Alternate-leaved Dogwood – Cornus Alternifolia: Edible & Medicinal Uses of the Bee Shrub of Wild Plants

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In Chippewa, muj’omij meaning “moose plant”, alternate-leaved dogwood is one of our many cornus spp. Dogwoods aren’t just edible and medicinal, nor just for the moose. They are one of the main allies of our native bees.

Alternate-leaved dogwood (cornus alternifolia) is common in central Ontario, especially around forest edges. Its relation red osier dogwood (cornus stolonifera) is also common. Round leaved dogwood (cornus rugosa) is uncommon and sadly silky dogwood (cornus obliqua) is rare. It’s sad because it’s one of the bees favorite dogwoods, though the whole species is a bee powerhouse. Bunchberry is a cornus too!

The featured alt-leaved is called pagoda dogwood in Haliburton Flora.

Alternate-leaved Dogwood - Cornus Alternifolia
Alternate-leaved Dogwood – Cornus Alternifolia

Edible Uses of Alternate-leaved Dogwood

The berries are edible but very bitter. They can be eaten raw, cooked, even dried. They are best mashed up with sweeter fruits. And like red osier, the berries can be used to make a sweet and sour sauce. It’s the blue tinged berries you want in that case – they are especially sour.

The stones can be eaten like peanuts.

Medicinal Uses of Alternate-leaved Dogwood

Alternate-leaved dogwood is primarily said to support these body systems:

  • Integumentary
  • Immune
  • Digestive

Medicinal tags include Analgesic, Astringent and Laxative. See Medicinal tag key for more information.

Common usage includes a bark tea for a laxative, but note the inner bark is emetic/will make you throw up. As an astringent some parts are used to make an eye wash, skin wash, etc. It’s not a very popular medicinal though.

The inner bark is also analgesic. See red osier for more information on this aspect of some cornus spp., for pain relief (ex. rheumatism).

Alternate-leaved Dogwood - Cornus Alternifolia
Alternate-leaved Dogwood – Cornus Alternifolia

For comparison, here is red osier dogwood:

Red osier
Red Osier

Red osier’s berries are easy to tell apart – white with a black spot. A fully grown alternate-leaved will tower over the red osier too, as more of a tree than a shrub, and without the red stem (although in the shade red osier can have a green stem too). Dogwood leaves altogether have a look about them as you can see from both pictures.

Alternative Uses of Green Osier

You can obtain a brown dye from the roots mixed with vinegar. 

Dogwoods are important allies of native bees. About 20% of our native bees are specialists who feed from only one to maybe three kinds of plants. Cornus spp. are one of these important plant species. So are redbuds, willows, and perhaps surprisingly winterberry. These are all important plants to grow if you have the space!

Growing Cornus Alternifolia

Also called pagoda dogwood, these are understory trees/shrubs that make a great border hedge. They will bloom more with sunshine. They volunteered the whole way around the south and west border of my lawn. Before it’s even fall the leaves start turning beautiful reds and burgundies. The berries become colorful as well. Late spring when they bloom they buzzzzzzzzzz with pollinator activity.

The easiest way to plant this is to buy from native plant nurseries. But if you have a friend with this plant established it’s probably popping up around their yard, so they may have some saplings in awkward spots to spare for replant.


Don’t consume in large quantities.

And the Usual Cautions:

1) Most medicinal herbs, if edible, are meant to be eaten in moderation, even sparingly. Some require extra preparation. Tannins are toxic if consumed in excess.

2) People can be allergic or sensitive to nearly any plant; try new herbs one at a time at your own risk. For instance, saponins commonly cause stomach upset.

3) For medicinal use, I must recommend receiving a diagnosis and working with a reputed health care provider. I generally do not post specific treatments and dosages because I think that is best between you and your health care provider, and ideally monitored.

4) Anyone pregnant, nursing, or taking prescription drugs should talk to a health care professional before adding new food items to their diet.

5) Many plants have look-a-likes, and sometimes they are poisonous.

#ads in References

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How Indians Use Wild Plants for Food, Medicine & Crafts (Native American)

Medicinal and Other Uses of North American Plants: A Historical Survey with Special Reference to the Eastern Indian Tribes

Mi’kmaq Medicines (2nd edition): Remedies and Recollections

Edible and Medicinal Plants of Canada

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