257: Dogwood Tree

The dogwood, Cornus florida, is a fine Ozark tree with many uses. The bark used to be used as a quinine substitute before the actual stuff was available to Ozark hillfolk. The roots and bark are astringent, used internally for diarrhea and externally for dermatological needs. It’s an analgesic, to be chewed for headache, or as a decoction it can be rubbed on skin to relieve aches and pains. A root decoction is used as a febrifuge, or fever cutter. The flowers can be taken internally for stomach complaints and colic. An infusion of the inner bark can be used for a “lost voice” and sore throats. The root bark is generally thought to be a stimulant and tonic. There’s also a great deal of folklore associated with the dogwood. Here are some examples from Vance Randolph’s Ozark Magic and Folklore:

“Some woodcutters who live on Sugar Creek, in Benton county, Arkansas, believe that a mad dog never bites a man who carries a piece of dogwood in his pocket, according to an old gentleman I met in Bentonville.”

“Old fishermen have told me that the redhorse and white suckers will not spawn until they see dogwood blossoms on the banks of White River. It is true that these fish shoal about the same time that the dogwood blooms, but it is doubtless a matter of temperature; certainly there is no evidence that any fish can see flowers on the shore, or distinguish between dogwood bloom and other flowers.”

“Several tales about the dogwood tree are linked up with religious legends. One story, said to be very old although I never heard it until about 1935, is that the cross on which Jesus died was made of dogwood, and that He cursed the tree and doomed it to be stunted and twisted, unfit for any kind of lumber. In the center of the dogwood flower is something said to resemble a crown of thorns, while a brown mark like the stain of a rusty nail shows at the tip of each white sepal. A fanciful and romanticized version of this legend was written up by C. E. Barnes of Sulphur Springs, Arkansas, in the 1930’s and was published by many Arkansas newspapers.”

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