What Is The Difference Between Sloes and Damsons?

At first glance, it’s easy enough to mistake a damson for a sloe and vice versa. After all, they look pretty similar, right? However, whilst these two vibrant fruits are essentially related, they are each inherently unique. Let’s dive into their differences. 

So how do damsons and sloes differ? Simply put, damsons and sloes differ not only in a variety of superficial aspects, including their shape, size, colour, and thorns, or lack of, but also in the not-so-easily seen stuff, such as their ensuing tastes, months of harvest, and uses thereafter. 

That’s the gist of it, but there is much more to it.

So let’s now take a look at the differences in greater detail, shall we?

What Is The Difference Between Sloes & Damsons

What Is The Difference Between Sloes & Damsons


The difference between sloes and damsons goes all the way back to their roots. It is widely believed that the damson originated in Syria, with its very name deriving from its Damascus roots. 

In contrast, sloe berries have a considerably more diverse and widespread background, with roots across Europe, Africa, and even western Asia. 

Historical exports mean that today, both can be found across England in abundance, so we recommend keeping your eyes peeled when you’re on your next countryside walk! 

Tree vs. Bush

As with plums, damsons grow on trees. Said trees come in all shapes and sizes and are suitable for small and large outdoor spaces alike. 

Quite differently, sloe growth takes more forms than one, capable of growth in either tree or bush form, specifically, the blackthorn bush. 

Growth & Harvesting Schedules

As well as where they are grown and the form that they subsequently take, they also follow different growth and harvesting schedules. 

All in all, it takes approximately 15 years for a mere damson seed to evolve into a fully-fledged fruit-bearing tree, fruit that is best harvested between the months of August and October, following the bloom of its white flowers the preceding April. 

Quite differently, the blackthorn takes an average of eight years for a full evolution from seed to viable sloe berry, and the sloe must only be picked once it has achieved its prime level of ripeness. 

Even once a sloe is technically ripe, it is advised to wait until after the first frost to pick it. 

The reason is that the cold autumnal weather has the welcomed effect of softening their skin and converting their supremely bitter starting taste to one that is mild and much more tolerable. 

Many choose to pick their sloes before the first frost to avoid their consumption by birds. In such cases, they mimic the frosty environment by placing their sloes in the freezer. 

Much like sloes, the ripeness of a damson is evidenced by its dark blue-black colour, and whilst their flavour is tart until cooked, it is far less so than that of sloes. 

How Do You Identify Sloes?

Sloes can be easily identified by the blackthorn shrub on which they grow. The shrubs are dense and feature a cocktail of leaves, flowers, fruits, black twigs, durable black bark, and last but not least, relentless thorns! 

Via The Shrub

It’s not unusual for hedgerows to be partially, if not entirely, composed of blackthorn shrubs. 

The blackthorn’s dense and subsequent impassable nature makes it a wonderfully pragmatic match to offer protection to plants that grow beneath it, as well as for animals seeking shelter, such as hedgehogs. You may even find a bird’s nest or two within them! 

Via The Area

Blackthorns can also be found in woodlands and on rocky terrains and grow to an average of three metres in height. 

Via Flowers and Leaves

Their leaves are distinct, small, and oval in shape and open only after the plant’s white flowers have bloomed, which occurs throughout the months of March, April, and May. 

The Sloes Themselves

The sloes themselves are circular and a blue-black colour. Averaging at around 1cm long, they are relatively small in size. 

Within the sloe lies a large stone. 

Hence, the fruit is not a fleshy one, and whilst its blue-black colour may indicate its readiness for consumption, they are extremely tart in taste when picked prior to the first frost. 

How Do You Identify Damsons

Aesthetically speaking, damsons can be identified by their ovoid, i.e., egg-resembling, shape, and surrounding green leaves, which feature unique toothed edges. Its flesh is yellow-green in colour, whilst its skin, much like the sloe berry, is blue-black. Its smooth flesh adheres to the stone of the fruit in a resilient ‘clingstone’ manner, meaning that it can be difficult to separate the two from one another. 

By Size

In size, the damson can grow up to roughly 3cm. They grow on thorn-free plum-like trees which are rife with dark green foliage.

By the time April comes around each year, the damson fruit is joined by a flurry of single white flowers. 

By Flavour

In flavour, damsons have rightfully garnered a reputation for their strong sour taste. For this reason, it is recommended to cook them prior to consumption.

Enter damson jam, which is held in tremendously high esteem as far as jams go, by way of its rich flavour and unique texture. 

How Can You Tell A Sloe From A Damson

You can tell a sloe from a damson by looking at their size (sloes are smaller), what they grow on, and when they best harvest.

Distinguishing between a sloe and damson can be a tricky feat. After all, they look similar and even bear startlingly similar flowers. 

Additionally, in flavour, they are both considered to be astringent. Despite their similarities, it is very much possible to differentiate between the two fruits. 

Size & Shape

First, sloe berries are significantly smaller in size than damsons. They grow up to around 1cm, if that, whilst damsons are capable of over double that amount of growth.

If their size wasn’t a sufficient indicator, take a look at their shapes. Sloe berries are round, much like blueberries, whilst the damson is distinctly oval in shape. 

Even the way they hang from their respective plants is different; damsons are found on far longer stalks than sloe berries. 

Where They Grow

Their differences stretch beyond their physical characteristics.

Sloe berries are found on blackthorns, which tend to grow to around three metres tall, whilst damsons grow exclusively on trees that reach heights of six metres or so, with no thorns in sight.

Plus, the bark of damson trees is fairly thin, whilst blackthorns are known for their robust nature. 

Whilst damsons are best harvested well before October, it is recommended to wait until after the first frost to harvest sloe berries. 

Sloe berries pre-frost are sour enough to entirely dry out your mouth, whilst damsons are tart too but remain somewhat tolerable.

How They Are Consumed

Finally, the two are consumed in different ways. Damsons are commonly put to good use in the making of jams, cheeses, and chutneys, whilst sloe berries are infamous for their use in gin. 


As you can see, sloes and damsons are in fact very different!

It may now all make sense to you, but if in doubt, it’s always best to resort back to the origins in when, how and where they grow!

Related Questions

Are sloes and damsons the same?

Sloes and damsons are not the same. In fact, they are very different. Their size, shape, flavour profile, how they grow, where they grow and how they are used are all key differences.

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