Dear Readers, cherry plum is one of the first trees to blossom – in a mild year, the flowers, which open before the leaves, can appear in mid January. Originally from south-eastern Europe and western Asia, it first appeared in the UK in the 16th century, and is now widely naturalised across the country – it may have been introduced as a shelter-belt plant for orchards, and it can form part of a hedge. It can also be found growing in the wild in some parts of North America and south-eastern Australia. I love the first snow-white flowers, appearing before blackthorn (which it is sometimes mistaken for, although cherry plum doesn’t have thorns, and blackthorn generally flowers from late March).
Cherry plum is self-fertile, though it also attracts pollinators, and hybridises with many other species of plum. There are lots of ornamental varieties – the one in the photo below is var. atropurpurea, I believe – once the flowers are gone, the leaves are a dark purplish-brown colour.
Cherry plums do have fruit (as the name suggests), though they don’t fruit every year, and the flavour can be intensely sour.
They are very popular in Georgian cooking, however: plum sauce, known as tkemali, is an accompaniment to roast meat and is said to be used in the same way that tomato ketchup is used here in the UK (i.e. with pretty much everything). The flavour obviously depends on the sourness of the fruit used. The plums are spiced with garlic, cumin, coriander, dill and chilli, and a herb called pennyroyal, a variety of mint.
Cherry plum is also used in kharcho, a soup made with beef, rice, cherry plum puree and walnuts, and in chakapuli, a herby lamb stew. Georgian cuisine sounds like an interesting mixture of sweet, sour and savoury.
As a flower remedy, Dr Bach used cherry plum as a way of helping people who felt that their behaviour might spiral out of control. It’s described in this way on the Bach Remedy page:
The Cherry Plum fear is very specific: it is the fear that one is going to lose control of oneself and do something dreadful, such as injuring others or harming oneself. Fears of going mad and of acting irrationally are Cherry Plum states.
Cherry Plum is also the remedy for a loss of control that has already taken place, because of the frantic fear and dread associated with such situations. Think of the fear a small child feels in the grip of a screaming, irrational tantrum: this too is a Cherry Plum state.
Whether you believe in the power of flower remedies or not, I love how specific this is, and how familiar. I would love to know how the different plants were associated with different states. Cherry plum is one of the ingredients of Dr Bach’s Rescue Remedy, which several of my friends swear by. I find it all fascinating.
And here, readers, is a poem, by Australian poet Lesbia Harford(1891-1927). She was always in poor health, probably due to a heart defect, and died aged 36, but in her short life she campaigned vigorously for social change. She travelled to Sydney to campaign for the release of the Sydney Twelve, members of the Industrial Workers of the World (otherwise known as The Wobblies), and she worked in textile factories to gain first-hand experience of the conditions that women workers suffered. She was an advocate for free love, and had lovers of both sexes. I rather like this poem, simple as it is, and full of longing. See what you think.
“Cherry Blossom in an Old Tin Jug” by Lesbia Harford
Cherry plum blossom in an old tin jug —
Oh, it is lovely, beautiful and fair,
With sun on it and little shadows mixed
All in among the fragrant wonder there.
Cherry plum blossom on the workroom bench
Where we can see it all our working hours.
In all my garden days of ladyhood,
I never met girls who so loved sweet flowers.
We had an ornamental cherry plum in our garden for many years that sported beautiful pink blossoms and had purple leaves. When it reached its natural end, I allowed it to fall apart and be absorbed by the soil. I do not recall it ever fruiting.
Very interesting, I took pictures of the same tree this weekend with a beautiful red admiral butterfly and I couldn’t remember what the name of the tree was…lovely poem too. Thanks to you I am discovering this poet.
The same tree, or a common variant, in my London garden, often bears fruit which resemble dark plums. They are sweet enough to eat raw, cooked and in a mixed chutney.
Dr Bach was a microbiologist from Worcestershire apparently. It’s such a relief when cherry trees begin to bloom because they signal an end to winter. Thank you for this inspiring post.