Cornealian Cherry Dogwood


This time of year, the garden still looks pretty wintery, but if you look closer you’ll start to see signs of spring. Tulips, daffodils and garlic are all starting to push up; roses are growing new leaves; and tree buds are getting getting full. But it’s the Cornelian cherry dogwood (also known as Cornus mas, Cornelian cherry, European cornel, or flowering yellow dogwood) who is the first to burst into spring with its yellow flowers.

Patchen Community Square’s Cornelian Cherry Dogwood

Patchen Community Square’s Cornelian Cherry Dogwood

Cornus mas , Biodiversity Heritage Library, via  Flickr

Cornus mas, Biodiversity Heritage Library, via Flickr

The shrub-like small tree is native to dry, deciduous forests of Eastern Europe and Western Asia and very hardy, adaptable to half-day to full sun and a variety of soils. It is generally pest free and provides food and habitat for pollinators and other beneficial insects.

In North America and most of Europe, the Cornelian cherry dogwood is typically thought of as an ornamental plant, but it’s been a food source for thousands of years. Ancient Greeks and Persians first used the fruit as pig food and for its medicinal qualities, describing it as “cold and dry in the second degree, cholagogic, stomachic, and mildly astringent” to be used as a cure for fluxes of the belly and dysentery. The tree could be found in monastic gardens in continental Europe during the Middle Ages, and later introduced to England around the 16th century.

Its red fruit begin to ripen in late summer through the fall and resemble sour cherries. They are sweetened and used to make syrups, jellies, jams, pies, wine and baked goods. The fruit doesn’t lend itself well to mass production and processing and has generally fallen out of favor in the North America. However, you can find the fruit when in season in Turkey and most commercial products are from the country. The tree is known as “the tree that deceived Satan” according to Turkish legend. When the Devil saw that the tree was the first to bloom in early spring, he assumed it would be the first to bear, and camped beneath it to secure the fruit for himself. After a long vigil, he realized that the fruit ripened not first but last, in late summer.

Ukrainians juice the fruit then commercially bottle and produce the juice as soft drinks. In Russia, the fruit is made into wine and added to vodka and preserves of the cherry is a delicacy.

Interested in trying its unique flavor in the fall? Check out these unique recipes from Fig & Quince: Pickled Cornelian Cherry, and Cornelian Cherry 3 ways | Sharbat + Moraba + Marmalade.