Not-So-Delicate Dogwood

When I first moved to Atlanta 25+ years ago, one of the first things that struck me was the beauty in Spring. I had never seen so many flowering trees and shrubs! All these years later, I’m in an even more beautiful part of the state and each Spring, my breath is taken away for a week or so by what looks like baby’s breath throughout our woods.

(The above photo was taken in full daylight. At dawn and dusk, the flowers almost glow against the pine & holly background. I’m just not good enough at photography to capture that.)

Dogwoods Cornus spp. are found throughout the world where it gets fairly cold in winter and very hot in summer – there are more than 90 species. They supposedly grow in Minnesota but I must have been living in the wrong part as I’d never seen them until moving South. So, my research into them didn’t begin until I knew they existed!

The wood is quite hard – it was used in older times for making ‘dags’: daggers, skewers & arrows; so one of its common names is “Dagwood” (not to be confused with the cartoon character or sandwich!). Although it’s so hard it’s difficult to work with, it’s still used here in the South for making loom shuttles, walking canes, longbows and dulcimers.

As with most every plant, medicinal uses were found. A decoction of the inner bark is used to reduce fevers of all kinds; it was even used by medics in the Civil War as a substitute for cinchona to treat malaria. Native Americans throughout the US have used their local species for ague, fevers, headaches, and colic; a decoction of the berries as an emetic (to make one vomit) and vermifuge (to expel worms).  When twigs are chewed, the bark splinters into a sort of toothbrush and this was used by the Natives in Virginia to keep their teeth white. (What they didn’t realize is that they were also causing their gums to recede.)

Although Dogwood has fallen out of favor as a medicinal plant, it is still used. If you choose to use it yourself, please be sure that the bark you use is dried and at least a year old. Fresh bark can cause gastric upset.

In Victorian times, suitors would present an unmarried woman with a flowering sprig of Dogwood. If she returned it, she wasn’t interested. If she kept it, he was free to continue his pursuit.

As I’ve said before, I believe every plant has not only a medicinal but magical use. Surprisingly, I could find few magical uses for Dogwood in any of my research material. Scott Cunningham has the only reference to it (he’s widely quoted), saying it’s good for wishes & protection. I like to have my information corroborated so when in doubt, go to the source: I decided to ask the trees themselves.

Although I always try to keep in mind that not all plants communicate the same, I was a little peeved that all I got were giggles. I thought I was being laughed at. But after further contemplation, it seems to me that between the beauty of the flowers and those irritating giggles, Dogwood could be used in spells for happiness – which could correlate to ‘wishes’. Yes, the very hard wood is an indication of protection. I can’t bring myself to strip bark from any live tree (although I’ve stripped a little from branches the trees have dropped), so I’ve used the leaves in protection spells and they work nicely.

If you have Dogwoods around, take a little time to admire them – they appreciate it.