What Are Indian Plums?

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Indian plums are a native deciduous shrub native to the Pacific Northwest. They have a wonderfully cherry-like flavor that’s equal parts sweet and bitter. While they’re great right off the vine, they’re even better cooked into delicious Indian plum chutney or sweet sauces.

What is an Indian Plum?

The Indian plum (Oemleria cerasiformis) is a shrub that grows wild in the Pacific Northwest in California, Oregon, and British Columbia. It’s a fruit with many common names, such as Osoberry, Oregon Plum, and Bird Cherry. Naturalists love the ornamental features of the bush because it has beautiful white flowers and produces a beautiful red cherry-like fruit.

The Indian Plum tastes more like a cherry than a plum! The flavors of the Indian plum are very mild and continue to sweeten as the fruit ripens. Some describe a hint of bitterness in these small plum fruits, but cooking or drying them often eliminates the unpleasant bitter flavors.

The History of Indian Plums

As a native to the Pacific Northwest, the Indian plum was important to the indigenous people of North America. The Native Americans also used the bark as medicine (as a mild laxative). As a deciduous shrub, the Native Americans harvested Indian plums in the early summer, dried them, and enjoyed them through the winter.

Today, the Indian Plum serves as a decorative native plant. It’s hailed for its lovely white flowers that bloom in early spring that emit an almond-like aroma. And in the early summer, those flowers blossom into tasty Indian plums that are great for eating raw or using in jellies, jams, or salads.

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Young Indian plums that have yet to fully develop that deep red color.

What Does an Indian Plum Taste Like?

A raw Indian plum has a very mild cherry-like flavor. If they aren’t fully ripe, the flavors of these small plums are incredibly bitter. Like any wild fruit, like crabapples or mulberries, the taste of the Indian plum is generally mild and pure. It’s one of those wild fruits that’s a must-try because their flavors are so incredibly unique.

While they’re great raw, one of the best ways to enjoy this wild fruit is to cook it. Sometimes, raw berries taste bitter, even at the peak of ripeness. Cooking them down into a jam or jelly often eliminates bitter flavors, and the sweet cherry flavors shine through.

How to Tell When Indian Plums Are Ripe

When foraging for Indian plums, you must first know how to spot a perfectly ripe fruit. Indian plums grow in groups, just like grapes, and determining their ripeness is very similar to grape harvesting.

ColorIndian plums are yellow when they first bloom, turn bright red as they develop, and are ready to pick when they reach a dark blueish-purple like a grape.
FirmnessA ripe Indian plum feels firm to the touch with just a little bit of give to it. If it’s overly firm, it’s not ripe yet.
SmellA ripe Indian plum smells fresh a floral, but scent isn’t always the best indication of ripeness.
BruisingIf the Indian plum is overly bruised or cracking on the skin, it’s overripe.

Indian Plums vs. Regular Plums

Indian plums and regular plums share a similar name, but that’s about it. Indian plums are native shrubs that grow in open forests along stream banks and wetlands, while plums grow on small trees worldwide. Aside from propagation, the flavors and textures of these two fruits are wildly different.

Overall, plums are sweet with an apricot-like texture and a hint of sourness. Indian plums, on the other hand, have a taste and a texture that is more similar to a cherry. And unlike plums, Indian plums are much more bitter.

Cooking with Indian Plums

Before using Indian Plums in tasty dishes, you must prepare them correctly. Luckily, they’re very easy to work with.

1. Wash them thoroughly. Place the Indian plums in a colander, and rinse them with cool water. Place them on a tea town and gently dry them.

2. Remove the seed. Indian plums have a hard seed inside like a cherry. Use a skewer to poke the seed through the skin and discard.

Here are a few recipes that perfectly incorporate Indian plums:

Indian Plum and Mint Dip: It’s tangy, savory, and delivers just a kiss of sweetness. This Indian Plum dip is the perfect pairing with fresh fruit that delivers bright flavors that pair with just about any fruit.

Indian Plum Chutney: Indian plums can be bitter, but the sweetness shines through once reduced into a thick chutney. This tart and tangy chutney is easy to make and goes great on anything from toast to cheesecake.

Osoberry Shrub Cocktail: What better way to use up fresh Indian plums than in a summery cocktail? This cocktail recipe incorporates sweet Indian plums, apple cider vinegar, and herbal spices like basil, rosemary, peppercorns, and lemon rind (Use grapefruit rind for more bitter notes).

How to Store Indian Plums

Indian Plums will stay fresh for a few days in the refrigerator. However, the best way to store this fruit is by freezing, dehydrating, or cooking it into a jelly or jam for a longer shelf life.

To freeze, make sure that you remove the pits first using a skewer or a cherry pitter. Place them in a freezer bag, date them, and pop them into the freezer, allowing you to keep them for up to a year. You can also dehydrate them using a food dehydrated, but again, make sure that you remove the seeds first.

Nutritional Benefits of Indian Plums

The Native Americans used the bark of the Indian Plum as a mild laxative, and some studies show that this is true. It has also been used to help treat tuberculosis and even cancer.

It’s important to note that the high quantities of seeds have a small dose of hydrogen cyanide, which can harm your health. Before you whip up a delicious Indian Plum dish, make sure that you remove the seeds!

Where to Purchase Indian Plums

Indian Plums are available at your local market. As a native of the Pacific Northwest, the best way to get your hands on these lovely berries is to go foraging! Wild Indian plums often grow in the partial shade under larger trees in open forests.

Or you can also plant this decorative tree in your backyard! They’re hardy plants and thrive in most areas of the United States. If you don’t feel like foraging, try a farmer’s market when Indian berries are in season. They have a short peak season, so keep your eyes open from June to August.

Tara Summerville

Tara Summerville is a freelance writer with a deep love for food. She loves baking sweet treats and experimenting with different fruits and veggies for her morning smoothies. When she’s not writing, she loves powerlifting, baking, gardening, playing video games, and caring for her cats!

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