Herb: Red Osier Dogwood

Latin name: Cornus sericea

Synonyms: Cornus alba, Cornus stolonifera, Swida stolonifera, Thelycrania stolonifera

Family: Cornaceae (Dogwood Family)

Medicinal use of Red Osier Dogwood:

Red osier dogwood was widely employed by several native North American Indian tribes who valued it especially for its astringent and tonic bark, using it both internally and externally to treat diarrhoea, fevers, skin problems etc. It is little used in modern herbalism. The bark and the root bark are analgesic, astringent, febrifuge, purgative, slightly stimulant and tonic. Drying the bark removes its tendency to purge. A decoction has been used in the treatment of headaches, diarrhoea, coughs, colds and fevers. Externally, the decoction has been used as a wash for sore eyes, styes and other infections and also to treat skin complaints such as poison ivy rash and ulcers. The bark shavings have been applied as a dressing on wounds to stop the bleeding. A poultice of the soaked inner bark, combined with ashes, has been used to alleviate pain. The plant is said to have cured hydrophobia.

Description of the plant:


2.5 m
(8 1/4 foot)

May to

Habitat of the herb:

Shores and thickets. Along streams, rivers and moist sites, 450 - 2700 metres.

Edible parts of Red Osier Dogwood:

Fruit - raw or cooked. Juicy. Bitter and unpalatable according to some reports, it was mixed with other fruits such as juneberries (Amelanchier spp) and then dried for winter use by native North Americans. The fruit can cause nausea. The fruit is up to 9mm in diameter. Seed. No more details are given, but the seeds are quite small and woody, looking rather less than edible. An edible oil is obtained from the seed.

Other uses of the herb:

A fibre obtained from the bark is used as cordage. The bark can be twisted into a rope. The powdered bark has been used as a toothpowder to preserve the gums and keep the teeth white. An oil obtained from the seed burns well and can be used in lighting. A red dye can be obtained from the bark mixed with cedar ashes. The branches are pliable, they are used as rims in basket making. The stem wood is very tough and flexible. Plants can be grown as a tall ground cover for colonising large areas. The cultivar "Flaviramea" has been recommended.

Propagation of Red Osier Dogwood:

Seed - best sown as soon as it is ripe in a cold frame or in an outdoors seedbed if there is sufficient seed. The seed must be separated from the fruit flesh since this contains germination inhibitors. Stored seed should be cold stratified for 3 - 4 months and sown as early as possible in the year. Scarification may also help as may a period of warm stratification before the cold stratification. Germination, especially of stored seed, can be very slow, taking 18 months or more. Prick out the seedlings of cold-frame sown seeds into individual pots as soon as they are large enough to handle and grow the plants on for their first winter in a greenhouse, planting out in the spring after the last expected frosts. Cuttings of half-ripe side shoots, July/August in a frame. Cuttings of mature wood of the current year's growth, taken with a heel if possible, autumn in a cold frame. High percentage. Layering of new growth in June/July. Takes 9 months.

Cultivation of the herb:

Shores and thickets. Along streams, rivers and moist sites, 450 - 2700 metres.

Known hazards of Cornus sericea:

None known

Plant information taken from the Plants For A Future.