Bunchberry – Cornus Canadensis: Edible & Medicinal Uses of the Little Dogwood of Wild Plants

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In Chippewa, caca’gomin or spelled zhakaagomin, bunchberry (cornus canadensis) is a small, creeping dogwood. And just like the other native dogwoods, it’s a great nectar and pollen plant and somewhat of an edible and medicinal plant for humans too.

Bunchberry (cornus canadensis) is common around cottage country, Ontario. This dogwood likes wet and cool deciduous and mixed woods, and shaded banks. Cornus is one of my favourite groups of plants around here with the likes of alternate-leaved dogwood and red osier. Native dogwoods are wonderful for wildlife, have a long history of use by humans, and in autumn their leaves turn a showy bright red (in bunchberry’s case). The trifecta of desirability, in my opinion. Something for everyone who might stumble upon this blog.

Edible Uses of Bunchberry

Late summer, the ripe red berries are edible raw or cooked. Unripe berries may cause an upset stomach. The pulp and stone are hard to separate. It’s easier to crunch the large poppy like seeds and eat them. If you eat the berry slowly you may be able to savour a taste.

Many folks like to cook and strain the bland, but pectin rich berries, and mix them with more flavourful fruits for sauces and preserves.

There’s a black berried Swedish bunchberry that is sweeter.

Medicinal Uses of Bunchberry

Bunchberry is primarily said to support these body systems:

  • Digestion
  • Immune
  • Integumentary

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

Common usage includes as a mild pain killer. Like other dogwoods, it is salicylate free, so less likely to cause tummy upset or cause an allergic reaction. See red osier for more information on this aspect of some cornus spp., for pain relief (ex. rheumatism). It sees various astringent uses for skin and digestion too.

Growing Cornus Canadensis

It’s a wonderful ground cover that also likes our acidic soil around Haliburton, Ontario. Bees, flies, ants and other insects will collect creeping dogwood’s nectar and pollen. Lots of wildlife including black bears and many bird species forage on it too! It’s slow spreading, but once you get it established it will be hardy. Many native plant nurseries sell bunchberry. If you have a moist, partially shaded bank or border I highly recommend this as a groundcover choice.


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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Edible and Medicinal Plants of Canada

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

Eating Wild in Eastern Canada: A Guide to Foraging the Forests, Fields, and Shorelines

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

Plants Have So Much to Give Us, All We Have to Do Is Ask: Anishinaabe Botanical Teachings

Field Guide to North American Edible Wild Plants (Out of Print)

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