Prune, or dried plum, has been used for centuries to alleviate digestive complains. Find out more about how it works and how to consume it.

Quick Facts
General Information
  • Common name(s)Prune, dried plum
  • Scientific namePrunus domestica
  • Geographic distributionNorthern temperate regions
  • Plant typeTree
  • Native regionCentral Asia
  • Main producer(s)United States of America
  • Main Economic UseFood industry

For many, the difference between prunes and plums is not that obvious and it actually tends to be confusing. Prunes are actually nothing but dried plums, and can be found under both names. However, not all plums are good to make prunes. The selected varieties need to meet special requirements, such as a high level of sugar content that enable them to be dried without fermenting while still containing the pits.


Researchers believe plums were first domesticated into a food crop in Central Asia approximately 2,500 years BCE. However, the first records of their use as a healing agent date back to 479 BCE, when they were listed in a Chinese medical treatise as an aid against constipation. After Alexander the Great's conquest helped plums find their way into Europe, they were quickly adopted by all different Mediterranean cultures, and by 65 BCE, they were already a major commodity in Pompeii.

Medicinal and Nutritional Information

Quick Facts (Medicinal and Nutritional Information)
  • Medicinal actionLaxative, Osteoprotective
  • Key constituentsSorbitol, polyphenolic phytochemicals, beta-carotene, potassium, pectine, vitamin B6, selenium, boron
  • Ways to useCapsules, Food, Freshly ground, Juiced, Syrup
  • Medicinal rating(4) Very useful plant
  • Safety rankingSafe
Prune Benefits

Health Benefits of Prune

Prunes boast an impressive nutritional and medicinal profile. Compared with fresh plums, prunes exhibit great laxative and osteoprotective properties. Prunes are generally used for:

  • Relieving constipation. Prunes help balance sugar and water levels in stools, which allows for easier digestion.

  • Long-term bone strengthening. Prunes help the body absorb calcium better.

Additionally, science has shown that prunes may be also useful for:

  • Alleviating cardiovascular problems.

  • Treating metabolic disorders, such as diabetes and obesity.

For centuries, prunes have been used in Persian traditional medicine to treat a variety of conditions, such as acid dyspepsia, nausea, vomiting, bilious fevers, headache, menstrual cramps, vaginal discharge, and asthma.

On the nutritional side, prunes are great to treat anemia caused by iron deficiency, due to their high concentrations of this mineral. They are also loaded with beta-carotene (a precursor of vitamin A or retinol), vitamin B6 (pyridoxine), potassium, and pectin.

How It Works

The main active compound behind the medicinal value of prunes is sorbitol, a naturally-occurring type of non-digestible sugar that helps the stomach process of breaking down nutrients.

Although prunes' efficient laxative action is commonly attributed to the presence of both soluble and insoluble fiber, it is actually sorbitol that is mainly responsible. It also helps balance sugar and water levels in stools, enabling them to pass through the digestive tract more easily and with significantly less pain.

In addition, insoluble and soluble fiber act to make stool larger and ready to be expelled, as well as regulate peristalsis - the synchronized movements of smooth muscles in the intestines.


The presence of selenium and boron in prunes make them very effective in preventing or reversing bone loss, since both of these minerals have a modulating action over bone metabolism and preserve bone density. In postmenopausal women, prunes supplementation have shown to increase bone formation, thus decreasing the risk of osteoporosis.

Additionally, both plums and prunes are a rich source of polyphenolic phytochemicals, which are antioxidant agents. However, the drying process increases the antioxidant activity due to non-enzymatic reaction products, called melanodins.

Prune Side Effects

Prunes contain traces of arsenic, which in large amounts can cause digestive upset. However, they are a generally safe way to relieve constipation.

How to Consume Prune


The best way to take full advantage of prune's benefits is taking it as a remedy, due the high concentration of its active ingredients.

Main preparations: Capsules, extracts

  • Capsules. Either in their hard or soft gel form, capsules are the most common form of consumption to relieve constipation.
  • Extracts. Since they are made of pure prunes pulp, extracts offer not only an effective, soft laxative action, but also nutrients and antioxidant agents. Extracts can be combined with food, which make them a popular way of consumption among people who find difficult to swallow capsules.


Eating prunes, drinking them as a juice, or spreading them as a paste over toasts are also ways to reap their many benefits. However, when it comes treat specific conditions that requires the ingestion of a certain  amount of prunes every day, taking a supplement would be a better idea.

Main ways: Dried, canned, juice, jam

Prunes contain high levels of fructose and sorbitol, which make them a great substitute of sugar in many recipes, as well as a flavor enhancer in both sweet and savory dishes.


Quick Facts (Buying)
  • Where to buySupermarkets, Big online retailers, Online herb stores, Local herbal store, Online health stores

Fresh prunes are available year-round in major food markets. Although prunes are mostly bought in their dried state (sometimes called "dried plums"), several other forms are also available, such as prune juice and supplements.

While plums are often consumed fresh, in most areas it is also possible to find bottled prune juice, especially in grocery stores, pharmacies, and convenience stores.

Prune supplements are mainly found in specialized health stores and pharmacies. In addition, there is a wide variety of choices for prune supplements available through online retailers.

Prune preparations are available for people of all ages.


Quick Facts (Growing)
  • Life cyclePerennial
  • Harvested partsFruit
  • Light requirementsFull sun
  • SoilLoamy sand, Clay loam
  • Soil pH5.6 – 6.0 (Moderately acidic), 6.1 – 6.5 (Slightly acidic), 6.6 – 7.3 (Neutral)
  • Growing habitatTemperate climates
  • USDA Plant Hardiness Zones0a (< −53.9 °C (−65 °F)), 4a (From −34.4 °C (−30 °F) to −31.7 °C (−25 °F)), 4b (From −31.7 °C (−25 °F) to −28.9 °C (−20 °F)), 5a (From −28.9 °C (−20 °F) to −26.1 °C (−15 °F)), 5b (From −26.1 °C (−15 °F) to −23.3 °C (−10 °F)), 6a (From −23.3 °C (−10 °F) to −20.6 °C (−5 °F)), 6b (From −20.6 °C (−5 °F) to −17.8 °C (0 °F)), 7a (From −17.8 °C (0 °F) to −15 °C (5 °F)), 7b (From −15 °C (5 °F) to −12.2 °C (10 °F)), 8a (From −12.2 °C (10 °F) to −9.4 °C (15 °F)), 8b (From −9.4 °C (15 °F) to −6.7 °C (20 °F)), 9a (From −6.7 °C (20 °F) to −3.9 °C (25 °F)), 9b (From −3.9 °C (25 °F) to −1.1 °C (30 °F)), 10a (From −1.1 °C (30 °F) to +1.7 °C (35 °F)), 10b (From +1.7 °C (35 °F) to +4.4 °C (40 °F))
  • Pre-germination seed treatmentStratification
  • Plant spacing average5 m (16.4 ft)
  • Potential insect pestsBeetles
  • Potential diseasesOthers, Wood rots
  • Potential animal pestsBirds

Most Prunus species are native to northern temperate regions and accordingly adapted to diverse soils and climatic conditions. However, the range of adaptability of commercial crops has been extended through breeding.

Growing Guidelines

  • Native species of plums exist wherever it is enough chilling to break dormancy. However, the original temperate climates remain the most suitable for them to grow to their maximum potential. In fact, prunes need significant winter chilling in order to develop properly - at least 800 hours of temperatures below 45°F (7°C).
  • Plum trees grow best in well-drained, clay or loamy soils
  • Plum trees need to be planted during the dormant season, before growth starts in late winter or early spring.
  • While trunk and branches are often extremely hardy, the flowers can easily be killed by frosts, so it's essential for the trees to be planted away from frost pockets or windy sites. A sheltered, sunny spot will produce the best results.
  • Plum trees need mulch of well-rotted farmyard manure around their base.
  • Plums usually begin to bear fruit in 3-4 years.
  • All plum varieties have similar diseases and insect pests, which include brown rot, plum curculio and bacterial canker. Netting or nylon mesh can be used, if necessary, to protect the crop from birds.

Additional Information

Plant Biology

Prunus genus includes several hundred species of flowering trees and shrubs that are mostly deciduous. The leaves have shallow toothed margins and the flowers usually five pink or white petals that appear before leaves. However, double petals and other colors are common in ornamental selections. The fruits are a drupe that has a stone or pit (endocarp) enclosing the seed.

Before being dried and transformed into prunes, plum fruits are typically medium size, 1 - 1.5 inches (2.5 - 4 cm) diameter, with oval shape and a firm, meaty flesh. Peel is smooth, with a waxy surface and adheres to flesh. Trees are medium sized, usually held to 15 - 18 feet (4.6 - 5 m) by pruning.

  • Classification
    Prunus domestica, also called European Plum, belongs into the Roseaceae family, which contains flowering plants, including approximately 2,830 species. Most members of this family are cultivated as a food crops or ornamental plants.

    The Prunus genus comprises 63 species, including apricots, cherries, peaches, and almonds. It is believed that Prunus domestica, the most common source of prunes, is a hybrid between two other plum species, P. spinosa and P. cerasifera var. divaricata.
  • Varieties and Subspecies of Prune
    P. domestica or European Plum, the most popular plum species, have only two varieties: P. domestica L. var. domestica and P. domestica L. var. insititia. There are thousands of plum cultivars, adapted to a variety of soils and climate conditions. However, among the most important varieties are 'Sugar', 'Italian', 'Agen', 'Imperial', and 'Epineuse'. The main variety grown in the U.S. is the 'Improved French' plum.

Economic Data

The United States is currently the largest producer of fresh and dried plums. Most of commercial national production occurs in the Pacific States, New York and Michigan; but plum is cultivated in all areas of U.S., except the South and the coldest regions.

Around 70% of the prunes consumed throughout the world are imported from California, which grows 99% of the U.S. prunes' supply. More than 1,000 cultivars of plums are grown for drying into prunes, which reach the market quicker than fresh plums.

Other Uses of Prune

  • For baking. Pureed prune can be used as a fat substitute in baking recipes.
  • For candy. Prunes can also be used in preparing jellied candies.
  • For cosmetics. Kernel oil extracted from the pit of the prune is used in the cosmetic industry as a softener.


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  • Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics, Randomised clinical trial: dried plums (prunes) vs. psyllium for constipation, 2011
  • Royal Horticultural Society, Grow your own plums
  • California Dried Plums Board, California Prunes and Dried Plums
  • Food and feed crops of the United States, 1971
  • Journal of Medicinal Plants Research, The pharmacological activities of prunes: The dried plums, 2011
  • University of Wisconsin, Introduction to Plums (Prunus species)
  • BioFactors, Antioxidant properties of prunes (Prunus domestica L.) and their constituents, 2004
  • Northwestern University, Women's Health Research Institute: The maligned prune...good for your bones
  • The Encyclopedia of Fruit & Nuts
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  • Genome, Prunus (all species), overview
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  • University of California, UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources: Growing Prunes (Dried Plums) in California: An Overview