungovernable, break the chains of the matrix; grow and forage your own food and medicine.

*None of the information on this website qualifies as professional medical advice. Take only what resonates with your heart and use your own personal responsibility for what’s best for you. For more information [brackets] [000], see bibliography.