The folklore. There are many varieties of plum with as many different origins, but the European plum, which is the most common today, dates back 2,000 years. While wild plums grew in the New World, pilgrims brought the European plum to America in the 17th century. Plums have been popular throughout history, a fact apparent from the more than 30 varietals found in ancient Rome, praise in prominent writings by Confucius, and even a starring role as Little Jack Horner’s prize when he “stuck in his thumb” and pulled the plum out from his pie.
The facts. Plums (Prunus domestica) join their stone-fruit relatives peaches, nectarines and apricots on the A-list of seasonal fruits. There are more than 2,000 varieties of plums, with over 100 available in the U.S. These are divided into six categories including Japanese, American, Damson, Ornamental, Wild, and European/Garden. Each category is unique, varying in size—oval, round or heart shaped, skins—red, green, yellow or blue-black, and flesh—green, orange, pink and yellow. Both fresh and dried plums (prunes) are known for their health-promoting antioxidant phytonutrients that includes anthocyanins, which may benefit bone health. One cup of sliced plums delivers 26 percent Daily Value (%DV, requirement based on 2,000 calories per day) of vitamin C to strengthen immunity, 13% DV of bone healthy vitamin K, and 11% DV of vitamin A for good vision.
The findings. Prunes have long been used to treat constipation due to their high concentration of fiber and a natural sugar called sorbitol. Together, these nutrients draw water into the intestines, soften the stool, and speed up the intestinal transit time. Fresh plums work as well, but more of them must be consumed to achieve the same effect. A study in the April 2011 Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics found that four to five prunes twice a day were more effective than psyllium for constipation. Prunes also may aid in preventing and reversing bone loss; a study published in the September 2011 British Journal of Nutrition found that prunes significantly increased bone mineral density in postmenopausal women with osteoporosis.
The finer points. Colorful, fresh plums can be found in markets from May through September. Let your eyes guide your selection of ready-to-eat plums: Look for bright, firm skins with a little give to gentle pressure. Firm plums will ripen at room temperature at home, so refrigerate them once ripe. Enjoy them out of hand or sliced onto salads or yogurt, or halved, baked and spread with goat cheese, toasted nuts and a honey drizzle.