Red Osier Dogwood – Cornus Stolonifera: Edible & Medicinal Uses of the Salicylate-free Willow of Wild Plants

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Joe from *Creator’s Garden calls it mskwabiimnagohns. Red osier dogwood is our most recognizable dogwood. It’s both a wild edible and a medicinal that you may be aching to know. *Link is to Joe’s video about red osier on Facebook, have a listen and follow 🙂

Red Osier Dogwood
Red Osier Dogwood

Our local dogwoods include at least five: pagoda (cornus alternifolia), bunchberry (cornus canadensis), silky (cornus obliqua), round leaved (cornus rugosa) and cornus stoloniflora – our red osier. Osier is sometimes spelled osher.

Edible Uses of Red Osier Dogwood

The berries and stones are edible raw, dried or cooked, but they are sour and bitter. They can be used in moderation in sweet and sour recipes. They’re a great candidate for mixing with sweet serviceberries.

Medicinal Uses of Red Osier Dogwood

Red osier dogwood is primarily said to support these body systems:

  • Immune
  • Integumentary

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

Common usage includes pain relief for inflammation in joints, or sore and aching muscles. Pains you’ll find all end up filed under “rheumatism” in old herbal notes. Red osier, despite dogwoods being called dogwood willows, isn’t a true willow and doesn’t have salicin in the fresh bark. But its inner bark does have an alternative analgesic, coronic acid, for a salicylate-free pain killer. Aforementioned Joe has an arthritis salve recipe with red osier included and both of these plant based analgesics.

It’s also used to break fevers in the rare instance that is necessary.

It was an attempted quinine substitute too, like quaking aspen. Same complete lack of modern scientific evidence too. Perhaps they should have looked at wormwood? (I haven’t, I’ve only heard whispers!)

Red Osier Dogwood
Red Osier Dogwood

Alternative Uses of Red Willow

You can make a red dye from the bark.

Weaving, baskets, thread, braided straps, lances, arrow shafts, etc. – there’s a lot you can make with this eye-catching red shrub!

Growing Cornus Stolonifera

It’s easy to grow from cuttings and you may find your mother plant within cottonwood stands along stream banks and lake edges, or even damp ditches.


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.

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Reader’s Digest Magic and Medicine of Plants

Indian Herbalogy of North America: The Definitive Guide to Native Medicinal Plants and Their Uses

Edible and Medicinal Plants of Canada

Forest Plants of Central Ontario

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

Plants of Power: Native American Ceremony and the Use of Sacred Plants

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