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Medicinal Trees: Cornus, Dogwood

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Location: Blue Ridge Mountains
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Twenty-eight Dogwoods are used medicinally: Cornus alternifolia - Green Osier, Cornus amomum - Silky Dogwood, Cornus asperifolia drummondii - Roughleaf Dogwood, Cornus australis, Cornus canadensis - Creeping Dogwood, Cornus capitata - Bentham's Cornel, Cornus controversa - Giant Dogwood, Cornus coreana, Cornus florida - Flowering Dogwood, Cornus hongkongensis, Cornus chinensis, Cornus iberica, Cornus kousa - Japanese Dogwood, Cornus kousa chinensis - Japanese Dogwood, Cornus macrophylla - Large-Leaf Dogwood, Cornus mas - Cornelian Cherry, Cornus monbeigii, Cornus nuttallii - Mountain Dogwood, Cornus occidentalis - Western Dogwood, Cornus officinalis - Shan Zhu Yu, Cornus poliophylla, Cornus quinquenervis, Cornus rugosa - Round-Leaved Dogwood, Cornus sanguinea, Cornus sericea - Red Osier Dogwood, Cornus sessilis, Cornus suecica - Dwarf Cornel, Cornus x unalaschkensis – Bunchberry

Only three dogwood varieties are native to my region, though many have been introduced: Cornus alternifolia (Alternate-leaved Dogwood, Pagoda Dogwood), Cornus asperifolia (Roughleaf Dogwood), Cornus florida (Flowering Dogwood)

The dogwoods were once widely more used in herbal medicine (especially by Native Americans). All are nice landscaping tees. Its main herbal value is as an astringent. A decoction of the bark is useful for mouth sores, sore throats, diarrhea and skin inflammations. It is good for swellings and blisters. It has also been used for colds and to lower fevers. A poultice of the leaves is good for wounds, being anesthetic and analgesic. Adding dogwood leaves and bark to a bath is good for sore joints and muscles.

Of special interest is the Cornelian Cherry. Cornelian Cherry or Cornus monbeigii produces a tasty fruit. The fruit is somewhat sour. It can be made into jam or used in pies like sour cherry. It is also said to be a good substitute for cranberry as a sauce to compliment meats. The herbalist and plant collector, Gerard, said it was to be found in the gardens "of such as love rare and dainty plants". In recent years, Cornelian Cherry has become popular with Permaculture and other folks who are interested in edible landscapes.

Brother Aloysius wrote of Cornelian Cherry:

The bark and fruit are used medicinally. The bark is astringent and febrifugal; the fruit is astringent and desiccant. Application of fresh, bruised leaves stanches bleeding. The fruit decoction is used for feverish burning and dysentery; it also stimulates appetite.

Resources of the Southern Fields and Forests states:

Dogwood {Cormis Florida').—During the late war, the bark has been employed with great advantage in place of quinine in fevers—particularly in cases of low forms of fever, and in dysentery, on the river courses, of a typhoid character. It is given as a substitute for Peruvian barks. In fact, in almost any case where the Cinchona bark was used.

This well known plant possesses tonic and anti-intermittent properties, very nearly allied to those of cinchona; in periodic fevers, one of the most valuable of our indigenous plants. "Dr. Gregg states that, after employing it for twenty-three years in the treatment of intermittent fevers, he was satisfied that it was not inferior to Peruvian bark.'" Generally given in con- junction with laudanum. It also possesses antiseptic powers. In the recent state, it is leas stimulating than the cinchona bark, but it affects the bowels more; the dried bark is the preferable form. The fresh bark will sometimes act as a cathartic. It is more stimulating than thoroughwort (Eupatorium,) and, therefore, is less applicable during the hot stages of fever. According to Dr. Walker's examination, the bark contains extractive matter, gum, resin, tannin and gallic acid; and Dr. Carpenter announces in it a new principal, cornine. Dr. Jackson also, from experiment, is satisfied that it contains a principle analogous to quinia. It has been exhibited by Dr. S. G. Morton in intermittent fever, with success. Griffith, in his Med. Bot. 347, mentions that the infusion of the flowers is useful as a substitute for chamomile tea; for analysis, see Am. Journ. Pharm. i, 114; and Phil. Journal Med. and Phys. Sci. xl. Dose of the dried bark in powder, is twenty to sixty grains; the decoction is made with one ounce of the root to one pint of water, or the extract may be employed ; alcohol also extracts its virtues. The ripe fruit, infused in brandy, makes an agreeable and useful bitter, which may be a convenient substitute for the article prepared in the shops. Dr. D. C. O'Keeffe, of Georgia, published an article on the C. Florida in the So. Med. and Surg. Journal, January, 1849. He gave the extract in doses of ten grains to two drachms, without its producing any disturbance of the stomach, as alleged by some writers. Barton says, in his Collections, that the bark is valuable in a malignant disorder of horses called yellow water. From the gallic acid it contains, a good writing ink may be made, and from the bark of the fibrous roots the Indians extracted a scarlet color. Lindley mentions that the young branches, stripped of their bark;" and rubbed against the teeth, render them extremely white. It is often employed for this purpose by persons living in the country. Where there is need of astringent anti-periodics and tonics, the dogwood bark powdered will be found the best substitute for the Peruvian. Internally and externally, it can be applied in wherever the cinchona barks were found serviceable. The dogwood bark and root, in decoction, or in form of cold infusion, is believed by many to be the most efficient substitute for quinine, also in treating malarial fevers; certainly, it might be used in the cases occurring in camp, to prevent the waste of quinine, as it can be easily and abundantly procured. Dr. Richard Moore, of Sumter County, informs me that he not only finds it efficient in fevers, but particularly useful, with whiskey or alcohol, in low forms of fevers, and dysentery occurring near our river swamps. During convalescence also, where an astringent tonic is re- quired, this plant meets our requirements. See Enpatorium (boneset) and Liriodendron (Poplar.) These, with the black- berry and chinquapin as astringents, the gentians and pipsissewa as tonics and tonic diuretics, the sweet gum, sassafras, and bene for their mucilaginous and aromatic properties, and the wild jalap (Podophyllum) as a cathartic, supply the surgeon in camp -during a blockade with easily procurable medicinal plants, which are sufficient for almost every purpose. Nitrate and bi-carbonate of potash are most wanted, and with calomel may be procured from abroad. Our supply of opium can be easily reached by planting the poppy, and incising the capsules. Every planter could raise a full supply of opium, mustard and flaxseed. A tonic compound, as advised by the herbalists, is made with the bark of the root of dogwood, Colombo (Frasera,) poplar, each six ounces; bark of Avild cherry, six ounces ; leaves of thoroughwort, four ounces; cayenne popper, four ounces— sifted and mixed. Dose, a teaspoonful, in warm or cold water, repeated. The berries of the dogwood have also been highly recommended—given as a remedy for fever in place of quinine (1862.)

RED WILLOW; SWAMP DOGWOOD, (Cornus sericea, Ph.) Elliott says it grows in the mountains of South Carolina; sent to me from Abbeville District, by Mr. Reed ; North Carolina. Fl. June. Griffith, Med. Bot. 349. It possesses properties quite similar to those of the C. Florida, but it is more bitter and astringent. Mr. E. informs me that it is employed to a great extent in domestic practice in Abbeville. According to B. S. Barton, the bark was considered by the Indians a favorite combination with tobacco for smoking. The young shoots were used to make coarse baskets; and they extracted a scarlet dye from these and the roots.

BLOOD RED DOGWOOD, (Cornus sanguinea, Jj.) Grows, according to Elliott, in the valleys among the mountains. Fl. May. Diet, de Med. de Ferus. ii, 737; Mathiole, Comment, ii, 119;

Journal de Chim. xxxviii, 174, and xl, 107. See, also, Journal de Pharm. for an account of the oil extracted from it. M. Murion says they afford one-third of their weight of a pure and limpid oil, used for the table and for burning. A case of hydrophobia was said to have been cured by it. Griffith, Med. Bot. 349. There also exists in this, as in the others, a red coloring principle, soluble in water alone. Gornus stricta. Growls in swamps near Charleston; Newbern. Shec. Flora Carol. 44. C. Circinata is not included by Chap- man among the Southern species, though Dr. Wood says that it grows in Virginia. See U. S. Disp.

King's American Dispensatory, 1898 tells us:

Action, Medical Uses, and Dosage.—Dogwood bark is tonic, astringent, and slightly stimulant. It forms an excellent substitute for Peruvian bark, having frequently proved efficient in periodic attacks when the foreign drug failed. It may be used in many cases where quinine is indicated and can not be administered, owing to idiosyncrasy, etc. It may be used with advantage in cases where tonics are required, in periodical fevers, typhoid fevers, etc. Its internal employment increases the strength and frequency of the pulse, and elevates the temperature of the body. It should be used in the dried state, as the recent bark is apt to derange the stomach, and cause more or less pain in the abdomen, but which may be removed by 10 or 15 drops of laudanum. It is useful in headaches from quinine, in general exhaustion and pyrosis. An extract of the bark prepared by boiling it in water, and evaporating to the proper consistence, will be found one of the best forms in which to administer it. Dose of the powdered bark, from 20 to 60 grains, as often as required; of the extract, from 5 to 10 grains. The ripe berries formed into a tincture with brandy or whiskey, are a popular bitters among some country people; the flowers are occasionally used in the place of chamomile. Specific cornus, 1 to 20 drops.

Specific Indications and Uses.—"Tonic and antiperiodic; intermittent or miasmatic fevers; headache from quinine; general exhaustion" (Scudder); feeble, relaxed tissues; pulse feeble and temperature subnormal; quinism.

The Rodale Herb Book states:

The Indians were the first to use this American native for healing, and the white settlers were quick to add it to their folk medicine. Although the bark was the principal part used, the flowers, leaves and fruit have also been used. The Delawares, Alabamas and Houmas of Louisiana all used the inner bark to make a febrifuge tea. “It is good in low continued forms of fever, where the patient is greatly exhausted,: reported one nineteenth-century Indian folk. Herbal.

During the Civil War, dogwood was one of several native plants which provided a substitute for quinine, which was obtained from the bark of the chinchona tree, a Peruvian native, when the South was cut off from outside supply sources.”

Botany In a Day states:

The Dogwood contains varying amounts of cornic acid an the alkaloid cornine, mostly in the bark and or the inner bark. It has a mildly narcotic and analgesic effect, especially helpful for individuals who have negative reactions to Southside lights like Willow or aspirin. The bark is also quite astringent, which further helps draw down inflamed tissue.

The Physicians Desk Reference for Herbal Medicine tells us:

Cardiac effect: heart activity, at different levels up to the cessation of heartbeat, is examined depending on the concentration of the menthol extract. Antispasmodic effect: induced malaria in chicks in Peking ducks was treated for five days with the water insoluble fraction. As a result, antiplasmodic activity toward P cathemerium could be observed, similar to that deployed by quinine and sulfadiazine. To date, the results cannot be sufficiently assessed. The bark works as a tonic, an astringent and a stimulant. Unproven uses: in North America, the dried bark was used in folk medicine for strength, to stimulate appetite, for fever, and chronic diarrhea. It is used externally as an astringent for wounds and boils. Formally, it was used as a replacement for quinine. It is still used for headaches and fatigue. Health risks or side effects: following the proper administration of designated therapeutic dosages are not recorded.

This article is an excerpt from The Medicinal Trees of the American South, An Herbalist's Guide: by Judson Carroll

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Medicinal Shrubs and Woody Vines of The American Southeast An Herbalist's Guide
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Author: Judson Carroll. Judson Carroll is an Herbalist from the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina.

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The information on this site is not intended to diagnose or treat any disease or condition. Nothing on this site has been evaluated or approved by the FDA. I am not a doctor. The US government does not recognize the practice of herbal medicine and their is no governing body regulating herbalists. Therefore, I'm just a guy who studies herbs. I am not offering any advice. I won't even claim that anything I write is accurate or true! I can tell you what herbs have "traditionally been used for." I can tell you my own experience and if I believe an herb helped me. I cannot, nor would I tell you to do the same. If you use any herb I, or anyone else, mentions you are treating yourself. You take full responsibility for your health. Humans are individuals and no two are identical. What works for me may not work for you. You may have an allergy, sensitivity or underlying condition that no one else shares and you don't even know about. Be careful with your health. By continuing to read my blog you agree to be responsible for yourself, do your own research, make your own choices and not to blame me for anything, ever.
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