Prune

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
Prune

Prunes are actually 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. Prunes are highly beneficial for the digestive system, as well as for bone structure and cardiovascular health.

Medicinal and Nutritional Information

Quick Facts (Medicinal and Nutritional Information)
  • Medicinal actionLaxative, Osteoprotective
  • Key constituentsSorbitol, polyphenols, beta-carotene, pectine
  • 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.

  • Strengthening bones. Prunes help the body absorb calcium better, thus promoting healthy bones and preventing osteoporosis.

Additionally, science has shown that prunes may be also useful for supporting cardiovascular health and treating metabolic disorders, such as diabetes and obesity.

How It Works

The main active compound behind the medicinal value of prunes is sorbitol, a non-digestible sugar that helps the stomach breaking down nutrients. It helps balance sugar and water levels in stools, facilitating regular bowel movements.

In addition, insoluble and soluble fiber make stools larger and promote peristalsis - the synchronized movements of smooth muscles in the intestines.

Additionally, both plums and prunes are a rich source of polyphenolic phytochemicals, which are antioxidant agents.

The drying process increases prunes' antioxidant activity.

Prune Side Effects

Prunes are regarded as one of the safest options for constipation relief. However, they contain traces of arsenic, which in large amounts can cause digestive upset and diarrhea.

Cautions

Prunes contain moderate levels of oxalates, which tend to accumulate in the kidneys, forming crystals known as kidney stones. People with a history of kidney problems should limit their intake of prunes.

Nutritional Facts of Prune

On the nutritional side, prunes are great to treat iron deficiency anemia due to their high concentrations of this mineral. They are loaded with beta-carotene (a precursor of vitamin A or retinol), which promotes collagen metabolism; vitamin B6 (pyridoxine), necessary for all body functions, particularly kidneys, nervous system, and hormone production; potassium, which helps reduce blood pressure and anxiety; and pectin, important for regulating cholesterol levels and blood sugar.

Additionally, the presence of selenium and boron in prunes helps prevent and even reverse bone loss, thus decreasing the risk of osteoporosis.

A single 100 gram serving of prunes fully provides the daily requirement for boron (two to three milligrams), which is a trace mineral essential for bone metabolism.

How to Consume Prune

Eating prunes, drinking them as a juice, or spreading them as a paste over toasts are popular ways to reap their health benefits. However, to treat specific conditions that require a certain amount of prunes every day, taking a supplement would be a better idea.

Natural Forms

  • Dried. Consuming 10 prunes per day, as a part of a healthy diet, provides the vitamins and minerals necessary for building and maintaining healthy bones, as well as for relieving constipation.

  • Juice. The laxative properties of prune juice are well-known, and this is one of the most popular ways of consuming prunes for constipation relief.

  • Paste. The pulp of prunes can be taken by the spoon in order to regulate bowel transit and treat constipation.

Prunes are a great substitute of sugar in many recipes, as well as a flavor enhancer in both sweet and savory dishes.

Herbal Remedies & Supplements

  • Capsules. Either in their hard or soft gel form, capsules are the most common form of consumption for treating constipation.

  • Extracts. Made of pure prunes pulp, extracts offer not only an effective, soft laxative action, but also nutrients and antioxidant agents.

Buying

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

Natural Forms

Prunes are available year-round in major supemarkets and organic stores, whereas plums are often consumed fresh.

Bottled plum and prune juice, as well as prunes' paste or jam can be easily found in grocery stores, pharmacies, and convenience stores, as well as through online retailers.

Herbal Remedies & Supplements

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

Growing

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.

Growing Guidelines

  • Temperate climates are the most suitable for plum trees to grow, since they 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.

  • It is 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.

  • Plum trees are susceptible to brown rot, plum curculio, and bacterial canker. A netting or nylon mesh can be used, if necessary, to protect the crop from birds.

Additional Information

Plant Biology

Plum trees are medium sized, usually held to 15 - 18 feet (4.6 - 5 m) by pruning. The leaves have shallow toothed margins and the flowers usually five pink or white petals that appear before leaves.

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, with a stone or pit (endocarp) enclosing the seed. Peel is smooth, with a waxy surface and adheres to the flesh.

  • Classification

    Prunus domestica, also called European Plum, belongs into the Roseaceae family, which contains flowering plants, including approximately 2,830 species spread out over 95 genera. Other well-known members of this large family are apple (Malus domestica), blackberry (Rubus fruticosus), and pear (Pyrus communis).

    The Prunus genus comprises 63 species, including apricot (Prunus armeniaca), cherry (Prunus spp.), and almond (Prunus dulcis). 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.

Historical Information

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.

PLUMS, FRESH AND DRIED, HAVE BEEN ONE OF THE MOST POPULAR FRUITS EATEN BY HUMANS FOR CENTURIES.

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

  • Baking. Pureed prune can be used as a fat substitute in baking recipes.

  • Candy. Prunes can also be used in preparing jellied candies.

  • Cosmetics. Kernel oil extracted from the pit of the prune is used in the cosmetic industry as a softener.

Bibliography

  • USDA Plants Database, Genus Prunus L.
  • Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics, Randomised clinical trial: dried plums (prunes) vs. psyllium for constipation, 2011
  • Royal Horticultural Society, Grow your own plums
  • The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods, pp. 309-310
  • 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
  • Missouri Botanical Garden, Prunus domestica 'Stanley'
  • Genome, Prunus (all species), overview
  • Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, Chemical composition and potential health effects of prunes: a functional food?, 2001
  • University of California, UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources: Growing Prunes (Dried Plums) in California: An Overview