What is it? Plums grow in over 2,000 varieties, peeking from between the leaves of stone-fruit trees in shades of red, blue-black, purple, or bright amber. The fruit bears a hard pit inside, just like its botanical relatives, peaches, nectarines, and almonds. When dried, a plum becomes a prune, a name that comes from the fruit's scientific name Prunus - and it's a name that lots of people associate with old age, wrinkles, and constipation. Because of this stodgy reputation, the prune recently underwent an image makeover: The wrinkly old prune is now officially called the dried plum.

What is it good for? Both fresh and dried plums burst with vitamin C, which aids our bodies' absorption of iron, boosts our immunity, and with antioxidants that may help to prevent the oxidation of cholesterol that can damage arteries. In fact, plums provide just as much antioxidant as the more expensive and more nutritionally celebrated blueberry! On top of that, potassium, a mineral abundant in both fresh and dried plums, supports a healthy heart.

The prune, or dried plum, has long been known as an anti-constipation food, but it's really an all-around digestion helper. The insoluble fibre in dried plums adds bulk to fecal matter and provides "food" for the helpful bacteria in our gut, while the soluble fibre helps with digestion.

What does it taste like? When eaten fresh and fully ripened, a plum tastes sweet and juicy. Dried plums are even sweeter, with a chewy, sticky texture akin to a raisin or any other dried fruit. Purchase the dried variety in either a transparent package or a visibly air-tight one. That way, you can either check that the fruits look plump and shiny - or that they at least haven't lost too much moisture by being exposed to outside air. Fresh, ripe, and ready-to-eat plums should give a bit when you gently squeeze them (hard plums are immature and won't taste right).

You can store them at room temperature to ripen, and then pop them in the refrigerator to help them last a bit longer. You can even freeze plums to use later in jams or desserts - just remove the pits first. Eat plums in hand or dice them into salads or cereals. Poached and baked plums make healthy, delicious desserts, and stewed plums or prunes can even be added to soups or used as toppings for pancakes or French toast. Creative cooks may want to use them with chicken and bittersweet chocolate, or even on bruschetta.

Plums reach their peak of seasonality between May and October each year, so mark your calendar!

Amy Toffelmire